Violence seems to be an inherent part of human history. Violence is even a strong element in the history of state formation. What we nowadays call nation states could only have evolved after the monopolization of tax and violence by state. In the ancient days of feudalism, the king could rule with absolute power thanks to his ability to the use of exclusive violence against his internal and external enemies. His army, in turn, is financed by the collection of tax from his people who will be protected by the king from ‘unfair oppression and exploitation by others’. The democratic revolution after the middle ages did not change this monopolization of violence by the state. For this reason, the history of the human race is still closely connected to violence. Now we have to witness a new violent phase of human history: the war against terrorism which is collective violence between states, groups and mostly innocent individuals.
Brownsteing’s book does not discuss the context of war as part of state violence monopolization, but it touches the broad issues related to violence in a particular society; the US. Issue of violence related to drug related crimes, violence in the modern family, violence against women, violence amongst the youth, violence against the poor and the minorities, and also violence against the worker. In an interesting chapter about the innocent bystander, the question arises: are bystanders victims or part of the problem due to their inability or unwiilingness to stop violence?
This book chooses a certain perspective adopted from sociology and psychology to explain the phenomenon of violence: social constructionism. This perspective is a classical explanation of human history in which almost everything in the social reality is the result of human intervention and construct. Unlike its competitor, evolutionary psychology, the social construction approach is emphasizing the culturally determined behavior of individuals and groups. Evolutionary psychologists are, in turn, always emphasizing the biological factors in explaining the violent nature of humans. According to this alternative approach, man is by nature violent due to his inner biological structure which constitutes chromosomes, genes, and DNA. Social constructivists strongly oppose this approach since man is ‘programmed’ to be violent or non-violent depending on the group and culture in which he belongs or originates. For this reason, non-violence can be seen as a cultural trait in certain societies whereas other societies see violence as an undifferentiated part of its social reality.
The origins of social construction is phenomenology in which the most important issue is the retracing of the original constitution of the fundamental skeleton of the life-world which man takes for granted in the natural attitude and which the social scientist rarely makes thematic. In other words, the phenomenologist argues that the common sense world is taken for granted while the opposite is true. The common sense world becomes problematic when the origins of this world are analyzed. Man is seen as naïve because he does not have doubts about the past, present and future of the common sense world. Men are born in the same world, grow up with parents, learn a language, receive an education, come in contact with others, work, love, create, suffer, and die. Man does not have any doubts about these matters and the phenomenologist therefore poses questions which critically assesses the common sense world. According to the phenomenologist, the reality of everyday life is based on social interaction.
This social interaction involves using signs and language which are necessary to show the intentions of the interacting individuals. This process of internalization is followed by the process of objectivation. Humans create a social world which is stable because, unlike animals, humans cannot live in a chaotic world. Man does not follow his instincts like animals, but is capable of creating a stable social world. So, the objective world is produced by humans themselves and this objective world is an institutional world because it consists of institutions. In turn, these institutions are undeniable facts for the individual; he cannot wish them away, they are there, external to him. The institutions of the objective world claim authority over the individual. Children must be taught to behave and must be kept in line. The same is also true of adults. This process of socialization into the institutions is, in fact, the process of internalization.
If this is the line of argument of the phenomenologist, the question of how to stop violence is the most pressing one in the context of this book. The phenomenologist believes that change in general and stopping violence in particular, can be realized by changing the objective world and especially by changing the actions of man. The objective world can change because of technological, scientific, industrial, and demographic developments or because of the influence of charismatic leaders. Man’s actions can change due to changes in the relationship between externalization, objectivation and internalization. For instance, violence is a form of change due to a wrong relationship between parent and child. In other words, man’s actions and behavior can change because the socialization process was incomplete.
This means that stopping the cycle of violence starts in the family. If violence is being considered as undesirable in families, than this notion will spill over to the other institutions in life: the school, the corporation, the economy, and the state. And this is actually the paradox in which modern societies is trapped: violence is considered to be undesirable in the micro level, but at the same time it is considered desirable as a defense mechanism at the macro level.
The eradication of violence in daily life is a difficult and complex process. It will require a radical transformation of the entire society as propagated by the social thinker Habermas. According to Habermas, social reality can be subdivided into two parts. One part consists of the economy and politics. Both have become systems in which decisions are made that are strictly based on the maintenance of efficiency. This situation gives rise to the domination of communication by money and power. This situation is not necessarily problematic because an economy is essential for welfare, whereas politics is necessary for efficient public administration. It becomes problematic when this efficient way of thinking colonizes the other part of society: the life-world. The life-world consists of individuals with their own unique personalities and culture. So, when political questions like ‘is it efficient? And economic questions like ‘is it profitable’ take over the life world where questions like ‘is it useful’ and ‘is it right’ should be asked, the situation becomes problematic.
Although the colonization of the life-world is happening in modern societies, Habermas does not believe that this is inevitable. Although man may be captured by economical and political ways of thinking, he still has one strong weapon: the use of language. Language will result in communication where man can reach agreements not only based facts, but also on standards and value. It is still possible to formulate rational agreements between men with the use of language. Real evidence of how this weapon is successfully applied can be found in the activities of social movements. Habermas did not specifically formulate a strategy to cope with the problem of colonization, but as a scientist, he was convinced that this problem can be resolved by a new paradigm: the theory of communicative action, which is actually his own theory.
The problem of prison gangs can actually be seen as the result of the colonization of the life-world by the system. Crime has only increased in twentieth century US. As a reaction, the police force has grown substantially in the last decades. In order to rehabilitate the criminals, the number of prisons has also increased dramatically in the few decades. Violent individuals are collectively gathered in an institution called a prison to rehabilitate them and put them in society. This is the noble idea of prisons, but the opposite happened. Violence is continuing in the prison which has actually become a micro society full of delinquent individuals. It is no surprise to see prison gangs evolving using hard and brutal violence against each other. The only way to communicate effectively known to criminals is of course violence. The only way to stop violence is to restructure prisons as a micro society to become a place of true rehabilitation. This must be accompanied by the transformation of society in general from a violent reality into a non-violent social reality. The role of the life-world is imperative in this case.
Berger, P., Luckmann, T., The Social Construction of Reality, 1979. Penguin Books, Fletcher & Son Ltd, Norwich.
Habermas, J., The Theory of Communicative Action, Reason and the rationalization of society, (1981), 1984, Volume 1 (translated by Thomas McCarthy), Heinemann, London.
Habermas, J., The Theory of Communicative Action, Lifeworld and System, A Crtique of Functionalist Reason, (1981), 1987, Volume 2, (translated by Thomas McCarthy), Bacon Press, Boston.
Henry H. Brownsteing, The Social Reality of Violence and Violent Crime.
Schutz, A., Collected papers I, The Problem of Social Reality, 1962, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague.