Thinking Through Violence

Kirby Farrell | April 18, 2011

"k1f" Kirby Farrell

In a recent post I called attention to the way media and public thinking often *use* violence as shorthand to mark a disruption in everyday ideas.  You could say that violence often functions not as a literal representation of behavior but as a marker for a “mind-blowing” experience.

I was glad to see Jim Lieberman reminding us that this is a culture much given to violent content in public discourse.  He puts it eloquently enough to warrant a repeat.

One might say that we have 3% psychopaths in the population and they get 50% (who knows?) of the media coverage–news and entertainment. So most people think the world is much more dangerous that it really is. That’s externalizing the death-threat. Each nightly news program about killing lets us go to sleep thinking someone else took the bullet for me, I’m still alive. As Otto Rank said, “we are not that far removed from the old ritual of human sacrifice.”

This bracing reminder actually dovetails with my point in a timely way.  Again, people *use* representations of violence as a way of expressing a mental threat – a threat to our cherished ideas about the world.  In this way violence can function like a tantrum when the child can’t understand and “loses it.”  It can be helpful to ask how the climate of thought may be making it hard to see that people are having trouble putting threats to worldview into words.  Or as Jim Lieberman says, the culture can get us used to confusing problem-solving with pulling a trigger.  In the extreme this is what I call “berserk style,” and it’s all around us in pumped-up America.

Here’s today’s punch-in-the-nose example:

Consider the current media focus on demands for budget cutbacks to “balance” things.  In reporting on the economic ideas, media has a hard time resisting the militants’ stress on apocalyptic ideas such as “tsunamis” of debt. The “tsunami talk” tries to overwhelm – or deny – the serious debate among economists about how to cope with unprecedented US debt as the world continues to rebalance after WW2.

But no less important,  “tsunami talk” short-circuits attention to the *use* of violent images.  In this case militant  budget-balancing is routinely used to justify squeezing the poor but not the corporate military or the super rich.  Violent budget balancing is, so to speak, unbalancing thought.

A lot of political and financial talk prefers to babble about “fighting” this ill or that rather than solving a problem.  The language we use – the language we’ve inherited – has ancient roots.  It’s loaded with expressions that favor violent mobilization of will.  You “fight” flu.  You “war” against drugs.  You “battle” poverty instead of  “sharing” the goodies or “loving” thy neighbor.  As berserk style, it puts mental life on the boundary of violence.

As we dimly recognize, it’s how we’re built, though of course we (ahem) fight to change.

One Comment

  1. AS always, I acquire many insights from Kirby’s presentations. I would like his thoughts about Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine in reference to his media violence critique, i.e. shocking events are used by national and other powers to make radical changes in government programs, etc, while peole are distracted or traumatized by catastrophes. Had its roots in Chile after the Allende coup at the instigation of the U. of Chicago economist, Milton Friedman.

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