On Violence

Minneapolis burningHere is why, amidst the anguish of watching yet another black man senselessly murdered by someone who should have been protecting him, I am distressed by hearing people on the left–meaning my people–rationalize violence.

I’ve walked a German concentration camp in silence, absorbed as much trauma in the Rwandan genocide museum as I could handle and touched the ground by Cambodia’s killing fields. My lifetime has included the Balkan War, the napalming of Viet Nam, the brutalities of apartheid, and the Cultural Revolution.

It always starts this way–in legitimate grievances, in desperation–with frightened, wounded, angry people seeing no other path to wellbeing–in verbal dehumanization of the other, in violations of property with the first killings seen as aberrant.

It often begins among people shaken to the core by uncontrollable factors that feed resentment or futility: economic instability or stagnation, rapid cultural or demographic change, abrupt political shifts. In this gestalt, voices in the media or in the church or in government or other positions of power put words on the gut feeling that something is wrong. They point to a perpetrator, someone who is other, who is bad clear through, and who must be stopped at all cost.

Whether lines are drawn along racial, tribal, class or ideological boundaries; whether violence is perpetrated by over-dogs or underdogs, eruptions of violence, large and small, *almost always* feel justified and righteous to the perpetrators. While committing violence, we almost always feel like either victims or saviors.

“Feel” is the operative word here, because the intellectual rationalizations follow feelings. We are almost all capable of looking with horror on the atrocities committed by people who are not us, while simultaneously feeling justified in our own. We use different words to describe what we are doing, to soften it, to sanctify it, to make it holy.

But there are other paths, including in the struggle for racial equity that must be carried forward now amidst a pandemic that has flooded our communities with anxiety and uncertainty. Nelson Mandela modeled it. Van Jones articulates it here. There are no action figures or superheroes on this path. It’s not the stuff of guts and glory. It isn’t cathartic.

Peace and justice are built by ordinary people who stand by their neighbors in violation of the boundary lines drawn by conflict, who steadfastly oppose goading and instead channel their grief and anger into the painstaking, grubby work of creating the change they want to see and the future they dream for all.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings.  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including The Huffington Post, Salon, The Independent, Quillette, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, AlterNet, Raw Story, Grist, Jezebel, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.  Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
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12 Responses to On Violence

  1. Steve Ruis says:

    Hear, hear! As usual you are a beacon of sense and peace. That doesn’t mean I can’t understand those engaging in the violence.

    I remember walking the grounds of the Manzanar Internment Camp and after a short while I left almost running. The anger I was feeling was overwhelming. And this was from imagined inequities inflicted on citizens long since dead. I can still recall the anger I felt. If I had been born in this country and Black, I would be dead now. I don’t have the patience or boundaries to accept the evil thrown toward my Black neighbors.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carl Hoffman says:

    I thank you for your insight and intelligence. I value your friendship. I am working for mutual understanding and respect on my YouTube channel. I also walked in a concentration camp. Those who claim to be Evangelical Christians harbor much hate in their hearts. I am exposing the fallacy of their literal understanding of their Bible that they worship like an idol. I am not here to promote my channel and that is why I am not giving out its name.


  3. Didn’t Thatcher and Reagan consider Mandela a violent terrorist?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Brian Bixler says:

    I agree with what you are saying, Valerie. However, there are some very important additions to this analysis. These include those who deliberately use the angst of the aggrieved to further their own agendas. In this case, I suspect the alt-right fascists- Trump, and his bully boys, who want to impose martial law. There are also those who jump on this bandwagon just for personal financial gain, whether its looters at Target in St. Paul, , Saturday in Seattle at Nordstrom’s, or yesterday, in Bellevue. There was some $$$$ as a rationale for looting there. One cannot eat merchandise from Bellevue Square, but it’s worth money. Watching the videos, it was evident than those areas were specifically targeted. To me, that obviates any political or social arguments, and is just plain theft.

    Then, there are those who just join in “for the fun of it”. Human history is rife with pillage, rape, theft, etc., because it’s a crowd function here, and those personalities just want to join in. Something is happening that they wouldn’t probably do as individuals alone, but if there’s a crowd- hey, why not?

    The most egregious of thiese two examples, to me, are the Einsatzguppen SS. The leap from there, to today, is not very far, and it’s a slippery slope indeed.

    So, yes, we can bereave the racial, or socioeconomic issues. That’s fair, and they should be addressed. However, there are certain lines that if someone crosses them, no matter who they are, they have lost any moral sanctions.


  5. Creativeself says:

    Hi valerie,

    I love your work. We have so many experiences in common. I was a Crusader also!

    Some people are at the end of their ability to cope. We know how people get to this point. We have plenty of Studies. I want you to internalize how you would be if you were raised in their environment. The problem is not the problem, the problem is the solution that continues to escalate the problem.



    • Hi to you, too. I very much understand the grief, despair and anger that have brought people to this point. I appeal for those who can to take a different path, but I have deep sympathy for people who have simply hit their limit and erupted.


  6. Reblogged this on silverapplequeen and commented:
    A great read.


  7. As usual, right on target Valérie. Thank you. Of course, sharing that definition of strength with you, Imme and I are for the last 30 years training whoever wants to develop the abilities needed to deal constructively with change and diversity (Cross-cultural training). Beside our world regulatory harmonization activity in agriculture, we feel it as our duty to “pay it forward”, with those tools that were given to us 30 years ago by the Swiss Development Cooperation and that we developed and cherished all those years as what we consider our legacy. Strength intermingle with resilience, patience, acquisition of knowledge, endurance while laced with yes, love, at the risk of sounding kitsch, but fundamentally always excludes any form of violence. How we can get to understand violence as strength remains one of my most unanswered question :-)
    Thank you for being who you are.


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