Friday, 30 October 2015

Purposeful Violence

Hierarchies Of Punishment And Reward:  Openly acknowledging its uneasy relationship with the values of patriarchy is becoming increasingly difficult for twenty-first century liberal capitalism. It is thus to the private – and domestic – sphere that capitalism is forced to turn to ensure that the cultural work of instilling the necessary habits of authority and subordination continues. It is no accident that the most effective translators of the realities of power, at the personal as well as the cultural level, are men.
 
WHAT PURPOSE does male violence serve? Is that an outrageous – or even an evil – question?  Surely, no good purpose is served by the violent behaviour of men? No good purpose, perhaps. But, asserting that male violence serves no good purpose, is not quite the same as saying that it serves no purpose at all. With New Zealand now leading the developed world in the recorded incidence of domestic violence, the not-so-good purposes of male violence clearly merit some investigation.
 
Often, it is easier to understand the behaviour of one’s own culture by examining the behaviour of another.
 
Several recent cases of extreme male violence against women in India have roused passions all around the world – not excluding India itself. In every horrific instance, physical battery and sadistic cruelty have accompanied prolonged and violent sexual assault. The victims were from every strata of Indian society. From a young medical student in New Delhi, to teenage sisters from the lowest “untouchable” caste.
 
In every case, the men involved justified their actions in terms of redressing what they regarded as breaches in the natural order of things. The men who raped and murdered the New Delhi medical student, for example, were affronted by her assumption that she was free to go and do as she pleased without the sanction of the appropriate male authority figures. In their view, the unfortunate young woman had been ‘asking for it’ and ‘got what she deserved’.
 
Both phrases are highly illustrative of the way men raised in rigidly patriarchal societies interpret female behaviour. If a woman is at ease in the company of men, then, clearly, she considers herself to be their common sexual property. As such she may not only be raped with impunity, but also physically assaulted – as punishment for improperly inflaming the lust of her attackers. This deadly mixture of rage and desire fuels male violence all over the world.
 
To keep such extreme, socially disruptive behaviour in check (or, at least, to confine it strictly to the domestic sphere) patriarchal cultures have, over many centuries, erected structures of masculine power designed to control every aspect of women’s lives. When feminists insist that rape is not about sex, but power, this is what they mean. In an alarming number of men, the imperatives of masculine authority are internalised to the point where, in relation to “their” women, individual males take on (often unconsciously) the roles of policeman, prosecutor, judge and executioner.
 
It is tempting to relegate these extreme manifestations of patriarchy to the less-enlightened nations of the developing world. Liberal capitalism, with its proud record of emancipatory reform (the abolition of slavery; the introduction of universal suffrage) surely has no need for the rigid patriarchal power structures of India or Saudi Arabia?
 
Considering all the legislative effort devoted to making full sexual equality a reality throughout the developed world, one could be forgiven for regarding capitalism and patriarchy as natural antagonists. Absent from such consideration, however, would be how absolutely capitalism relies upon patriarchal thought-ways for its efficient functioning. Capitalists operate in top-down hierarchies, within which the social dynamics of authority and subordination determine economic outcomes every bit as ruthlessly as traditional patriarchies. In both systems there are winners and losers – and strong sanctions against challenging those above on behalf of those below.
 
The congruence of capitalist and patriarchal thought-ways largely explains the absence of women in the nation’s boardrooms. It also accounts for the vast discrepancy in remuneration between those engaged in male, as opposed to female, dominated industries. When it comes to consumption, capitalism strongly endorses the widest possible diversity. When it comes to exercising power, however, old habits die hard.
 
Openly acknowledging its uneasy relationship with the values of patriarchy is becoming increasingly difficult for twenty-first century liberal capitalism. It is thus to the private – and domestic – sphere that capitalism is forced to turn to ensure that the cultural work of instilling the necessary habits of authority and subordination continues. It is no accident that the most effective translators of the realities of power, at the personal as well as the cultural level, are men.
 
Obedience, diligence, loyalty, and conformity aren’t just the qualities of the perfect capitalist employee, they’re also the attributes of the perfect patriarchal daughter and/or wife. The purpose of male violence is to frighten both into existence.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 30 October 2015.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bit of a long bow to equate capitalism and domestic violence. Sure you're not a Green party member? What's your evidence its lower in non-capitalist societies?

As for the poster on capitalism, it is essentially correct.
It's kind of the point. Take Apple Computers, one of the more prominent examples. Run by Steve Jobs, a famously unpleasant egotist who seems to have been motivated by power and money, in that order. Apple have created 10s of billions of dollars of wealth, and entire industries at the back end (manufacturing the iPhones) and the front end (writing software for them). I have been involved in this 'front end' software industry for many years (lately on Apple devices). It's now huge in NZ and around the world. It wouldn't be if there weren't people like Jobs. Not that you have to be a bastard like Jobs. Most aren't. But it works even if you are. That's the trick, it doesn't reply on altruism. It leaves that up to the legislators and the courts.

Ask the hundreds of millions of people in India and China raised out of abject poverty in the last twenty years. You may (legitimately) criticize things like working conditions and think they should be improved, but they are better off than they were. This is why rural Chinese flock from the countryside to to city, as others did in the European industrial revolution.
You'll notice the distinct lack of famines in India and China that used to occur under centrally planned economic systems.

This is the (largely emotional) difference between the left and right.
The left think the world would be SO much better if they ran it, because they have the hubris to think that they are up to controlling an entire society.
The right (or at least the economic right) realize that no one is up to that job, and it's better to give people as much control of their lives as possible. With safety regulations and similar, that some people are always willing to argue against!

The results?
http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21578665-nearly-1-billion-people-have-been-taken-out-extreme-poverty-20-years-world-should-aim



A O said...

Purposeful violence is a human trait and not just a male-centric trait - Margaret Thatcher is a great illustration of this point. Of course this doesn’t detract from the evil that men do, arguably far more evil than women have been shown to do, at this point of time, but the notion of equality dictates that whatever men are capable of doing then women must equally be as capable of doing also. By dent of their physical prowess, which advantaged men moreso than women in the harsher climes of early human history, men have largely dominated positions of power. In the modern day (western) world where physical prowess holds few advantages, we are now seeing equalization of the sexes and at a pace that is rapid relative to human history. Point being, in double quick time (from a human history point of view) purposeful violence will be shown to be the act of all ‘weaklings in power’ and not only just the preserve of men or capitalism.

JH said...

India: there's an argument against the precepts of multiculturalism (and biculturalism as Maori culture is just a glossed up rewriting of what was).
.......
"Both phrases are highly illustrative of the way men raised in rigidly patriarchal societies interpret female behaviour. If a woman is at ease in the company of men, then, clearly, she considers herself to be their common sexual property."
=
That just doesn't follow?

"Absent from such consideration, however, would be how absolutely capitalism relies upon patriarchal thought-ways for its efficient functioning. Capitalists operate in top-down hierarchies, within which the social dynamics of authority and subordination determine economic outcomes every bit as ruthlessly as traditional patriarchies. In both systems there are winners and losers – and strong sanctions against challenging those above on behalf of those below."
=
Capitalism is a modern concept. A much older more useful concept is evolutionary behavior. It isn't practical for a child bearer to be an efficient fighter (etc, etc). Top down hierarchies operate due to organizational efficiency (although you can't compare a family to a large organization).

Family culture has changed (in the west) however as a progressive goal is open borders they need to convince us that all cultures are equal (we should "celebrate diversity").

Grant said...

http://www.waronwant.org/sweatshops-china

peter petterson said...

Give them a taste of their own treatment.

Chris Trotter said...

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

If it's not Anonymous@9:19 spouting Adam Smith at us as if it's holy writ, it's JH touting the advantages of evolutionary biology.

Smith paid next to no serious attention to the problem of externalities (the problem which now threatens to engulf our entire species in the form of Global Warming) and the evolutionary biologists are guilty of using metaphors as if they were evidence.

Neither appear to be at all familiar with history - which shows that cultures of violence are inescapably bound up with political-economies dependent on subordination and appropriation. That is to say, upon the ability of an organised minority to overawe the producers of goods and services and steal their surpluses.

It is the normalisation of violence - primarily by persuading all men that they have property to protect - that permits these violent minorities to endure and prosper.

How do you convince even the poorest peasant that he is a property-owner? Easy, by convincing him that his wife and children "belong" to him.

And how does that same peasant put down the inevitable rebellion of said wife and children against his oppressive objectification and control? Simple, by terrorising them with violence.

JH said...

cultures of violence are inescapably bound up with political-economies dependent on subordination and appropriation. That is to say, upon the ability of an organised minority to overawe the producers of goods and services and steal their surpluses.
....
Industrial society requires specialistaion and hence boring repetitive tasks.
When humans expand their niche (industrialization)they are wealthy but the population keeps growing and the living standards go down (it isn't as simple as the capitalist hogs all the wealth - the capitalist is like the Lotto winner)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous@9:19 again!
It's not holy writ, it's an observation of events. Including my involvement in them.
Sure capitalism needs rules and constraints, to prevent total exploitation - the 'externalities' you mention. But the trick is, it harnesses and gives an outlet to greed , one that often actually helps others.

In any case, I still don't see the connection between capitalism and domestic violence.
MOST societies, historically have treated women as second class citizens or worse.
And are extremely violent it's the leading cause of death in men in pre industrial societies.
Guess which societies were the first to give wide scale equality-rights to women?
The industrialized West!
Helped in large part by capitalism giving some women a measure of economic independence.

Any what is your response to capitalism raising all these hundreds of millions out of poverty, and out of famine?

Anonymous said...

"Neither appear to be at all familiar with history - which shows that cultures of violence are inescapably bound up with political-economies dependent on subordination and appropriation."

The problem with this sort of grand theorising is that there is previous little testable evidence for it. Anyone can tell a story about why things are the way they are that accords with the evidence, but that doesn't make it correct or even useful. Whatever its faults, at least evolutionary biology does hook in to established scientific claims rather than the vague and expansive bullshitting that comprises most of the attempts at theorising in the social sciences and humanities.

The problem reasonable people have with contemporary feminism doesn't have much to do with disagreeing that women deserve a better deal or thinking that our society doesn't have problems with sexism. It has to do with the fact that most self proclaimed feminists are less interested in actually helping women and more interested in converting everyone to their warmed over 1970s social theory. Honestly, it's like dealing with fundamentalist Christians who care more about obscure points of theology than in being good or helping the poor.

Anonymous said...

Unless you are a black in America, I have found that the most violent societies are socialist ones, State violence in North Korea or even Venezuela are leaders in unjust or degrading prison systems with corruption part and parcel of 'normal' life.

Bushbaptist said...

.Anon @12.53;
"Unless you are a black in America, I have found that the most violent societies are socialist ones, State violence in North Korea or even Venezuela are leaders in unjust or degrading prison systems with corruption part and parcel of 'normal' life."

Sounds like a good description of the US and that is hardly Socialist.

What about Saudi Arabia? That is one of the last Absolute Monarchies in the world and hardly Socialist. It's perhaps the most brutally oppressed country around. Makes ISIL look like a Kindergarten Playground in comparison. Where, if you are seen with any other religious insignia you will incur the wrath of the Religious Police. Where there are several be-headings a week and women are stoned to death regularly. Nice place indeed!

There are many more as well.

North Korea is not Socialist either, it's Fascist and Venezuela has lifted more people out of poverty than many other similar sized countries. No mention of the US sanctions against Madura and the low oil price making life difficult there.

JanM said...

Very interesting that all the comments appear to be being made by blokes, and not one of them addressing the issue v- no change there, then!

pat said...

@anon 12.53
..."leaders in unjust or degrading prison systems with corruption part and parcel of 'normal' life."

worryingly somewhat akin to whats occurring in Australia currently...and a path of deceit and corruption we appear to be on here as well is it not?

Neil Miller said...

Thanks Chris, clear concise piece on social violence, I don't understand why these concepts aren't more widely understood.

Nick J said...

I today visited the Womens Factory in Hobart, the previous day we saw Port Arthur. These establishments stand as eloquent expression of everything Chris says about systemic violence to both sexes by capitalists to whom the transportees were no less than prperty to exploit.

jh said...

if capitalism was the problem, isn't that something anthropologists would have agreed upon by now?

Nolajo said...

I suspect that one of the reasons that New Zealand has so much domestic violence is our high level of inequality, itself a by-product (or perhaps intentional outcome) of neoliberal capitalism. If you can't make ends meet, even working two or three so-called jobs, anger and frustration are to be expected.

greywarbler said...

Violence - it is done because it is found to be permitted and excusable. There can be laws and imprisonment against violence which will slow it down but there are recalcitrant offenders in jail who show no remorse or understanding of the wrongful workings of their mind. They think that all right-thinking men (occasionally women) are justified in taking the action they did. That's individuals.

As for larger acts of violence the harm becomes collateral damage in a greater, grander scheme. So-and-so 'got in the way', was 'useless', a 'loser', had NO RIGHT TO BE WHERE THEY WERE. This can apply to whole tribes as in Myanmar. It applied to crofters in Sutherland. And that is the point.

It is the cancellation of someone's right to be a respected human. They are allowed to exist by a group or person who decides on their status and treatment and suitable behaviour. If they don't comply, perhaps because the expectations are inhuman, then they can be punished.

They are not included in the broad human society but set apart and reduced to the status of servile animals. This usually applies to poorer women without status in a society. They are likely to be used for the benefits to be gained from them, squeezed out and thrown away. Here we see zero hours etc. The release from prison of multiple committers of violence against women and children. The acceptance of men with twisted, poisoned minds stalking women they have 'owned' and children they have made in a casual, time-filling liaison.

And domestic violence may have grown because of the state demanding that women with children needing financial assistance and housing while they are young, must name the father, whom they pursue. Many men are unsuitable to step up to the fathering role, and are aggrieved when forced to take on such responsibility. The state would be better to keep the woman well away from such 'role models', and work with the mother to 'increase capacity' in handling life's problems, growing inner strength and skills including work skills, understanding child psychology, and being self-sustaining with state help, while she looks for a man with integrity, commitment, and restraint to match those qualities she has developed herself.

Restraint is one of the important adjectives for a modern, advanced society and if practised more would see our negative trend line change for a better one.

I suspect that one of the reasons that New Zealand has so much domestic violence is our high level of inequality, itself a by-product (or perhaps intentional outcome) of neoliberal capitalism. I thinlk Nolajo that the neo lib capitalism just makes the violence that is inherent in our system, and apparently our natures, worse. As the norm is to deny people who are poor human rights, to take steps that result in making more people poor, it is inevitable that anger and despair will rise and violence of word or action increase.