This piece is going to be a bit like Maths exams in the old GCSE’s (Before Michael Gove turned the education clock back to the 1950’s): It’s more about the working out than the answer itself.

In all honesty I don’t expect to find an answer as such. But I know how my brain works. If I don’t work this through, and I don’t put it in writing, I’ll never get to sleep. It’s only 11pm now, so I’m hoping I’ve got the jump on this one.

Here’s the basic outline of my brain’s initial and demanding thought process:

  • If someone is violent towards you, you can defend yourself. Using reasonable force. You can defend others too.
  • We’re on the receiving end of an economic war. War is pretty violent, ergo we are victims of economic violence.
  • If we are victims of economic violence then there MUST be steps we can take to defend ourselves.
  • What can we do to protect ourselves? What can we do to protect others?

I half expect this line of reasoning to fall apart as I dig into it further. But I’m not going to get any peace until i do, and I’m hoping you, reader, will help me through the process.

I better state now, in terms as clear as I can, I am against violence of any form. One of my roles at work is training our staff in non-violent ways to support people with “challenging behaviour”, and the cornerstone of my course is promoting the well-being of everyone even in episodes of violence and aggression. My starting premise is this: If we are going to live in a world and a society that is defined by peace, a world that shares the spirit of 1945 that Ken Loach wants to rekindle – cooperation, equality, health and prosperity for all, we need to start out in a peaceful way.

Now don’t misunderstand me, sometimes an intervention needs to be firm, direct, and even temporarily overpowering. But if you are going to overpower another person, to protect them from themselves or others (including you) from them, you need to do that in a way that doesn’t harm, is the least restrictive, and for the shortest possible time. It’s a basic tenet of the work I do. Overstep these guidelines, use an intervention that is more restrictive, inflicts harm, or is disproportionate to the risk presented and you become the problem. You become a violent abuser. That destroys trust, relationships, and can lead to a spiral of violent conflict that has terrible repercussions for everyone. You also need to work longer-term on the causes of destructive behaviour for the benefit of everyone.

This work that I do is more of a vocation for me, and it defines everything I do. Well, maybe except those times I let off steam on a game. But you need to have an outlet for tension!

So let’s look at this. Is there a genuine legal basis for this idea of “self defence”? and what about defending others? Well, yes. It turns out there is. This Wikipedia page discusses Self-Defence In English Law. I have no legal training. I’m relying on the sources I can find and you, dear reader, to help me sift through this. So if you have anything to add, please do. From this wiki page, here are the points that jump out at me:

  • One can act in ways that otherwise would be illegal to prevent injury to oneself or others, or to prevent crime more generally“. This means “one has the same right to act to protect others as to protect oneself“.
  • Self-defence in English law is using reasonable force against an unjust threat.
  • A person may use such force as is [objectively] reasonable in the circumstances as he [subjectively] believes them to be.
  • “A man about to be attacked does not have to wait for his assailant to strike the first blow or fire the first shot; circumstances may justify a pre-emptive strike.”  BLIMEY!

Wow. Well, applied to physical attacks, it seems there is a pretty solid case for some very forceful action to defend yourself and others if you believe the threat to be serious. These defenses also stretch to property. Now, can personal wealth, nationally (communally) owned property and assets, or property taken illegally or unjustly be included in these provisions? If they can, then there might be a whole lot more we can do to protect our national assets, and maybe our own (and each other’s) wealth (I’m thinking about wages, savings, future earnings, rights to shared ownership of the organisations we are part of and work for. That kind of thing) and economic well-being. This is something I may need some pointers on.

What about this notion of economic violence? I remember a poster about it in the Quaker meeting house in Plymouth where my Mum would take my sister and I occasionally. We would play in the playroom while she did the whole silence thing with the other grown-ups. I think the poster was from Amnesty International. It showed a cake, with a tiny slice and loads of people standing on it, and a huge slice with hardly anyone standing on it. The message was pretty clear, and I was maybe 9 or 10. How well accepted is this notion? Hmmm, not very. Good old internet suggests economic violence is a subsection of Structural Violence and points me to the work of  Johan Galtung and James Gilligan. I’m not familiar with their ideas yet, well, not consciously, but I’ve got to say they seem to have somehow influenced my perceptions of the world. I’m just going to cut-and-paste from the wikipedia page on this and then head over to a bookshop (Sadly my library has been closed to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and to keep bankers in extravagant salaries and obscene bonuses despite their criminal frauds and phenomenal incompetence) to get myself an education.

“Structural violence is a term commonly ascribed to Johan Galtung, which he introduced in the article “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research” in 1969.[1] It refers to a form of violence where some social structure or social institution purportedly harms people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. Institutionalized elitism, ethnocentrism, classism, racism, sexism, adultism, nationalism, heterosexism and ageism are some examples of structural violence as proposed by Galtung. According to Galtung, rather than conveying a physical image, structural violence is an “avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs”. As it is avoidable, structural violence is a high cause of premature death and unnecessary disability. Since structural violence affects people differently in various social structures, it is very closely linked to social injustice. [2] Structural violence and direct violence are said to be highly interdependent, including family violence, racial violence, hate crimes, terrorism, genocide, and war.[citation needed]

In his book Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, James Gilligan defines structural violence as “the increased rates of death and disability suffered by those who occupy the bottom rungs of society, as contrasted with the relatively lower death rates experienced by those who are above them.” Gilligan largely describes these “excess deaths” as “non-natural” and attributes them to the stress, shame, discrimination and denigration that results from lower status. He draws on Sennett and Cobb, who examine the “contest for dignity” in a context of dramatic inequality.”

They are giving some weight to what we know: a very few people have great wealth, that they continue to accumulate this wealth, and that the vast majority of others are locked into poverty, denied access to health care, education, sufficient food of a good enough quality to maintain health, sufficient water clean enough to sustain themselves, the legal and civil protections of their human rights and so on.

This can be seen at a regional level as well as a global one – indeed that marmite-like politician Nick Clegg highlighted the disparity in life expectancy in his constituency in Sheffield, which according to the NHS in Sheffield is 17.9 years. That is tacit acknowledgement that lives are needlessly lost due to economic inequality. That is economic violence, here in the UK, killing people on a measurable scale. Now consider the case globally… Think about the situation in India, China, Africa… The case for acting in defence of others is pretty pressing.

Now consider that inequality is rising rapidly, that the richest 0.1% are taking an ever-larger share of national income (last measured at 10% of the entire income of UK citizens), and the incomes of the lowest-earning 50% of the population are shrinking, that the richest 1% of the UK population hold more wealth than the other 99% ADDED TOGETHER, and that right now our Coalition government is giving tax breaks to millionaires and the biggest banks while simultaneously cutting public spending (despite historically low national debt) and welfare payments, and considering cutting or freezing the legal minimum wage. Nick Clegg (as part of the coalition) is actively enforcing policies that will INCREASE the deaths due to economic violence in his own country, in his own constituency. So are all the other Coalition MPs. But they don’t have any mandate for these appalling policies. Few were in their manifestos, many aren’t even part of the Coalition Agreement (and that was never even given to the public for a referendum). The case for self-defence is surely overwhelming.

But what can we do? English Law suggests that even interventions that harm others, that result in the death of our attacker may be justified. But I can’t accept that very easily. If we start trying to appropriate others’ wealth by force we become the aggressor. If we kill, where does that end? Everything life has taught me so far suggests this only brings further violence and avoidable harm.

What about more peaceful and longer lasting measures, similar to the way I work with potentially aggressive adults (it’s very effective, and demonstrably safe)? what about reforming our economic system? What about reforming our democracy? What about peaceful occupation, employee take-overs of failing businesses? India managed a revolution without violent resistance. One of the strengths of the Occupy movement was its non-violent nature. Many of the evictions have been ruled unlawful, and the state clearly didn’t know how to respond when demonstrations are persistent but peaceful.

I think I need to explore this another time. It’s 1 am now, I think I’ve satisfied my brain.

I hope I’ve stimulated yours.

Whatever you do, do it to promote the well-being of everyone, even those who are causing harm. In the long run our world will be a better place for it.