Archives for posts with tag: structural violence

Monday 15th April 2013.

Today I cried twice. And that was before I heard about the bombing of the Boston Marathon.

Today crystallised the whole Economic War that I am seeing waged all around me. It contained every aspect, from the hidden maneuvers, through the disinformation and psy-ops, to the fightback and rebellion. I’m going to recount the events. You can make up your own mind as to whether I’ve lost the plot or just joined the dots to form an accurate picture of a rich, powerful elite holding a gun to my head and taking every last penny I have while trying to blame the undeserving poor bastard they mugged before me.

Event number 1. Someone shared a Mirror article describing an effective tax cut of £2bn on banks over last 2 years. The same story appears in newspapers and sites globally, even on the Gulf Times website. Although this originates from the opposition Labour party, who have fought the same war against you and me for the same people in the recent past, the numbers do stack up. The New Statesman article shows the working out.

Event number 2. I watched a little of ITV news at lunchtime. I wouldn’t normally watch it, ITV I mean, but I was at work and going along with my colleague. They ran a story about today being the first day of a roll-out of the “Benefit Cap” in London, with the rest of the UK to follow. A lot of people not currently in receipt of benefits and too short-sighted and brainwashed to realise they are one corporate take-over, receivership, cost-cutting excercise, illness, accident, efficiency drive away from needing more benefits than the cap allows thought this was a fantastic idea.

Event number 3. Twitted gave me a copy of an article about the Government’s decision to accept the Low Pay Commission’s advice to increase the National Minimum Wage by 12p per hour for adults over 21. This is a rise of 1.9% . But here’s the thing: Inflation (as selectively measured) is around 2.9/3%, but some economists point out that actually inflation is at least double UK govt estimates since 2007. This means we are seeing a real terms cut to national minimum wage of around 4% this year.

This is where I cried the first time. You see, my brain doesn’t work like most people around me. These are 3 separate news stories, about three separate things. Most people just take them as they find them. My brain joins them up. That’s when I see the picture of the rich robbing bastard and the poor sod he’s just mugged. I’m sure you’ve done this already, but for completeness I’m going to join them all up for you now.

Today we have seen the start of benefit cuts in the UK. This has been touted as “Making work pay” by the Govt and their cheerleaders (This is the part that shows the “soft war” tactics of disinformation and deceit). But it isn’t. How does cutting benefits make work pay? What a bizarre claim. The lowest paid workers are now going to see a real terms pay cut of around 4%. The CBI wanted them to have a pay freeze even though worker productivity, efficiency, corporate profits and CEO pay are all rising . Many of these workers will be receiving benefits, because the minimum wage is not enough to live on and cutting benefits won’t improve this. No matter how much is saved by these welfare “reforms” the sums will be dwarfed by the gigantic £2bn effective tax break for Banks – the very institutions that caused the financial meltdown, and the cost of bailing them out is causing our deficit. A very clear, direct transfer of wealth from a poor majority to a rich minority, that exacerbates the problem of income inequality, increases poverty, and concentrates power in the hands of the already rich and powerful. Why? because you can buy a personal meeting with our PM for £250k donation to his party. Because you can pay lobbying firms to pressure MPs to vote in your favour. This right here is the strucural violence I explored in an earlier post. Have a read:

I cried when I explained these 3 related points to my colleague at work, who is a single mum earning £6.87 an hour and caring for a terminally ill sister-in-law. She hadn’t seen the big picture before. (It was a stifled, welling-up-with-tears-looking-away-and-trying-to-hide-it kind of cry. I think I got away with it.)

93% of new housing benefit claims are for working households. Over 20% of workers are estimated to earn less than a living wage (£7.20ph outside of London in 2011). This is the exact opposite of making work pay. This is the economic equivalent of punching poorly paid workers in the face and kneeing them in the testes. As well as 2.5m officially unemployed, there are at least 3m “under employed” (stuck in part-time work) in the UK. These people aren’t claiming benefits as a lifestyle choice, it’s a result of the economic violence meted out to them by the very same people who are blaming them for everyone’s poverty while enriching themselves. This isn’t just lefty polemic. It’s actual real events. The results aren’t just some chavs on telly with 50-inch TVs having less to spend on booze and fags, the results are people in the poorest areas of the UK dying nearly 20 years earlier than those in the most affluent. The results are poverty, suffering and death of real human beings. These are the results of deliberate choices by people who will never have to experience the effects.

Also, Twitter showed me this article detailing the actual lies the DWP and it’s ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Grant Shapps have been spouting recently about welfare and “reform”. This should actually be illegal in their position, IMHO. This is the soft war. This is the deceit. This is how they try and win your mind, so you will fight for your own impoverishment.

But then, on the way home, Twitter made me cry again (This is the bit where the fightback/rebellion looks possible). This time in a “fucking yes, there is an alternative, and there are people trying to make it happen” kind of way- someone on Twitter shared this video, of Peter Thatchell giving a talk about “Economic Democracy”: [Click Here] It’s over 90min. I watched 5 on the bus, and it was enough to give me hope. I will write about it when I’ve watched the whole thing.

So to end with here’s something we could start demanding right now, to both cut the welfare bill and make work pay: Cap CEO pay at 25x the lowest in their corporation (its currently around 140x the average in FTSE 100 companies), enforce a living wage of £7.49 (that’s the latest figure I’ve seen) outside London (More inside, obviously) and introduce a guaranteed citizen’s income. THIS would “Make work pay” dear neo-liberals. But that isn’t actually what you want, is it? Trouble is, we do. And there’s a lot more of us…

PS The internet made me cry again. Someone shared this video on Facebook. It is 5 minutes long. It’s an excerpt of a speech by Charlie Kaufman. Watch it. It will grow your soul.


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.