Violence permeates every aspect of our lives.
Most people don’t want to believe that.
So they hide behind condemnations.
Preferring a delusion to the truth.
Our society trades in violence.
And if you want to change it.
You have to trade favours.
Note: When I started writing this, I didn’t realise where it was going, or the conclusion I’d come to. It’s a surprise but not surprising.
For those who’ve been living in a bunker, afraid Vladimir Putin will escalate the conflict in Ukraine to the rest of Europe, this is the moment actor Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock across the face.
Moments earlier Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. She was not happy. So Smith walked on stage, in front of the assembled crowd, on live television, and slapped Rock across the face. He bitch slapped him. On television. In front of an international audience. I don’t think anyone has ever seen the like, and rightly or wrongly, it will go down as one of “the greatest moments in television history”.
Social media was awash with condemnations for Smith. One account censured him three times in quick succession. “Imagine if Chris Rock was a woman.” “Violence is not acceptable.” “I always condemn.” Imagine if Rock had been a woman? What if he’d been white? What if Smith was white, or a woman? If anything about that event had been different, the intricacies of race and gender politics would’ve changed the nature of “the slap”. But it wasn’t. It was two “equal status” men going toe to toe. Chris Rock insulted Will Smith’s wife. Smith reacted. Verbal violence got a physical response.
It’s worth taking a moment to consider how deliberate Smith was. It was a slap not a punch. He didn’t charge at Rock, knock him to the floor, and beat him to a pulp. There’s a certain chivalry, a nineteenth century formality, to his action. If he’d been wearing gloves, he would’ve thrown one at Rock’s feet, and demanded satisfaction. Perhaps not doing that was Smith’s biggest mistake. He punished Rock before giving him the chance to apologise?
Now consider Rock’s response. Smith slapped him across the face, and he took it. He could’ve taken a swing at Smith. Why didn’t he slap him back? Everyone would’ve understood. Was it a sign of weakness, or some inner moral strength? Could it be, he knew he’d demeaned Pinkett-Smith, so accepted his punishment? Was it his instincts as a comedian? Did he recognise in that instant “the slap” could become a set up for some yet to be written monologue? More likely, a lifetime of social conditioning kicked in, and stopped him returning Smith’s favour?
Parking all of that for a moment. I think “the slap” and the subsequent reaction to it exposes a much deeper truth. The constraints society puts on violence aren’t always enough to keep it in check. It’s always there, bubbling under the surface, ready to boil over. Anyone who denies this fact is fooling themselves. Injecting novocaine into a clenched jaw. Hoping if they can’t feel it. It didn’t happen.
Make no mistake violence happens all of the time. So often in fact, aggression and his corollary, are an ever-present part of life. How often has someone cursed at you on public transport. Barged past you in the street. Reached across you in the supermarket. Almost clipped you with their car. Ridden into you with their bike. A million random acts of violence, stopped from going postal by the rules most of us live by. The irony is, the society that doesn’t want us punching some fucker who offends us, is the same society that doesn’t even pretend to practice what it preaches.
Violence goes far beyond these everyday aggressions, and glides like oil on water through our lives. There’s economic violence. The tyranny of low wages, souring rents, doubling utility bills, unaffordable travel, expensive food. There’s political violence. The litany of lies told, truths withheld, corruption ignored, treachery dismissed. There’s the violence of exploitation. The labours wrung, minerals extracted, waters poisoned, environment destroyed. There’s physical violence. The accumulation of slaps, punches, and kicks; head butts, sucker punches, and right hooks; cracked whips, swung bats, stabbed knives; gun shots, bombs dropped, and ordnance exploded; woman against man; men against women; men against man; woman fighting women. Unrelenting violence happening all the time, and there’s no escape.
Reading that back, what strikes me is a simple truth, there’s profit in violence. To have one you use the other. If you don’t see this, you’ve chosen not to look. And that tells me you’re either an aggressor or protected by privilege. Those comfortable souls, who toss out condemnation like emotional hand grenades, are hiding behind their privilege. They don’t even realise, if you can occupy some high moral high ground, capture a hill and protect it, that’s only because a million acts of violence have been done to protect your stronghold.
Why’s any of that important? Because if you don’t understand how violence is used, you can never change anything. Hell, you probably won’t even survive. The sad reality is, you have to first survive the violence done to you. Only then can you sue for change. And if you want change you have to engage in violence to get it. Try telling me, honestly, I’m wrong? You want a raise at work, you have to fight for it. You want somewhere to live, you have to battle a hundred other desperate families for the privilege. You want your kids to inherit a planet they can live on, you have to got toe to toe with multinationals and governments who don’t care.
Think about Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain, or Black Lives Matter. Three groups trying to make social changes. Demonstrations after disruption all designed to raise awareness, and the consciousness of wider society. Each time the vested interests that govern us throw every level of physical, legal, and social violence at them. Fighting that weight of power, thinking violence isn’t the answer, doesn’t understand the question.
My conclusion. The people of the United Kingdom need to recognise the violence that is being done to them. If we are not strong. If we do not burry our reluctance to respond, to fight, those forces of wealth and privilege, tradition and power, will use violence to destroy us all.
If you want change, there must be violence.
This is a truth.