On the meaning of violence: a response to Ann Coulter

As many of you have probably heard, the humorist Ann Coulter has compared the living occupation movement to the French Revolution–when she’s not comparing us to the Nazis! First let me say, in jest, that when Ann Coulter calls you a Nazi, it poses something of an interpretive dilemma: does she means it as an insult or a compliment? (Ann, I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings–nothing could be further from my intentions! If I can make such a joke at your expense it’s only because I think you’re a sophisticated enough humorist to understand when a joke is a joke.)

Jibes aside, I must say that I doubt very much that Coulter herself takes this comparison very seriously. She knows very well that the reason that such a comparison gets our attention is because the French Revolution was extremely violent (although not nearly as violent as the avoidable famine which preceded it). She also knows that, far from proportionally matching the level of violence seen in the French Revolution, the living occupiers haven’t even so much as harmed a hair on anyone’s head. How do I know that she knows this? Because if she had any shred of evidence regarding the occupiers doing harm to other persons, she would’ve presented it. For this reason alone, the comparison is simply laughable. Or, at least it would be so, if not for her entirely transparent and plainly malevolent intention: to produce an entirely unjustifiable fear among the public. Ann Coulter is scared of us, not because we’re violent (which, obviously, we’re not as anyone who actually comes to a general assembly will readily discover), but because we’re exposing the underlying violence being done to the majority of the population by the richest 1% (i.e., Ann Coulter’s employers)!

The truth is: Ann Coulter is scared of us because she’s afraid that if HER followers found out what we’re really about, they’d join us! This fear is entirely justifiable! What if the Tea Partiers learn that it’s really the rich and their lapdogs (e.g., the politicians of both parties, the mainstream media, and Ann Coulter) who are the cause of their suffering? What if the Tea Partiers stop taking out their frustrations on their natural allies (e.g., black and brown folk, public workers, and poor people) and instead channel their anger towards undoing the corporate domination of our society? Ann Coulter has good reason to be afraid! However, her fears are most certainly NOT about this movement’s potential for violence. To the contrary, her fears come from the fact that she correctly recognizes that this movement has the potential to UNDUE a portion of the everyday economic violence that the rich perpetrate upon the working class (which, of course, includes a significant portion of Ann Coulter’s own audience).

Perhaps you’re wondering, why am I bothering to respond so seriously to the humorist Ann Coulter? Aside from the fact that, as I argue above, the source of Ann Coulter’s fears about this movement are actually deeply revelatory of its deep democratic potential, I believe that it is of the utmost importance to expose the mainstream media’s deliberate obfuscation of the meaning of violence for what it is: a weapon of fear-mongering that keeps the working class divided. I propose the following rule of thumb: Whenever you see the word “violence” used in the media’s coverage of dissent movements be very, very suspicious. Violence means something very specific: the physical harming of the body or bodies of (an)other human beings. Thus, its primary meaning most certainly does NOT include such things as: destruction of property, theft and other petty crimes, civil disobedience (which is the antithesis of violence) and free speech. These things may at times be objectionable, but we don’t go around calling everything that we don’t like “violent” for a very good reason: doing so devalues the meaning of the word.

True, some of the above mentioned actions MAY subsequently be classified under the category of violence BUT IF AND ONLY IF they can be directly tied to the doing of harm to an actual person’s physical body. In a society such as ours which ostensibly values freedom of expression (i.e., a NON-totalitarian society) before the claim that a given action (speech, etc) is violent can be called legitimate, the claimant MUST demonstrate the direct physical harm done by that action to a real, living, breathing person’s body. For instance, in this respect, I can rightly describe the upward redistribution of wealth to the richest 1% as VIOLENT because that action directly harms the bodies of poor people. Statistically, we KNOW that this action (the upward redistribution of wealth) causes people to go hungry, live without adequate shelter, etc. In other words, the upward redistribution of wealth is a form of violence because it KILLS people.

On the other hand, according to this properly limited and conservative definition of “violence,” I openly acknowledge that I do not yet have adequate evidence to describe Ann Coulter’s claim that the living occupation movement is violent as being in and of itself an act of violence. For that reason, I choose instead to call it simply: fear-mongering. Indeed, I do not yet know if what Ann Coulter says will actually harm people’s bodies (EVEN if that was the intention of her rhetoric). People may very well come to see past her fear-mongering, if they haven’t already. Indeed, intentionally or unintentionally, Ann Coulter’s over the top satire may itself even point the way for some to see the lies of the rich and powerful (and their servants) for what they are: a desperate attempt to keep the rest of us divided amongst ourselves. Without even trying, in her own way, Ann Coulter might just be doing her part to undue the systemic violence of our society!

Ann, if you really care to understand what the living occupation movement is about, the best way to do that is to actually show up at a general assembly. I think that what you see would surprise you. More than anything else that I can compare it to, what I’ve seen at the GAs looks like the model of democratic civic participation that we’re taught in high school. The living occupiers are putting the highest ideals of our society in practice, many of the very same ideals in which you claim to believe.

I know that you’re afraid, Ann. I understand your fears, as unrealistic as they may be. Many of us don’t look like you and, I admit it, many of us just plain don’t like you. However, I promise you that if you come to a general assembly, I will personally accompany you AND I will do everything that I can to prevent any harm from happening to you. The truth is: you’d be perfectly safe at a GA even without me. I don’t expect you to take my word for it. That’s why I am extending this offer of protection to you, as unnecessary as it is. We may disagree about just about everything, but I know that you have a living body and that’s something that MUST always be respected. As living occupiers, respect for any and all living human bodies is one of our core values. Is it one of yours?

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About 11again

Used to be an academic... now I'm a washed up academic. I like cooking, blues music, black writers, and morally compromised people of all persuasions.
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One Response to On the meaning of violence: a response to Ann Coulter

  1. 11again says:

    One more point needs to be made. It is a general point, which as of yet, in no way applies to the living occupation movement. The actions of some liberation movements do indeed result in harm being done to real human beings. I don’t deny that this is a fact, albeit an unfortunate one. However, while liberation movements may at times engage in acts which may be properly called violent according to the definition enumerated above, nevertheless, such acts may be justifiable insofar as they meet the following conditions: 1, they alleviate more bodily harm than they cause, and 2, they are necessary (i.e., there are no other non-violent alternatives which would achieve a similar amount of harm-amelioration). In other words, when liberation movements engage in acts of violence, the harm caused by such actions must always and only be judged in proportion to the violence committed on a daily basis by the institutions of the status quo that they are resisting. It is simply ridiculous to hold the acts of liberation movements to an infinitely higher standard than that which we use to judge the institutions in which we routinely hold our public trust.

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