Violence Isn’t Always Wrong

BEN GLINIECKI doesn’t like getting kicked in the balls. But that doesn’t mean that nicking a TV is always wrong.

Ben Gliniecki responds to Alice Eccles:

Trying to argue that violence is always bad in a democratic society is like trying to argue with a woman that getting kicked in the balls is more painful than childbirth. In both cases you’re biased, hyperbolic, and ultimately probably wrong.

As a man I might think that getting kicked in the balls is the most painful thing in the world. But as a man I’m biased because I never have and never will experience childbirth. If, somehow, I was able to really understand the pain of childbirth I might change my mind.

If I were rich, owned property, had a stable job and enough food I may think that stealing is morally wrong, that laws protecting private property are just and that a political system that requires both time and money to engage with is perfectly democratic. But what if I had none of those things and had instead spent the last four years watching my government ignore mass peaceful protest while cutting my job, education and healthcare to save the bankers? I might question that morality and that justice. And I might question how democratic all this really is.

To make my point I might insist that getting kicked in the balls is about a million times more painful than childbirth and recount an incident when an unfortunate friend of mine was kicked so hard that he threw up (admittedly he was very drunk at the time). That’s how painful getting kicked in the balls is. Beat that, childbirth.

Similarly I might insist that violent protest can never really be about politics. Just look at the London riots: a load of feral hooligans running about nicking TVs. They obviously don’t have any real problem with society or else surely they’d stand for Parliament, write a strongly worded letter to their MP, or have a peaceful wander through Westminster waving a banner and go home knowing they’d made a real difference. Their violence shows they have no real point to make.

Exaggeration and distorted examples are both dangerous and useless additions to any argument. If the London riots are an example of anything, it must be the stupidity of the Tories to think they could get away with blaming a “feral underclass” of “criminals” for social unrest which happens in the midst of cuts and recession.

Ultimately, if I say that getting kicked in the balls is more painful than childbirth, I’m probably wrong. A few minutes of pain probably can’t really compare to a few hours of pushing a human being through a fairly small part of your body.

And ultimately, if I say that violence is always bad in a democratic society, I’m probably wrong. Modern parliamentary democracy probably isn’t compatible with non-violent protest because the idea itself is based on violence. It was first thought up in societies based on the violence of slavery. It now exists in societies based on the violence of wage-slavery and private ownership of property.

This isn’t to say violent protest is desirable or even inevitable. But before we condemn it outright we should ask ourselves: is our democracy really all sunshine and rainbows? Are we really able to have our voices heard through peaceful protest? And in whose interest is this “democracy” really working?

University of Cambridge