The Reductionist Idea of Violence in Chile

Mom, what is violence?

I’m not trying to undervalue the continuous rise in criminal and political violence in recent years, which has led to a significant increase in murders in Chile

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – Three years after the social uprising in Chile, and after the draft Constitution was rejected in a popular referendum this past September, it seems like we are trapped in a paralytical state, politically-speaking, which is concerning for those of us who are still hoping for important changes in the country.

I’m not only saying this because a democratic solution to the many problems Chileans face isn’t anywhere on the horizon, but also because violence has dominated headlines recently, and different groups of the elite are using this to generate opposition, posing it as a security vs. constitutional matter.

I’m not trying to undervalue the continuous rise in criminal and political violence in recent years, which has led to a significant increase in murders in Chile, creating a legitimate demand from citizens to live in safe and peaceful environments.

However, the problem lies here in the clear intention of Chile’s most conservative sectors to not only shut down any new attempt at a constitutional process with fear, but also to perpetuate a reductionist idea of violence, which limits it in conceptual terms and hinders any kind of change.

That’s to say, they only want to understand violence as an individual action, or as the physical aggression on another person’s body or will, or simply as the destruction of public and private property, closing the door to a holistic and systemic view of the issue.

Thus, other types of violence that are more symbolic, structural and relational in nature aren’t considered violence and are only used by Leftist groups and social movements during the social uprising to justify physical violence, according to conservative discourse.  

This is what different public figures in Chile have been putting out there, who are adored by mass media, such as lawyer Carlos Peña, who with his intellectual cap, has repeated time and time again that political violence during the social uprising was justified by these other types of violence, but he doesn’t see it that way.

In other words, Peña, a great spokesperson for Chile’s intellectual elite, doesn’t believe there are other forms of violence – such as economic, psychological, racial, gender-based, sex violence – because they are just injustices in his eyes.

As a result, he is putting forward a reductionist discourse about violence, which is an attempt to take weight from and make other forms of violence invisible, so as to uphold the ruling institutionality.

It seems that these conservative groups would like to plant the idea that violence is a process without any history, context and is just the result of lawlessness and the dysfunctional behavior of some deviants, understanding it from a functionalist and linear point of view, which completely simplifies and disconnects social processes.

On the other hand, saying that systems of oppression such as racism, classism, adult-centrism, mentalism, extractivism and sexism, are just as violent as direct violence, is seeing violence in an interconnected way and not as an isolated case.

The above is not in any way an attempt to justify the violent actions of some against others or to play down its meaning so that everything is violence, like Peña also said at the Center of Public Studies, I’m just trying to analyze this problem from a much broader view.

That said, looting, fires or any other kind of attack that puts the peace of society in danger, needs to be condemned. But institutional and state violence also needs to be questioned, as physical aggression isn’t the only thing that affects groups that have been discriminated against, excluded, and rejected for centuries.

We shouldn’t forget that while the State is responsible for exercising legitimate physical violence to keep order and peace in society, as it has monopoly control of forces and weapons, it has also violated human rights and been a denier of women, sexual and gender diversity breakaway groups, the neuro diverse, indigenous, immigrants, the elderly, children, teenagers and even Nature. 

For that reason, those of us who believe we need to build more democratic, equal and inclusive societies can’t fall into the elite’s trap and say let’s condemn violence, wherever it comes from, without first questioning this statement, as this phrase hides more structural violence, from an allegedly neutral idea of violence, and it has also been strategically used to stigmatize and condemn a political adversary.

In short, the right thing would be for us to say we condemn every form of violence, wherever it comes from, in plural, both from the State when this is the case, as well as from society as a whole, even if it bothers the elite and they want to impose a functionalist view of their reigning interests and the neoliberal system they have today.

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