Bosch and Zizek on the larger problem of violence

October 22, 2011


If there is a unifying thesis that runs through the bric-a-brac of reflections on violence that follow, it is that a similar paradox holds true for violence. At the forefront of our minds, the obvious signals of violence are acts of crime and terror, civil unrest, international conflict. But we should learn to step back, to disentangle ourselves from the fascinating lure of this directly visible “subjective” violence, violence performed by a clearly identifiable agent. We need to perceive the contours of the background which generates such outbursts. A step back enables us to identify a violence that sustains our very efforts to fight violence and to promote tolerance. This is the starting point, perhaps even the axiom, of the present book: subjective violence is just the most visible portion of a triumvirate that also includes two objective kinds of violence. First, there is a “symbolic” violence embodied in language and its forms, what Heidegger would call “our house of being.” As we shall see later, this violence is not only at work in the obvious-and extensively studied-cases of incitement and of the relations of social domination reproduced in our habitual speech forms: there is a more fundamental form of violence still that pertains to language as such, to its imposition of a certain universe of meaning. Second, there is what I call “systemic” violence, or the often catastrophic consequences of the smooth functioning of our economic and political systems.

Violence, p1


Third, there is the matter of violence. Support for violence is intrinsic to Marxism. Without condoning the violence of the status quo and Christians’ blessing of it (which is actually the bigger problem), one has to express concern about the support for revolutionary violence (which is actually the lesser problem, since it is really a response to the violence of the system) in some branches of liberation theology.

Transforming Mission, p441

They reflect on different aspects. But a common thread is an important reminder: the violence of the status quo is the bigger problem. I’m convinced we’ll achieve more if our public discourse tackle the issue of economic exclusion and inequality, inhumane living conditions and deep racism, elements of what I would consider to constitute the violence of the status quo today, almost inevitable by-products of the smooth functioning of our economic system. Violence, also in it’s “subjective” forms, is a serious problem facing South Africa. Yet the vigor with which we are tackling this issue might just be deflecting attention from the violence of the status quo, the violence that keep the the privileged the privileged, and the poor the poor. Creating the impression that the “real problem” is individual acts of violence associated with what is considered criminal, while this should be read symptom of a bigger problem of violence.


5 Responses to “Bosch and Zizek on the larger problem of violence”

  1. Annemie Says:

    You, and David and Zizek (the last of whom I have never heard – but I fully agree with what he says in the quote) are all SO right! I have just commented on what you wrote about poverty and the atheism in the grace we say at a meal – always adding: “And be with those who go hungry” or words with a similar meaning.

    Actually the two problems of poverty and violence have much in common. We have to focus on the REAL issue – that of the “status quo” – the smooth running of the economic and social systems which create our “comfort zone” and yet constitute the actual “machinery” that causes the poverty and violence.

    And that is where my mind stops functioning. I come up against a wall and do not know how to continue and WHERE to look for a way out – a way to end poverty, a way to end violence – a way to turn our whole society and our way thinking, our way of living on its head.

    During the apartheid times there were those activists who believed that nothing would change in South Africa before we had a holocaust-experience so that everything would break down and go to ruins before it could be built up anew – built up in a better and more just way. At that time the great “Miracle” happened and we escaped the holocaust.

    I cannot but hope and pray that we may keep on working and struggling and brain-storming and praying and applying our minds and our faith-turned-to-deeds so we can find a way to start a process of deep-cutting change which would be real and total without dumping the whole of our citizenry and society into still deeper misery than the thousands upon thousands who languish in poverty are experiencing now. And exactly the same applies to the violence in our midst. Both the violence of “criminals” and the institutionalized violence of the way we live – that kind of violence that is so vast and obvious and “in -the-eye” that we cannot see it. It is also so shifty, subtle, underhand and insidious that is would take some enormous catastrophe to wake us up to the reality there-of. That is why some of us think a kind of holocaust is the only answer – but we are the people of HOPE – aren’t we. Let’s DO something about it… but we can only do it “together with all who believe”

  2. I’m trying to undestand what Bosch meant in this paragraph. ” Without condoning the violence of the status quo and Christians’ blessing of it […], one has to express concern about the support for revolutionary violence […] in some branches of liberation theology.” Did he mean that violence in some branches of liberation theology is not justified? Or did he mean that when someone does not condone violence of the status quo, this person will err in not expressing concern for violence in some branches of liberation theology? I can’t quite discern here if he is writting something “good”, “bad” or neutral” about the mentioned branches of liberation theology.

  3. Cobus Says:

    Bosch was deeply influenced by Yoder and the Mennonites, and opposed to all violence, also those approaches to liberation theology which condoned the use of violence. So he doesn’t reject liberation theology per se, just those approaches which consider the use of violence justified.
    However, the parts in brackets is then important, because many of his colleagues and friends differed from him on the question of pacifism. Although he consider the use of violence in liberation problematical, he reminds that this is actually the smaller problem. He was even more critical of the use of violence found in the status quo of political and economic systems.
    Hope that helps to make sense?

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  5. […] Elsewhere on his blog, Bosch and Zizek on “the larger problem of violence.” […]

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