Distinguishing Categories of Violence

by Lierre Keith, an excerpt from the book Deep Green Resistance, Chapter Three: Liberals and Radicals

Distinguishing Categories of Violence

It’s understandable that people who care about justice want to reject violence; many of us are survivors of it, and we know all too well the entitled psychology of the men who used it against us. And whatever our personal experiences, we can all see that the violence of imperialism, racism, and misogyny has created useless destruction and trauma over endless, exhausting millennia. There are good reasons that many thoughtful people embrace a nonviolent ethic.

Violence can be used destructively or wisely: by hierarchy or for self-defense, against people or property, for self-actualization or political resistance.

“Violence” is a broad category and we need to be clear what we’re talking about so that we can talk about it as a movement. I would urge the following distinctions: the violence of hierarchy vs. the violence of self-defense, violence against people vs. violence against property, and the violence as self-actualization vs. the violence for political resistance. It is difficult to find someone who is against all of these. When clarified in context, the abstract concept of “violence” breaks down into distinct and concrete actions that need to be judged on their own merits. It may be that in the end some people will still reject all categories of violence; that is a prerogative we all have as moral agents. But solidarity is still possible, and is indeed a necessity given the seriousness of the situation and the lateness of the hour. Wherever you personally fall on the issue of violence, it is vital to understand and accept its potential usefulness in achieving our collective radical and feminist goals.

Violence of Hierarchy vs. Violence of Self-Defense

The violence of hierarchy is the violence that the powerful use against the dispossessed to keep them subordinated. As an example, the violence committed for wealth is socially invisible or committed at enough of a distance that its beneficiaries don’t have to be aware of it. This type of violence has defined every imperialist war in the history of the US that has been fought to get access to “natural resources” for corporations to turn into the cheap consumer goods that form the basis of the American way of life. People who fight back to defend themselves and their land are killed. No one much notices. The powerful have armies, courts, prisons, and taxation on their side. They also own the global media, thus controlling not just the information but the entire discourse. The privileged have the “comforts or elegancies” (as one defender of slavery put it) to which they feel God, more or less, has entitled them, and the luxury to remain ignorant. The entire structure of global capitalism runs on violence (Violence: The Other Fossil Fuel?). The violence used by the powerful to keep their hierarchy in place is one manifestation that we can probably agree is wrong.

In contrast stands the violence of self-defense, a range of actions taken up by people being hurt by an aggressor. Everyone has the right to defend her or his life or person against an attacker. Many leftists extend this concept of self-defense to the right to collective defense as a people. For example, many political activists supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, even taking personal risks in solidarity work like building schools and harvesting coffee. Indeed some people refuse to call this collective self-defense “violence,” defining violence as only those brutal acts that support hierarchy. I believe it is more honest to call this violence, and accept that not all violence is equal, or equally bad.

Violence against Property vs. Violence against People

Again, some people reject that violence is the correct word to describe property destruction. Because physical objects cannot feel pain, they argue, tools like spray paint and accelerants can’t be considered weapons and their use is not violent. I think the distinction between sensate beings and insensate objects is crucial. So is property destruction violent or nonviolent? This question is both pragmatic—we do need to call it something—and experiential. Destroying property can be done without harming a single sentient being and with great effect to stop an unjust system. Can anyone really argue against the French resistance blowing up railroad tracks and bridges to stop the Nazis?

But violence against property can also be an act meant to intimidate. This is the source of the unease that many progressives and radicals may feel toward property destruction. If you have been a person so threatened, you know how effective it is. Indeed, if violence against property were an ineffective approach to instilling fear and compliance, no one would ever use it. Burning a cross on someone’s lawn is meant to traumatize and terrorize. So is smashing all the dinner plates to the floor. A friend who survived a right-wing terrorist attack on the building where she worked was later hospitalized with severe PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). Property destruction can have a crippling effect on sentient beings.

Whatever we decide to call property destruction, we need to weigh the consequences and strategic benefits and make our decisions from there. Again, “violence” is not a bad word, only a descriptive one. Obviously, many more people can accept an attack against a window, a wall, or an empty building than can accept violence against a person, and that’s as it should be. But wherever you stand personally on this issue, basic respect for each other and for our movement as a whole demands that we acknowledge the distinction between people and property when we discuss violence.

Violence as Self-Actualization vs. Violence for Political Resistance

Male socialization is basic training for life in a military hierarchy. The psychology of masculinity is the psychology required of soldiers, demanding control, emotional distance, and a willingness and ability to dominate. The subject of that domination is a negative reference group, an “Other” that is objectified as subhuman. In patriarchy, the first group that boys learn to despise is girls. Franz Fanon quotes (uncritically, of course) a young Algerian militant who repeatedly chanted, “I am not a coward, I am not a woman, I am not a traitor.” No insult is worse than some version of “girl,” usually a part of female anatomy warped into hate speech.

With male entitlement comes a violation imperative: men become men by breaking boundaries, whether it’s the sexual boundaries of women, the cultural boundaries of other peoples, the physical boundaries of other nations, the genetic boundaries of species, or the biological boundaries of ecosystems. For the entitled psyche, the only reason “No” exists is because it’s a sexual thrill to force past it. As Robin Morgan poignantly describes the situation of Tamil women,

To the women, the guerillas and the army bring disaster. They complain that both sets of men steal, loot, and molest women and girls. They hate the government army for doing this, but they’re terrified as well of the insurgent forces ostensibly fighting to free them. Of their own Tamil men, one says wearily, “If the boys come back, we will have the same experience all over again. We want to be left in peace.”

Eldridge Cleaver announced, “We shall have our manhood or the earth will be leveled by our attempts to gain it.” This is a lose-lose proposition for the planet, of course, and for the women and children who stand in the way of such masculine necessity. Or as the Vietnamese say, when the elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.

As we can see from these examples, whether from a feminist understanding or from a peace perspective, the concern that taking up violence could potentially be individually and culturally dangerous is a valid one. Many soldiers are permanently marked by war. Homeless shelters are peopled by vets too traumatized to function. Life-threatening situations leave scars, as do both committing and surviving atrocities.

But violence is a broad category of action; it can be wielded destructively or wisely. We can decide when property destruction is acceptable, against which physical targets, and with what risks to civilians. We can decide whether direct violence against people is appropriate. We can build a resistance movement and a supporting culture in which atrocities are always unacceptable; in which penalties for committing them are swift and severe; in which violence is not glorified as a concept but instead understood as a specific set of actions that we may have to take up, but that we will also set down to return to our communities. Those are lines we can inscribe in our culture of resistance. That culture will have to include a feminist critique of masculinity, a good grounding in the basics of abuse dynamics, and an understanding of posttraumatic stress disorder. We will have to have behavioral norms that shun abusers instead of empowering them, support networks for prisoners, aid for combatants struggling with PTSD, and an agreement that anyone who has a history of violent or abusive behavior needs to be kept far away from serious underground action. Underground groups should do an “emotional background check” on potential recruits. Like substance abuse, personal or relational violence should disqualify that recruit. First and foremost, we need a movement made of people of character where abusers have no place. Second, the attitudes that create an abuser are at their most basic level about entitlement. A recruit with that personality structure will almost certainly cause problems when the actionists need sacrifice, discipline, and dependability. Men who are that entitled are able to justify almost any action. If they’re comfortable committing atrocities against their intimates and families, it will be all too easy for them to behave badly when armed or otherwise in a position of power, committing rape, torture, or theft. We need our combatants to be of impeccable character for our public image, for the efficacy of our underground cells, and for the new society we’re trying to build. “Ours is not a war for robbery, not to satisfy our passions, it is a struggle for freedom,” Nat Turner told his recruits, who committed no atrocities and stole only the supplies that they needed.

Only people with a distaste for violence should be allowed to use it. Empowering psychopaths or reinscribing the dominating masculinity of global patriarchy are mistakes we must avoid.

A very simple question to ask as we collectively and individually consider serious actions like property destruction is, is this action tactically sound? Does it advance our goal of saving the planet? Or does it simply answer an emotional need to do something, to feel something? I have been at demonstrations where young men smashed windows of mom and pop grocery stores and set fire to random cars in the neighborhood. This is essentially violence as a form of self-expression—for a very entitled self. Such random acts of destruction against people who are not the enemy have no place in our strategy or in our culture. It’s especially the job of men to educate other men about our collective rejection of masculinist violence.

Editors Note: The organization DGR is founded on the ideas and analysis laid out in the book by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Aric McBay. To increase the book’s accessibility, especially to international audiences, we’re now making it available for free in two ways:

What is radical feminism?

There are many branches of feminism. Radical feminism takes aim at the root cause of the crisis facing women: the system of violence that keeps people divided by sex with a dominant class (men) and an oppressed class (women).

This system of violence is called patriarchy, and over the past two thousand years it has come to rule most of the world. Patriarchal civilization is based on exploiting and consuming women, living communities, and the earth itself.

Radical feminists seek to liberate all women from oppression. We side with women resisting male violence in all its forms, including rape, pornography, prostitution, female infanticide, and forced birth. We are dismantling misogyny (hatred of women), biophobia (fear and hatred of nature), and lesbophobia (fear and hatred of lesbians).

Radical feminists in Deep Green Resistance are committed to overturning this brutal patriarchal culture in defense of the earth, the source of life; and our sisters, women around the world.

Deconstructing The Patrix

by Madam Nomad

This post is made up of a few relevant entries from Madam Nomad’s personal journal.

OCTOBER 17TH, 2016

Madam NomadFeeling comfortably detached as I wait here for the end of the world.

I’m in an odd place because I left behind all the guideposts I used to rely on the explain the world and shape my views and behavior. I have gone into the Outer Darkness, far beyond what I leaned from all the philosophers and gurus and I don’t believe ANY of it anymore. I see now that ALL of it was presented from the male point of view, everything I learned, everything I read, except for the work of a few feminist authors and teachers.

The only teaching that has any value is the one that directs me to become aware of my body and my breathing and to work on maintaining my awareness in the present, here and now.

I am keenly aware of just how powerless I am to affect what is happening on this planet. Some moments I desperately want to be released from this disaster, but at others, like right now, I’m just grateful that my own little life makes some sense and has beauty in it.

It would be great to stop taking patriarchy so personally.The whole point of rape culture is to reduce me to an object, a non-agent. My “beingness,” my uniqueness, my personhood is irrelevant.

Men seek revenge on women because men can’t have babies. This is the whole primal truth of the matter. This truth is rabidly suppressed, just like the truth about climate change and the mass die-off of pollinators from industrial petrochemicals, for instance. These are truths that I am never allowed to speak aloud in public. People do not want to hear it. It makes them uncomfortable to hear the truth.

I spoze I need to write another blogpost about this – about Marge Piercy’s conjecture that technology will solve this problem of male jealousy over women’s reproductive capacity by growing babies in artificial wombs and shooting up men with female hormones so they can breastfeed, as she proposed in her book, Woman On The Edge Of Time. Tranzing is the tech solution to inequality between the sexes and this is a problem because medical science and technology are capitalist, masculinist enterprises and as such, don’t particularly care about women and the natural world, which are simply “resources” that exist to make profit from.

I’m coming to accept that I’m not responsible for patriarchy. I didn’t cause it and I can’t cure it, as they say around the 12-step groups that deal with addiction. It seems that my yelling at the delusional masses in online forums (and frantic emails to former women-only spaces like rape crisis centers that now permit men who say they are women into their support groups) is just my attempt to blow off steam in my mind-shattering grief over what is taking place,  over the harm that is being done to women and the very basis of life on earth, and for all the life that is being lost.

The violence that I have been subjected to throughout my life from this rapist culture gave me a distorted sense of responsibility. I am not responsible for patriarchy and it’s brainless, gynocidal, SUICIDAL ecocide.

A patriarchal family is a slave family and is a shame-based family because shame is what molds people into slavery. All of the implied and actual violence is deliberate and intended to produce shame within individuals such that they are unable to stop the violence. The Circle of Death.

I am still coping with the injuries I sustained in my marriage. The man I married is an automaton who acts out a rigid role. I used to explain his behavior by the fact that he grew up with an alcoholic father. I did not exist as a living, autonomous sentient being. I was also only a ROLE, an object, an economic unit, as he actually stated about me and our children. I was a function and a means to his own ends.

About a year ago I was trying to write about addiction and slavery and attachment theory and was unable to find the heart in it…because I was not consciously considering the role of male supremacy and rape culture. Male privilege is always the elephant in the living room. It’s the silent oppressive fog that surrounds all of our social structures. So I wasn’t able to put together the severed parts, I had a jumble of facts, but the essence was missing.

Ten thousand years of female slavery shaped the relations between my ex-husband and me. He was grown the same way that my father and brothers and all males are made, secure in their positions of dominance over women and their right to our labor, our bodies, the products of our wombs, our care and attention.

I could not be a moral agent until I was able to walk away from all of this. I could not be responsible until I was able to separate myself from the constant violence from males that shaped my choices. Instead of being sorrowful I know I need to be grateful that I woke up and that I have this opportunity to come to real life, to the real world, dying as it is. I still have this moment of autonomy and clarity.

muriel“WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF ONE WOMAN TOLD THE TRUTH ABOUT HER LIFE?
THE WORLD WOULD SPLIT OPEN.”

Muriel Rukeyser

Since all indications point to the fact that we are living in a virtually inescapable trap that I have come to call The Patrix , and that this trap, this machine,  is busily in the process of destroying all capacity of the Earth to sustain life, I have decided it is time for me to lay out my own truth.  There is nothing left to lose. It is time to split the world open.

 Deconstructing The Patrix

The Patrix (a Gaia University coinage meaning the ‘patriarchal matrix’ or matrix of oppression) is an ever present, potent and frequently invisible shape-maker of human cultures. It consists of thousands of dysfunctional thought patterns (memes) that function as a mutually supporting complex, interlocking system. These memes are installed in our individual, community, and cultural operating systems sometimes by contagion or by accident, and more often by patterns of oppression.

Silencing

#WhenIWasMy father threatened me over and over that if I told anyone what he was doing to my body that I would lose my family. To a three-year-old child this is nothing less than a death threat, a threat that I would be ostracized out in the wilderness and die of starvation. He was not lying to me. I have lost my entire family, the one I was born into as well as the one that I created from my body, because I would not shut up about being raped and beaten by my father, from early infancy until my mother died of DES-related cervical cancer when I was twelve years old.

When I first began blogging in 2012 it was my hope to be able to post actual entries from my daily journal online. I chose not to do this out of concern for the privacy of family members with whom I still maintained contact. But I have had to separate myself from even these individuals because they continued to be abusive toward me.

I will be placing these entries under their own heading (My Journal) in order to distinguish them from my other work and interests.

So, here goes:

October 8, 2016

My first though upon waking this morning was about the similarity between my daughter’s and my mother’s behavior,  how I cringed in their presence,  how they made me feel inferior and unsafe and unwanted. They both very much wanted me dead.

I woke up this morning with the thought that my parents actually tortured me. I am who and what I am because of the torture I endured throughout  my childhood. This is why I always resonated with stories about what the worldwide androcratic religion has done to women everywhere throughout history – murdering widows in India,  butchering vulvas in Africa and the Near East, burning “witches” during The Enclosure Movement of the Middle Ages. It is because I physically lived this kind of mindbinding torture every day of my childhood.

All of the torture was intended to prepare me for an adulthood of being eaten alive, exploited and then discarded by men and by my children.

It wasn’t persona,  and it wasn’t even particularly conscious – it was reflexive on the part of my caretakers. Because, of course, my mother had,  herself,  been tortured and exploited all through her own life.

ww1-d-533-shame-jpgThe way I see it now we were of the social class known as “cannon-fodder.” Boys were raised to be fighters and soldiers in the endless patriarchal wars of acquisition of land, women and resources, and girls were raised to service the soldiers. This was fairly explicit. I was beaten many times for screwing up household chores and told I would be subject to the same from my future husband if I didn’t straighten up. And I watched my father beat my mother over and over for minor infractions of household service.

That was the pattern. So, of course I blindly married into a military family (my father-in-law was a veteran, both brothers-in-law were lifetime military men,)  even though MY soldier wore a white collar and became a different kind of government functionary. He axed people’s jobs instead of their throats.

All humans are now under a spell brought about by deep conditioning and virtually nobody is awake and aware and able to act freely. My recurring childhood nightmare of being the only one left alive after the bomb falls seems to literally true. It’s as if I am the only one awake in a world full of automatons.

I knew it as a child, I knew it then and I know it now. I have been frantically searching for others who are awake. I see a spark sometimes, but these moments fade quickly and they add to my despair. No-one seems to be able to maintain the fire of truth and PRESENCE. The conditioning we are subjected to all our lives is absolute.

The Target

What I am remembering is always being my mother’s target, never knowing when she would, without warning, reach out and slap me hard across the face. I never knew what behavior would make her hit me. I was always in a heightened state of tension, just waiting for the blows. The cruelty of this was that my anxiety would make me clumsy and that enraged her even more.

And there was the torture of the “medical procedures” I was subjected to, for instance the frequent enemas and  being laid naked on the floor to be swathed in the sulfur laden cotton batting they was supposed to heal the rash between my legs. (I had that rash from my father’s beard as he rubbed my genitals and inner thighs raw, but I was under threat of death not to tell.) The torture of the sexual abuse and being held responsible for this abuse and all of the drudging housework I was forced to do for my father and brothers, because I was female and my mother was dying of cancer from DES exposure (Which was a form of medicalized male violence against women.)

Psychopaths

My father was a psychopath in a culture designed and forcible perpetuated by psychopaths. The worst thing about this for me was that my brutal early conditioning led me to become the victim of these types of individuals throughout my life, from my lovers, my husband, the pill-proffering doctors, my own children. The behavior seems so familiar. I misinterpret the words and actions of these people as care and concern because I was dependent on monsters for food and shelter as a child. The attentions of vampires feel like love.

My ex-husband and my last and only lover after him were both this type of man. They were identical in their beliefs about their natural entitlement and my existence as an object to be exploited for personal gain. I am still not clear about how both of my daughters came to be psychopaths. The closest explanation I can come up with is the dynamic that exists throughout patriarchy whereby daughters witness their mothers being tortured and are tortured BY their mothers in many cases. Girl children react to this by dis-identifying with their mothers and holding rage toward them.

juryI kept trying to force my daughters to look at all of this. But the damage was too deep. They refuse to see the pattern. My daughters are ruined. They will never emerge from the evil enchantment they are under. They will never question who are the actual agents of the destruction. They won’t even face the fact that the destruction has taken place, that it was deliberate and calculated. That is was done by my grandfather, who protected his pedophile son and paid for the doctors and lawyers who testified against me in court when I was nine years old. It was done by my father, by their alcoholic grandfather, by their own narcissistic father, by the cops and the judges and the doctors and the CEO’s and politicians.

Internecine Destruction

Patriarchy has won its internecine battle and all life on Earth is now threatened with extinction.I am now able to make the connection that the abuse and torture that we were all subjected to as schoolkids was directly analogous to what was happening “in private” in my house. We were continually threatened with mass annihilation, we were controlled on the minutest levels by ritual shaming and the threat of humiliation if we stepped out of line.

That’s what the nuke drills were intended to do to the entire population. This was the purpose behind being put in restrictive desk seats in precise rows inside of concrete and brick boxes. Patriarchal terrorism at it’s finest: domestic abuse in the home, psychological torture in the schools.

duck-and-cover-100413736-primary-idge

 

 

Read more about the violence of patriarchy on the Deep Green Resistance News Service.

Lierre Keith on Feminism

People sometimes say that we will know feminism has done its job when half the CEOs are women. That’s not feminism; to quote Catharine MacKinnon, it’s liberalism applied to women. Feminism will have won not when a few women get an equal piece of the oppression pie, served up in our sisters’ sweat, but when all dominating hierarchies – including economic ones – are dismantled.

–Lierre Keith