Wed. May 22nd, 2024

By: Eddie SantoPrieto

[Note: I apologize to all those who read and comment on my articles for my absence and lack of interaction. At the moment, I am experiencing many challenges, one being helping a dear friend through an illness.]

First a little sidetrack about last week’s post about applied nonviolence as a way of life, illustrated through examples of my own (very violent) life experiences. As I noted in that article, one cannot speak of nonviolence as a force for social change without mentioning Gandhi. One of the first responses to that article was an accusation of Gandhi as a racist, among other things. I am well aware of the paradoxes and contradictions of Gandhi’s life, and of the allegations. Any honest investigation into these allegations leads to a sources with explicit intentions to find fault (as in Singh’s take) and, more importantly, that take specifics of the man’s life out of context, in the process extrapolating all kinds of evils.

It’s similar to the conservatives attempt to rewrite the Rev. Martin Luther King’s (MLK) message. There’s that line they love to throw out: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Most conservatives take that line out of context to paint MLK as some neoconservative race-blind loon. The fact of the matter is that MLK is on record for affirmative action policies; he’s on record for restitution for slavery. What he was trying to say was the he looked forward to the day where the forces of systemic racism didn’t dominate, but until then, damn if we’re not going to need safeguards.

In much the same way, the Gandhi naysayers take certain words out of context in some cases, and in other cases, use specific examples to generalize about his life, his ideas, and actions. Was he a racist? His ideas continually evolved throughout his life, and it was his experiences as a person of color that awakened him to the evils of apartheid and racism. So his early stance on the issues in South Africa were ill-conceived and uniformed, but they changed. Was he operated on his appendix though he was against modern medicine? Yes, this is true, but this was done when he was gravely ill and the hosts forced the issue. There’s nothing that’s even remotely true about his alleged having sex with minors — at least I haven’t seen any evidence, even from his wildest detractors. There’s no evidence of his being a bisexual (and if he was?) .Was he for the caste system? No, he saw the Untouchables, for example, as his children and they were welcomed and treated at his temple.

The fact is that Gandhi was neither a saint nor a devil, and this is important. But here’s the real shit (and this is what matters most): he did lead the most populated colony in the world to independence without firing a single motherfuckin’ bullet, and without preaching hate and revenge. I like his principle of Satyagraha or “truth force,” not because Gandhi was a God or saint or whatever-the-fuck projection you labor under. I live it to the best of my ability because it is a practical, evolved path to goodness; because it works and has worked in my life even under the most difficult of situations. I don’t believe in deifying anyone, but I do admire a good idea.

But that’s just me.

Gandhi was ready to give his life for his principles, and he did — was assassinated by religious fundamentalists who hated what he symbolized.

Finally, as hard as I worked on that article, and as much passion and reason I attempted to inject into it, one comment made the case for nonviolence in ways I could never hope to equal: it was the admission of a pro-violence commenter that he slept with his weapons of choice. If that isn’t a clear refutation of the pathology of the violent mindset, I don’t know what is…

Now, to the issue at hand. Last week’s article was in no way meant to be a far-ranging treatment of the issue. Indeed, that would take a book. It was suggested to me, however, that I should attempt to delve a little deeper and I think I should, because we’re in the grip of a global epidemic of violence — it touches all aspects of our lives, from the way we view crime and punishment, the way we distribute economic benefits, and the way we interact as individuals and as part of a society.

Last night, as I reeled from the gut punch of the unjust, racist Troy Davis execution, I chanced upon the following from one of my Facebook contacts named Charity:

I speak with authority on this topic. I am the mother of a murderer, the mother of a murder victim, and the daughter of a murdered father. I have survived a lifetime of murder; I have been on both sides of the crime scene tape. I have never seen murder bring anything but pain into the world. There is no such thing as closure for the victims’ families. There has been no justice carried out tonight. The only thing that has happened in Georgia is more murder. This, my friends, will only produce more pain. There may come a day when the real killer is caught and where will that leave the family of the victim? Where will this leave the family of Troy Davis? They will be left to live with pain… pain, pain, and more unexplainable pain. It is time to fight for justice, time to fight for humanity. It is time to use empathy, compassion, and love. It is time to stop the murders…

[Note: my friend, Charity, founded a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating violence: click here)

I always jokingly point out to my “radical” pro-violent friends, that they’re merely acting out their own repressed Old Testament conditioning. You, know: an eye for an eye and all that stupid shit that leaves us all blind. Whatever your take on the death penalty, what happened last night to Troy Davis was a miscarriage of justice.

Charity’s powerful message reminded me of an old friend I did some work with many years ago. It was during a community meeting where I was getting beat up by the residents for trying to renovate an abandoned property for a home for (non-violent) people returning to their community from prison. Resident after resident came up to the podium to just whale away at me. I was seriously demoralized that night. Then a young man came up to me and whispered, “Let me say something.” Resigned to the fact that the night was lost, I thought to myself that things couldn’t get worse, and handed the young man the microphone…

And what that man shared that night changed my life. It certainly had an effect on the people in that room. You see, this person had lost the most important person in his life to a brutal, cruel, senseless act of violence. His grandmother, who had raised him, died during a botched robbery. The two men who killed her weren’t even of voting age. Somehow, this man was able to move beyond the very real impulse for retribution and eventually was able to first meet with, and eventually forgive, the men responsible for taking away — for brutalizing — that which he held most dear. His act changed not just his life, but the lives of the men who took so much away from him. In a very real way, his dedication to nonviolence has an impact on almost everyone he meets — to this day.

I realize we live in a society in which vengeance and retribution — two of the more subtle forms of violence — is the norm. And I have to be honest and state that my first impulse, if anyone would harm a loved one, would be to retaliate with even more brutal violence. This is the truth. I know there’s hate in my heart. I know what it feels like to inflict violence on someone who has wronged me and I can tell you right here, right now: it’s not all it’s cranked up to be. Vengeance is hollow, without meaning, and it is ultimately unfulfilling. In fact, it erodes your humanity. It’s like a hit of heroin that fades away, leaving you with the need for more… and more. Vengeance, retribution, “payback,” or violence as social policy is like watching pornography1. It has a formulaic set of rituals or acts, and always has the same predictable ending…

What happened to Troy Davis last night was the final consequence of a series of actions that were incubated within a certain framework. Violence, difficult as it is to define, is not something that can be isolated from its context. Violence is performed. The public hysteria and insecurity around crime (real and imagined) that makes possible state-sanctioned murder features several characteristics that closely resemble the pornographic genre.


First, there’s the initial sturm and drang over law and order. Criminal justice or issues of law and order is conceived and carried out not so much for its own sake as for the express purpose of being exhibited and being seen, scrutinized, ogled: the absolute intention is to put on a “show,” in the literal sense of the word. In this way, words and deeds claiming to be about fighting crime and various “urban pathologies” must be methodically staged, exaggerated, dramatized, even fetishsized. This explains why, much like the posed pseudo-sexual entanglements that consume pornographic films, they are extraordinary only in their repetitiveness, their mechanical, uniform, and predictable depictions.


In this way, the social institutions responsible for implementing law enforcement policies extol the anti-crime measures in the subway or the same inner-city block; they slip into photo op pictures of the huge confiscations of the drug war (even our language for social change is riddled with violent metaphors); they come down hard on teenage scofflaws, bums, repeat offenders, street prostitutes, and the assorted flotsam and jetsam of society’s discarded and unforgiven. Everywhere society is found to be in a lustful froth. Everywhere is heard the praise for racial profiling, the curtailing of rights, and the mass incarceration of mostly people of color; the determined heedless push to build more prisons at a cost of billions of dollars.

The Money Shot

In this way, the law-and-order orgy is to criminality what porn is to human sexuality: a mirror deforming reality to the point of the grotesque. It deliberately ignores the causes and meanings of delinquent behavior and reduces their treatment to often acrobatic, often surreal social positions that have little, if any, connection to reality.

This is the performance of violence. Social policy arising from a society rooted in violence is pornographically violent. Violence communicates and every act of violence is more than the physical force involved. Just like the execution of Mr. Davis was more than the act of an injection. Violent deeds are embedded in elaborate rituals and enactments — performances. Violence is at the same time brutal and grim and yet theatrical and spectacular. Violence is both self-creating and self-denying, enacted by, and on, particularly situated actors. In order to transcend violence, we have to understand its meaning and significance. And this, I believe, calls for an attention to rituals and to enactments as well as displays of force. I hope to lift the curtain on this and more in the coming weeks. One last thing: I am not surprised at the ideological fundamentalism that greeted my first article on the possibility of creating a non-violent society. There are people who will never be swayed by reason or passion. My aim is not to convert anyone or to disabuse them of their violent tendencies. My aim is, at the least, to help facilitate the process where rethinking violence, or reconceptualizing it, can become a possibility.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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16 thoughts on “Violence in Three Pornographic Acts”
  1. First of all, I just want to say that I hope your friend recovers fully from his affliction ASAP – having lost some of my own family to cancer a few years back I can relate to the anguish it brings on the people around those who are ill.

    However there are a few assertions you make that I contest…

    1. That violent behavior is the result of Old Testament social conditioning: I suppose that this is true in certain cases (particularly when the violent act occurs in the context of a religious lunatic forcing his values down other people’s throats), but this assertion breaks down when one looks at violence in it’s relation to opposition to oppressive powers – as this is a universal response to repression (from the Azande and Zulu wars against the British colonialists to the Native American resistance to European settlers – acts committed by repressed people who never even heard of the Bible or Christianity).

    2. That retribution leads to the need for still more retribution: I can speak from experience here and say that’s not a universal given – I’ve personally taken retribution on certain persons who either preformed acts of violence or threatened to do so against by own, but for me it was all business (I just did what needed to be done and then left it at that). And I know plenty of others with similar attitudes towards the act of retribution.

    3. That what happened to Troy Davis was a miscarriage of “justice:” personally, I don’t believe that what most people refer to as “justice” is anything more than socially-sanctioned revenge – that is to say, I don’t believe it exists as anything more than a concept. Therefore, it’s impossible for something that does not exist to be miscarried.

    Note: I don’t believe that Troy Davis was guilty of the act he was accused of (I think he’s just a scapegoat) nor do I endorse what happened to him – personally, I’m against state-based “legal” systems because the state has a vested interest in finding the accused “guilty” at any cost (even if the accused is innocent).

  2. That’s funny, the contention that Gandhi led India to independence with or without firing a single…bullet. It’s so disconnected with reality it’s unreal.

    By 1947, Britain was in economic ruin, Gandhi was a back number in politics, the Indian Army was no longer reliable, the Indian Navy had mutinied, there was no way the Brits were going to keep their colonial empire, and the only question was of who was to rule India and whether the Muslim League should secede as Pakistan. Gandii opposed the secession, by the way. His own party ignored him.

    I always find it funny when foreigners make uninformed pronouncements about India. ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’, as Alexander Pope said.

  3. Likewise Eddie. My condolences and congratulations for a well done article.

    I have some quibbles though:

    1.Porn is idolized sex, an act of pleasure and perhaps even love making. Does it really well illustrate a travesty of justice? Cute analogy, yes, just not sure how I feel about it.

    2.Agreed about Troy. Even if Troy did it, which 99% of the country believed he didn’t, it’s not even the scariest part. The U.S. went against its OWN RULES and arbitrarily decided what should be done. Fascism, nothing more or less.

    “There are people who will never be swayed by reason or passion.”

    This is my main point of contention. Let’s say that we live in a perfect world. No crime, plenty to eat, and free sex (hey why not?)

    A person decides that he wants to sadistically rape, torture and kill someone. He confesses. He is not apologetic.

    The society works with him for years try to show him the error of his ways. He doesn’t get it. It’s inevitable that he will kill and torture again.

    Do you put him to death? Or do you lock him up in solitary confinement for the rest of his life? Is this not cruel in of itself?

    I TOTALLY agree with you regarding 99% of your argument. There are too many flaws in the system to advocate a State sponsored death penalty. But I want to know your moral philosophy, regards the people who can’t change

  4. Thanks for sharing Bill. I can officially start saying “Gandhi was a prick” and not be labeled a troll for it.

  5. Eddie, you present an excellent argument for a non-violent society, but there is one thing i’d like to point out. Your friend, Charity, makes a powerful statement, but what gives her statement a punch? She used the word, “fight” twice in her closure. Even if the fighting is strictly of a verbal nature, it denotes a counter-resistance to resistance. What happens during verbal arguments? Eventually, there is a loss of temper, and if the opponents are in physical range of each other, the verbal argument often results in a physical one.

    To create a non-violent society, we must even be conscious of the words we use that can be easily associated with resorting to violent reactions. Do we physically fight for justice, or politely say, “your violent resources have solved nothing. Now will you kindly go to your room until you can come up with a better solution”? When confronted with perpetrators of violence, it can be very difficult to be genuinely peaceful.

  6. Bill: You jump all the way to 1947, note Gandhi’s irrelevance at the time, and then pronounce him a failure. sorry, but one cannot talk about nonviolence without mentioning Gandhi. That’s a fact.

    I think you fall into the trap of trying to be too nonchalant, to pose as an iconoclast because its cool, not because you actually know about what you’re talking about. Oh yeah, and I DO know about Gandhi from a wide range of sources, don’t make that bullshit assumption. You can beat on that strawman, but I have never asserted Gandhi was a saint. In FACT, I have EXPLICITLY stated that his human characteristics and flaws make his work that much more powerful.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter what you or his detractors think of him, his work speaks for itself.

  7. Mitchell: who the fuck wants to live in aperfect workld? LOL

    You offer questions about the nature of punishment that need to be explored intelligently, AS A SOCIETY. The example you use, of the unrepentant sociopath, is an outlier — it’s an exception and not the rule. Most people who commit acts of violence, often do so for a variety of individual choices enacted within a context of a society. We should be looking at the root causes of violence and addressing those, not waiting for violence to occur and then addressing that violence with more violence.

  8. Azazel: The Old Testament is the bedrock for the Big Three: Judiasm, Christianity, and Islam — three religions with thousands of years of violent history. It’s a doctrine based on violence.

    We live in a society and YOU, Azazel, are part of that society, exposed to its conditioning and values. I don’t give a fuck how much you don’t like it, or how much I’m sure you will vehemently deny, you are a product of this society to a very large extent. so when I tell YOU, and other radicals raised in this society, that they’re expressing repressed Old Testament values when they champion violence, I don’t think I’m too far off the mark.

    Secondly, OF COURSE not all retribution leads to more retribution, that’s a ridiculous statement to make. One might find a few examples here and there, I am not proposing an absolute. when it comes to the study of human behavior, we speak of correlations, not absolutes, so your assertion is again an argument with yourself, not an engagement of my ideas. I can say, with ABSOLUTE conviction, that the idea of retribution — of meeting violence with violence has been shown to be a poor and destructive adaptation. History is littered with such examples.

  9. @ Eddie,

    “…you are a product of this society to a very large extent. so when I tell YOU, and other radicals raised in this society, that they’re expressing repressed Old Testament values when they champion violence, I don’t think I’m too far off the mark.”

    And how do you explain identical actions that take place in societies that have never even heard of the Bible or Christianity? Keep in mind that violent actions predate the Old Testament (even humans, for that matter…) and are likely part of our own genetic make-up…

    ” I can say, with ABSOLUTE conviction, that the idea of retribution — of meeting violence with violence has been shown to be a poor and destructive adaptation.”

    If it’s such a poor adaptation why has it been naturally selected for again and again (nand not just with humans either) – why do we still have apex preditors (both human and animal), warring factions (both human and animal) and nomadic raiders (once again, both human and animal)?

    If it’s such a poor adaptation, why is it a nearly univeral trait among lifeforms?

  10. Azazel: you keep saying that violence is something natural and I am saying that the science doesn’t support that. The OPPOSITE is true. I have written about this before and posted plenty of links to EMPIRICAL sources refuting what is a dogmatic, fundamentalist BELIEF.

    RAPE has existed in all of human history, does that mean it’s “natural”? Of course not, though some evolutionary psychologists want to claim exactly that. this is a basic, fundamental example of fallacious reasoning.

    Observing the occurrence of violence and making a direct cause and effect to that violence is patently unscientific. it’s the evolution of our capacity for love — not violence and aggression — that most defines who we are, biologically as well as culturally.

    In evolutionary terms, the instinct for love, for altruism, is rooted in part in the extraordinarily long period of maturation for the human baby. When the baby is born, the brain is not fully developed. They couldn’t get through the birth canal if it were. So the brain continues to develop during these early years. The child is thus totally vulnerable, dependent; and so we have the evolution of love. It is an adaptive evolutionary mechanism.

    Your flawed analysis completely discounts this, and this is just ONE of the many ways I can empirically refute your stance.

  11. From a historical and systems perspective, what I would suggest to you, or anyone, that there is a continuity to dominator values and ideas, whether they’re expressed in the ways we’re raised as children (i.e., Old Testament values), the ways we’re trained as boys, or the ways we’re taught to think of ourselves as men and women. It’s about cultural and social — not genetic — patterns. And in violence as a means, there is trauma at its core.

    Azazel, you actually admit to SLEEPING with your guns. As a trained clinician with over 15 years experience, if I was working with an individual who admitted as much, I would say that’s an indication of unresolved trauma. In effect, you’re a poster child FOR nonviolence.

  12. Many animals love their young, Eddie at least in the sense of providing and protecting them. I don’t think it’s a solely human quality.

    Maybe rape and violence is not in every man’s nature, but there is clear evidence in the animal kingdom and human world that there are carnivores and herbivores–peaceful creatures and creatures of violence. Perhaps the dichotomy, the existence of both, is what is natural.

    We’d like to think that people can change, listen to reason, grow…but apparently that’s not going to happen for many among us. It’s a jungle out there, and in here, among human civilization.

  13. Again, this is an emotional response, Azazel, and you’re trying to spin it as somehow grounded in a universal truth.

    Your position is easy to deconstruct. For one, not all animals behave as you say they do. When was the last time you read in a newspaper of any species from the animal kingdom (aside from ours) waging a global war? For the most part, while there instances a clan-like violence in the animal kingdom, there isn’t an ORGANIZED SUSTAINED example. so your assumption about the animal kingdom is seriously flawed.

    In addition, while it is true other animals surely care for their young (DUH), human beings are unique in that we care for our young much longer than any other species. We come into the world with NO instincts — no instincts in the sense of an elaborate set of genetic behaviors that allow us to survive ALONE. Because of this, the human neurological system is like a feedback loop. Brain maturation and synaptic connections, for example, are formed as a result of this care, love, nurturing, and compassion. The EXTENT of this phenomenon is UNIQUELY human — no other species goes through such a prolonged process of maturation.

    Human beings that aren’t given this vital and uniquely human care and compassion, and love FAIL TO THRIVE — most actually die. Those few that do survive suffer from brain abnormalities — those all-too important synaptic connections aren’t made, parts of their brains remain underdeveloped into adulthood, and they are unable to function socially.

    All this (and more, I can go on for days) is empirical proof that it is collaboration, love, compassion. What you’re arguing for is for the dominance of a NARRATIVE of human development, not its scientific exploration, and that narrative is steeped in the male-dominated (Old Testament) view of human nature, which is, BTW, a conservative-based narrative.

  14. You know about Gandhi, huh? Then how do you justify your contention that he ‘led India to independence without firing a single…bullet’?

    Go ahead and teach me my country’s history. I’m all ears.

  15. @ Eddie,

    “Azazel: you keep saying that violence is something natural and I am saying that the science doesn’t support that.”

    If it’s not natural, why do we keep seeing it recurring over and over again throughout nature? Note: you never did answer this question…

    “RAPE has existed in all of human history, does that mean it’s “natural”?”

    The act of “rape” is a “legally” defined term – what constitutes “rape” in one society does not constitute “rape” in another: thus the question is too vague to answer directly…

    “Observing the occurrence of violence and making a direct cause and effect to that violence is patently unscientific. it’s the evolution of our capacity for love — not violence and aggression — that most defines who we are, biologically as well as culturally.”

    You parse the two as if they are mutually exclusive – the reality is that many acts that could be called violent stem from love and loyalty: a man killing a deer to feed his family, a warrior killing an enemy combatant that is threatening to kil his brother-in-arms, a teacher brutally defeating his close friend in a sparring match (brutal defeats help prepare the student for real cqc encounters) – all of these acts are violent but they all stem from compassion and loyalty on some level or another.

    “Azazel, you actually admit to SLEEPING with your guns. As a trained clinician with over 15 years experience, if I was working with an individual who admitted as much, I would say that’s an indication of unresolved trauma.”

    If by “unresolved trauma” you mean a realistic concern about the police state kicking my door in and trying to kill me in my sleep, you’d be right – just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you…

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