You are on page 1of 3

The Spiral of Violence

Up until this point in time we have primarily focused on individual instances of

injustice. Clearly we have looked at more than that, as we discussed some of the actions that have been taken against immigrants as a group by the government in Snow Falling on Cedars, but we have as yet not developed a method for systematically examining what social analysts typically refer to as structural injustice. To review, we concluded that there exists in humans the fundamental need to have certain things in order to live and have a meaningful life. Humans ought to have these rights regardless of other conditions. Among certain basic rights would be the right to live, and the attendant requirements of this: food, shelter, clothing, etc. The difficulty arises when we ask the question, If you have a right to these things, do I have a duty to provide them? The answer is not easily found. In the Christian tradition there is a clear requirement that Christians actively meet the needs of the poor. Failure to do so may be construed as acting unjustly.

However, one might ask how it happened that some people dont have the basic food,
shelter and clothing they need to live. Those of us who do so have it because we worked for it, or at least our parents did so. Why should we be obligated to help the poor, who may not have worked? What social obligations exist? We need to consider some means of looking at social situations and determining what constitutes justice among people.

One of the first people to develop a useful tool for such analysis in relatively recent
times was Dom Helder Camera, who at the time was the bishop of Recife, Brazil. Camera argued in his classic work, Spiral of Violence, that we often tend to focus on individual injustices to the exclusion of other, perhaps more damaging ones. He argued that when a group establishes a set of conditions that makes it impossible for individuals to grow and develop as fully human participants in a society that injustice has occurred. This injustice is often difficult to pin down because it rarely stems from the work of one individual.

I would like to quote from the book:

No one is born to be a slave. No one seeks to suffer injustices, humiliations and restrictions. A human being condemned to a sub-human situation is like an animal-an ox or a donkey-wallowing in the mud. Now the egoism of some privileged groups drives countless human beings into the sub-human condition, where they suffer restrictions, humiliations, injustices; without prospects, without hope, their condition is that of slaves. (p.30)

Consider the game we played in class recently, called the Merciless Maze. As you were
playing the game I noticed many people objecting to the fact that the game was not fair. You perceived, correctly, that some players were put at an unfair advantage with reference to winning a free homework pass. With no good reason some players received four times as much money as other players. Since the fines in the game tended to be significant early in the game, those who began with the considerable advantage of extra money were not especially hurt when financial penalties hit. Likewise, when in the second round of the game players were allowed to inherit their winnings from an unrelated game the injustice was magnified.

This situation perfectly illustrates what a structural injustice is, or, as Camera would
have called it, Violence #1. Violence # 1 is the violence of systems, and it is Cameras insight that the injustice we have described is actually a form of violence. This violence takes place when people are placed in situations where they cannot succeed or grow despite their best efforts. Those of you who received $100 in the game were placed in such a situation. Can you think of other situations in society where similar situations exist? Jot some down in the margin. We will discuss them.

The particularly important insight that Camera made needs to be repeated here. This
situation is one of violence. When people live in social settings that systematically militate against their growth and development as fully human persons that is violence. And those who live in these situations often perceive it that way, even if the privileged class that does not live that way fails to do so.

Had you decided to protest against Violence #1, by declaring that you would no longer
play the game, or by complaining, or by knocking the board off the desk, you would have engaged in Violence #2. Again, to quote from Camera, This established violence, this Violence #1, attracts violence #2, revolt, either of the oppressed themselves or of youth, firmly resolved to battle for a more just world. (p.30) Camera further notes that Violence attracts violence. Let us repeat fearlessly and ceaselessly: injustices bring revolt, either from the oppressed or from the young, determined to fight for a more just and human world. (p.34)

Extending his analysis, Camera notes that in response to Violence #2 the systems that
created Violence #1 usually react violently. Governments seek to acquire additional security powers, the ability to surreptitiously engage in surveillance, the power to arrest and detain suspects. Whatever is needed to protect the status quo is allowed to continue. Unfortunately, rather than addressing the root issue of Violence #1, this response often engenders a further resort to Violence # 2. Then, like the mythical serpent condemned to continually devour its tail, society spirals into an unending pattern of violence and oppression.

Your task for the next class is to review some current situation in the world that you
believe illustrates the cycle described above. Find an article of set of articles that describe the social setting and the concomitant cycle of violence. Describe how, making reference to the article(s), your analysis is fitting.

Does this picture adequately illustrate the Spiral of Violence? Why or why not?