What Violence Cannot Do

All eyes are on London for the games. It is strange to think that the world was similarly transfixed by the city a year ago. For very different reasons. A year has gone by since the London riots. It seemed then that the city had gone up in flames in a sudden outburst of violence. The riots were thought by some to be a message. I saw a quote repeated many times on facebook, apparently from Martin Luther King: "violence is the language of the unheard." People, mostly young people, were apparently trying to say something. King, who spent his life advocating (through the eloquent use of words, I might add) peaceful, non-violent protest, would be somewhat annoyed to see people using what he said in support of rioting.

The trouble is that violence is not a very good substitute for speech. There is quite a difference between the two. Violence is "the exercise of physical force so as to inflict injury on, or cause damage to, persons or property; action or conduct characterized by this; treatment or usage tending to cause bodily injury or forcibly interfering with personal freedom." Language, on the other hand, is "the system of spoken or written communication used by a particular country, people, community, etc., typically consisting of words used within a regular grammatical and syntactic structure." 

The difference is clear. Violence has no grammar, no syntax, no regularity. Violence is irrational; it is anti-rational. Language is violated by violence, not replaced by it. 


D widdy said...

Rapper actor Plan B has just released a film and no 1 album Ill Manors which addresses the riots from a locals perspective. He defends the cause of the poor young people mainly by suggesting that the "rich boys" ie conservative politicians are completely out of touch and "never listen". Fair enough but that can never justify the violence and destruction which not only destroyed some of londons oldest shops and monuments but peoples homes too. At that point the occupy movement wass is full force, perhaps the dissilusionment of the establishment was peaking too generally at that time.

Ben Holloway said...

Dan, violence may gain you a hearing; it may even be provoked by something you want to say. But violence can't, by its very nature, say anything. A violent act requires interpretation (by the use of language) in order to make sense of it. The point is that violence can't replace language (as the quote implies). Hope that helps. I shall have to check out Plan B!