Discipline in Violence

A few weeks back, in a meeting with a political advisor of a bilateral development organization, I discovered a new phrase ‘discipline in violence’. He used the phrase while talking about the unruliness and fundamentalism within the state security apparatus. The phrase hit me – I wasn’t sure how there can be discipline in violence; in my mind an image of a methodical violent person emerged. I also thought about well organized acts of violence, something along planned ethnic cleansing or systemic violence against women on grounds of morality. The images scared me – the coldness of acts was unnerving. But these didn’t convince me about the implied meaning of the phrase. I sought explanation. His analysis saw violence as being a matter of heart or irrational, a psycho-physical act which doesn’t allow reason to prevail. In his view, if a particular form of violence stemmed from brain, it could be disciplined as it would change in the face of logical arguments. It would be open to learn and therefore it would be possible to discipline it. But most violence springs from feelings and desires of the heart to revenge, to hurt and therefore cannot be disciplined. Though the heart-brain argument seemed rather easy bipolarisation, I could see where he was leading. Yet, it was hard for me to associate violence with discipline. At the same time, while he was explaining the phrase I was struck by another thought of extreme discipline as a form of violence. I was thinking of dictatorial political regimes and disciplining of certain sections of a society, like women and dalits, as lowly beings in so many aspects of life that most come to believe that they are actually inferior and incapable.

Noticing my expression, he asked if the phrase ‘discipline in the use of force’ says anything to me. He himself was not convinced that this phrase is the same as ‘discipline in violence’. But he was willing to use it for my convenience. I shared his view that the phrase ‘discipline in the use of force’ is not quite the same as ‘discipline in violence’ despite my lack of the clarity about the latter phrase. ‘Discipline in the use of force’ gave a sense that there may not be feelings of rage or a desire to inflict pain but force could be applied to achieve certain goals. Or one may gain a sense of invisible rage and brutality while applying force in measured proportions in institutionally or socially acceptable manner and so the need to control the use of force. In such a situation, the motivation to be enraged or brutal may not directly belong to the person who is applying force.

The word ‘violence’ seems to contain psychic motivations for destruction or harm and an ability to derive an ever increasing gratification from destruction and harm. It is also about a physically thrilling sensation derived from subordinating those who are weaker. Personally, I sense violence within me when I see meekness, subservience or tolerance for abuse. It is not a feeling to begin destroying or harming the meek/servile/passively tolerant person but it is an extreme form of anger arising from frustration, which if not controlled, may push me to begin hitting meek/servile/passively tolerant person. Here, I can see that I am trying to discipline the feelings of invisible rage or violence that I have within myself. Here, the phrase ‘discipline in violence’ seems to make some sense. But I am wondering if a phrase like ‘disciplining the desire for violence’ is more appropriate to communicate such rage than ‘discipline in violence’. The phrase ‘disciplining the desire for violence’ gives a sense of an effort to control or resist a desire for violence.

If I were to apply the phrase ‘discipline in violence’ to a context of violence against women (because the husband thinks the wife should not have spoken when she did or not done something without his advice), violence against children (because a pedophile thinks the child ‘looked seductive’ and therefore invited abuse, or the child could not do a task that an adult is supposed to do despite being given the opportunity to do it), mass rapes (because the rapists feel they will be putting the woman or her community into her/their place), mass killings (because the killer feels those likely to be killed do not have a right to live or that their killing will serve the purpose of threatening another person/institution), etc, the phrase gives a sense of far more intense and complex violence. In fact, it suggests a ‘thinking form of violence’ that can help organize the feelings of rage or discipline it to be more deadly and more painful. Here, the phrase seems to suggest cold-bloodedness. It suggests not just a capacity to be violence but also a capacity to plan and organize violence to cause optimal destruction or inflict optimal harm. The term ‘discipline in violence’ seems to carry so much force that an inability to plan and organize violence may come across as a lower form of capacity or lesser violent. Perhaps this explains that why in a military or militia set up the war/offence strategists are placed higher than those in the frontline.

The political advisor, attempted to clarify the phrase further. The way he conceived it, the phrase has a few elementary attributes: an irrational mental construct because the constructor or the owner of that irrationality cannot be talked out of it and a physical organization of that irrationality in the form of acting out violence. From his clarification it seemed that the violence is a matter of great attachment to possessor of violence and its subjectivity is beyond introspection. This explanation does hold some truth. The question that arises then is how this unexplainable infective quality of violence that manifests itself in external, physical or mental harm and destruction can be influenced? What can be done to control the disposition for violent expression and pleasure seeking by inflicting pain? If violence is such a matter of heart or so irrational that nothing can prevail against it then discipline in violence can only increase the impact of violence. In such a situation, ineffectiveness of logic pointing inconsistencies in thoughts and analysis that lead to violence is more of a conclusion than an assumption that can be challenged or a barrier that can be attempted to be overcome.

Going back to the phrase ‘disciplining the desire for violence’, a desire for violence appears a stage of infancy and therefore controllable. ‘Discipline in violence’ appears to bring forth a situation in which the desire for violence has matured and is a stage of acting out the desire for violence. Bringing discipline to a performance of the desire for violence suggests more sophistication in that performance. For example, masterminds of a terror bomb blast, carry a sense of extreme violence but do not indulge in direct violence, they nonetheless derive satisfaction by watching others act out on their plan. In this regard, they serve as the possessors of violence, they are the agents of violence as they have an infective ability to induce others and they also have a capacity to derive pleasure/satisfaction or thrilling sensations from an indirect act of violence. This ability to control and plan violence and use others as instruments which enable them to experience vicariously the gratification of a desire they would not like to act out themselves, makes them high impact perpetrators of violence.

By: on 5 Dec 2009


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would be interested in how

would be interested in how the advisor reconciles the violence that is? inherent in the industrialisation process with this take.

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