Science, People & Politics, issue 2, Volume i, Volume II, published 2nd March, 2009.
3.2 Alpha/beta deep structure
I had wanted to give the following essay the title, "Structural violence: a Socratic lecture", but the author said, "no". What follows therefore, title above and all in this essay, is exactly in the author's own words. Commissioned, edited and proof read by Helen Gavaghan.
IS THE DEEP structure in our mind, working its way into reality through speech and action; is it "out there" working its way into us through observation; or is that a chicken-egg problem?
Let us cut that knot by simply assuming that there are two deep, even primordial structures, both written in the language of geometry: the pyramid and the circle. Like decision-making from above, and from togetherness.
Thus, alpha vs beta is not a dichotomy. They can both be weakly or strongly articulated, yielding the four combinations anarchy, hierarchy,
equiarchy and polyarchy. We shall pursue the combinations below, synchronically as social geography, diachronically as history.
In social systems the actors are human beings; in world systems states or nations. The alpha pyramid organizes
humans hierarchically in large organizations, bureaucracies, corporations, and the beta wheel horizontally in kinship, friendship and neighbourhood groups. Alpha would organize states and/or nations in systems
headed by "hegemons" like super- and regional powers, and beta in communities of neighbouring countries like ASEAN, the Nordic Community before EU membership for some, and the European Community.
Figure 1: The Pyramid, the Wheel, Both-And, and Neither-Nor
Thus, anarchy negates both too dominant, too much, and too tight.
To make this more concrete let us look at two cases, womens' emancipation and less developed countries (LDC) emancipation.
How did this structural violence discourse actually come into being? For vertical structural violence it was rather obvious. Three years in Latin America in the 1960s, and several research
trips to Rhodesia - Zimbabwe later on in the same decade, highlighted the enormity of suffering, up to massive deaths, hiding behind words like "misery", "hunger", "social injustice". Of course, human beings may
be exposed to harm and hurt that is not avoidable, like death "by aging", or to nature's violence beyond the power of human beings to counteract (so far). But dying from misery looked so avoidable, why not do something
about it! The key word was avoidable. The suffering was due to human agency, directly or indirectly; hence avoidable.
So the term "structural violence" was coined, shifting the focus from the actor to the social and/or world structure. However, this does not exonerate the person. Even if structural violence comes out of the day-to-day, minute-to-minute workings of the structure, as a non-intended by-product, there is always the possibility of bringing some of that operation to a halt or changing the course of the stream of acts. The failure to do so is an act of omission that might serve to attribute guilt, but in Western law not so much as for acts of commission even when omissions have much more harmful consequences.(7)
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