Violence is more than just physical injuries, killings, beatings and inflictions of pain. It is more than the verbal and emotional abuse as well. This type of violence is referred to as direct violence in peace, conflict and transformation studies. These are clear subject-action-object type of relationships that result in the observation or experience of hurt in individuals or groups, usually happening quickly and dramatically; with possibly life-lasting traumatic effects.
The other types of violence are sometimes much more subtle; and possibly not even considered as violence outside the sphere of peace academics or activists. These types of violence create the conditions for direct violence to occur. The direct violence is most often merely the manifestations of the other forms of violence; the pent up anger, resentment, mindsets and reasons people rage into direct violence. Structural and cultural violence experienced by humans, only reinforces or condones more violent behaviour. If the system can do it, so can I.
Structural violence is the poverty, the hunger, the repression, the social alienation, the denial of educational opportunities, the causing of human misery, and the established patterns of organized society that result in systematic harm to millions of people each year. Structural violence is institionalized. It is rationalized and sanctioned by the state, making it the violence of the status quo. It extends to the systems and practices that allows violence to occur in the supply of products and services that are used by people who are unaware or are disconnected from the damage they cause around the world in their production.
Cultural violence has been referred to as the source of other types of violence because it produces hatred, fear and suspicion that leads to violence or violent policies and practices. Cultural violence engrains itself within us, and is the hardest to contain. It is found in comments, conversations, writing, art, ideologies, even empirical science and religious symbology. It is everywhere. It is propaganda, lies, misinterpretations, and misunderstandings that lead people to violent thoughts or behaviours; to hate other individuals or groups. This is the hardest type of violence to stop, as it is so thoroughly engrained into our cultures. It builds up over time. You can hear a comment here, and see a picture here and after enough “evidence”, you begin to see things in a new way. When spouted or displayed by those in positions of power or respect, cultural violence is its most damaging, because it then becomes “fact”. It is then passed on to many, and over time becomes the new cultural norm.
Stemming violence completely is a lofty goal, but limiting the structural and cultural violent norms is something we can definitely strive for. Doing this will also reduce the incidences of direct violence that occur in society. As the structures become more peaceful and equitable, so does the population living within it.
If peace were truly a goal of the governments in charge, they would take extensive efforts to reduce the cultural and structural violence that precipates the direct violence that occurs. They would restructure their policies and norms that are inequitable and violent. They would limit the amount of structural violence in the systems to create a more viable social trust. They would limit the propaganda allowed in the media and make more stringent policies to discourage violent business practices. The would create a culture of peace, and not a culture of war.
Peace is possibly attainable, despite what most realists will tell you. It is far off from our current reality, but it is possible. Human behaviour and cultural norms have been known to change. In our society, it starts with our systems. If our systems are corrupt and inequitable, our societies will remain violent. If our systems become systems to trust, systems that reward and promote peace, our societies will become more peaceful.
We have focused our energies towards war and profit for so long, it is hard to envison a different society. Peace studies has only recently become an academic discipline. Conflict transformation studies and strategies are still only developing and are given only minimal funding and attention. When put into practice, many conflict transformation strategies have proven somewhat successful. Some have been incredibly successful. The more money, time and energy we spend towards these strategies, the closer we will come to peace.