Many people talk about how the top point in the triangle is visible – the bottom two are more hidden. They're more subtle, sometimes invisible, which makes them harder to address. There are certainly cases of direct violence that are random, gratuitous and individual, but sometimes they're prompted by an underlying system. And we may not be able to deal with the root causes because they might be invisible and normalized.
It might be easier to analyze apartheid, fore example, because there are plenty of examples of direct violence. Indigenous issues in Canada are tricker, however, because the systems of oppression involved are cultural and structural.
Other factors that can complicate our understanding of violence, conflict and oppression can include how some acts of violence are sanctioned by government systems. Think about how some people are allowed to carry (and use) arms, like the police. For some, the police are an expression of order in society, a force that keeps chaos at bay. For others, the police can express elements of structural or cultural violence (many people are making this claim in the US in the wake of the George Floyd killing), and because they're institutionalized it's harder to address this.
Another complicating factor is that certain kinds of violence are intentional, while others are unintentional. It can be easier to prosecure intentional violence, but who do you blame when a system is at fault? Or when a person reproduces discrimination or structural/cultural violence without being aware?
There's not only the issue of perpetrators of violence being unaware – victims can also be left in the dark. Paolo Freire, a Brazilian thinker famous for his book The Pedagogy of the Oppressed
, says that people can internalize and normalize structural & cultural violence to the point where we don't notice it. Even if we're being affected by them. The opposite of this would be conscientization
, or the act of becoming aware of these structures. Supporters of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement claim that the 2020 protests are an attempt at conscientization.
Any mention of BLM creates discussion among our group, especially with regards to violent and nonviolent ways of reaching one's goals. Toppling a statue is considered a violent act, and there are those who claim that this is a necessary act in order to expose and resist structural violence. Others say that we need to stick to peaceful protests, which are expressions of conflict but not expressions of violence.
One person in our group brings this up in one of the more relevant questions: what if violence really does help? What if nonviolence doesn't take us far enough, or what if our nonviolent leaders (like Gandhi, Martin Luther King) keep getting killed? Heather doesn't want to tell us what to think about that, but presents Galtung as an example of nonviolent thought.
But it's good to keep in mind that structural and cultural expressions of violence can have very real impacts on people. Physical impact, psychological impact – it affects our well-being (especially when unrecognized).
Paul Farmer, a researcher we'll be looking at later who worked a lot in Haiti, saw people in that country having very physical issues because of structural inequalities. Faulty transportation affected livelihoods, pollution and land quality affected health. These issues held people back from improving their situation, and so he applied the idea of structural violence to discuss public health. These are very hard dynamics to track and address.