Sunday, 23 June 2013

The road to violence. 22.06.2013

A friend of mine from Turkey posted this picture at the end of May.  I have not been able to get it out of my head, for entirely the wrong reason.  The picture is one of many showing the demonstrations to prevent the demolition of a park on Istanbul's Taksim Square.  Most of the pictures I have seen aim to show the contrast between the peaceful protesters and the abusive police force.  I have not been following the demonstrations at all, much to my shame.  I just didn’t make enough time for it, so I know that I don’t know enough to have an opinion about the issue.

There is, however, one thing that I know for a fact.  If you shoved a book in my face my immediate instinct would be to thump you one.  I probably would not, in fairness, because I am vaguely civilised and I make an effort not to flip out at people, but I definitely could not promise you a calm reaction.  I feel justified, though, because touching faces is very much a taboo in our society.  We may touch children’s faces.  We may stroke the face of our beloved.  We don’t, however, touch the faces of other adults.  It is perceived as invasive, rude, over-familiar or patronising.  We’ve all seen mafia movies where the Don gently slaps the face of a lesser criminal, and we all know that it is a gesture intended to be demeaning.  Most children get to a certain age and refuse to be touched on the face – nobody teaches us about it, it just happens.  If this “peaceful protester” had done the same to a random person in a pub, I am willing to bet that he would have paid for his little caper.

I believe the photo was intended as an iconic representation of the contrast between the brutish police versus the educated, gentle demonstrator.  I looked and looked at that picture and one of my favourite truisms jumped up at me: “Abuse of power comes as no surprise”[1].  This would all be very well, if only it hadn’t hit me the wrong way round.  You see, to me it’s the demonstrator who is abusing his power.  He is exploiting the fact that the policeman’s discipline prevents him from reacting in the way any other person naturally would.  Now, generally speaking I am no fan of the police.  I have spent far too much time operating in what could be described as a legal grey area to love them too dearly.  At my most positive, I see them as a necessary evil.  However, I have endless respect for this particular poor bastard who managed to rein in his instincts despite the provocation he was being subjected to.  The demonstrator knew that he could get away with something socially unacceptable because the policeman was bound by a set of rules and regulations.  In my books, that makes the demonstrator a bully.

As I freely admit, I don’t know any of the background, the political connotations, any of it.  I’m simple.  But I’m willing to bet my left arsecheek that if the policeman lost it and hit out, all hell could have broken loose.  The rest of the policemen were probably tense as hell, not because they are boorish servants of the regime or beasts thirsting for blood, but because they are HUMAN.  We try to be rational creatures but we are just evolved monkeys, operating according to social scripts that were largely developed long before our species learnt to speak, let alone write books.[2]

The picture got me thinking, because most people I know would label the protester as “peaceful”.  He is not hitting anyone, after all.  The responsibility for any violence starts with the person who throws the first punch, right?  Erm, no.  Sorry, but no.  I know for a fact that I can make anyone, including the Dalai Lama, including YOU, punch me.  I know I can do that because I’m A. perceptive and B. an annoying little cunt.  I am, generally speaking, very good at working out people’s triggers.  If I want to, I can really piss most people off.  Being rather attached to my front teeth, however, I generally opt to use any intel I have about a person to achieve precisely the opposite result.

I know a few people who enjoy starting fights.  However, being cowardly arsewipes[3], instead of going up to people and saying “hey, fancy giving your knuckles a dusting?” they annoy the shit out of them.  They goad and goad and GOAD until the other person ends up hitting them because nothing else will make them shut up or go away.  But hey, they didn’t hit first, so they are innocent, right?  They end up smelling of roses[4] whilst the other person gets into trouble with bouncers or the law.

You might have guessed that I don’t hugely approve of this sort of behaviour.  However, there is worse.  I know far too many women who never even risk breaking a fingernail, because instead of fighting themselves they line their men up for a confrontation.  For instance, they find some poor unaware bastard to pick on and wind him up with some trumped-up charge. He was “looking at them” inappropriately, or “touched them” in the middle of a crowd; anything will do.  They push it and push it until their chosen victim does or say something that causes their partner to have to step in and defend them.  That’s one of the classier ways of going about it.  Less subtle women will flirt with two or more guys, hoping to start a Battle of the Troglodytes.  Plenty of men do the same.  Personally, I find this sort of behaviour despicable and dearly hope that there is a special circle in hell purely dedicated to them, but hey, that’s just me.  I’ve done too much first aid to think of fighting as glorious.

We don’t just cause violence by using other people’s triggers.  We routinely hurt people, sometimes severely, just by using words.  “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me” my arse.  The people who can read us, who know the inconvenient truths we hide in our hearts, the things we fear and loath so much about ourselves that can’t deal with them, can hurt us far worse with a sentence that they ever could with a blow.  My now very-much-ex-best-friend, in a still unexplained fit of pique, wrote me a ten-line paragraph that made me cry hysterically for over four hours.  Now, I’m not generally the crying sort.  Meltdowns aren’t normal behaviour for me, because I’m hardcore and shit.  But it came out of nowhere and it just HURT SO BAD.  Yet it was a seemingly innocuous short piece of writing that would have had no emotional impact on anyone but me.  But he knew my shatterpoints “the weak places in an opponent (…) where the unbreakable can be broken."[5]  He knew how to hurt me, and he did.  I would have much preferred it if he’d punched me, because it would have hurt less, for a shorter period, and felt less like a betrayal as it would have been less personal.

I have routinely used violent language to defend myself when I was in school.  I was always one of the smallest kids and had no strength, physical skills or co-ordination.  What I did have, however, was a cutting tongue and the ability to spot weaknesses.  Anyone who tried to bully me got verbally abused so harshly that most people didn’t want to go through that twice.  I had learnt the trick from my grandmother, who was a harpy of gigantic proportions.  She would say the most horrendous things to people, using not-quite-truths that could not be challenged to upset people as badly as she could.  She could do so without fear of repercussion, because most people do not give themselves permission to thump a frail old lady in the gob. 

Words can do huge amounts of damage and can never be unsaid.  “The stroke of the whip maketh marks in the flesh: but the stroke of the tongue breaketh the bones.  Many have fallen by the edge of the sword: but not so many as have fallen by the tongue.”[6]  I don’t often refer to the Bible, but I think it’s got it right on that point.

Personal anecdotes and biblical references aside, the vast majority of us regularly commit acts designed to annoy, upset or hurt other people.  We may do so “in thoughts and in words, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do”[7].  We may do so openly or covertly.  We might do so off our own backs or, more commonly in these cowardly days, hiding behind the cover of rules or regulations.  The intent is the same – we want to cause discomfort or pain.  We want to wound somebody.  The fact that we do not use our bodies to cause harm is, to me, completely beside the point.

We like to think we’re so fucking civilised, but really we’re just up ourselves.  Whiny toddlers standing on the shoulders of giants, we have turned away from our brutal history.  We spout idiotic platitudes such as “violence never solved anything”.  Eh, what?  Seriously, WTF?  For most of human existence violence was the only way of getting food, of protecting yourself from predators, of defending your tribe against other tribes who wanted to take away vital resources.  It was essential to staying alive.  The only reason we can do without it now is that countless generation before us have used so much of it that they have altered our planet beyond recognition, so we can have the luxury of sitting on our increasingly fat arses and growing faint at the mere thought of spilled blood.

Violence doesn’t start with the first punch – it starts with anything specifically designed to hurt another.  If you push it too far and the other person gets physical, tough shit, it’s still you who started it.  You took the first step on the road to violence.  If you can’t handle the blood and gore that may follow, that’s just too bad for you.  You shouldn’t have started it.

This picture saddens and angers me.  It saddens me to think that as a species we might have gone beyond evolution into a denial of what makes us human, which includes all the layers of us, even our inner monkey.  It saddens me that we are so wrapped up in our own narrative, full of ideology, politics and other lofty stuff, that we end up overlooking really obvious, basic, mammalian-level behaviours and mis-behaviours.  It saddens me that a man could have caused a bloody massacre – monkeys against monkeys – with a simple, misguided gesture.  It saddens me that many will think that he is being a hero, because he did something “brave”, when really in my eyes he’s just being a rude pillock.  Most of all, it angers me that I am forced to look at a policeman and think that he’s the hero there.  He managed to control the monkey.  He managed to rein in his instincts.  His feelings and dignity were injured, yet he followed his discipline, kept his composure and in doing so might have saved lives.  Me, the glorious rebel, hero-worshipping a copper.  That’s a turn-up for the books.

[1] Jenny Holzer
[2] I shan’t get into an explanation of the monkey brain because you have been reading your MacYoung, haven’t you?  Of course you have.  But in case you want to re-read it, here’s the relevant blog:
[3] What, you reckon that this is not an unbiased assessment? I’m being, what, judgemental? Suck it up, princess.  What did I tell you about us all been nothing but evolved monkeys?  I’m not immune.  Deal with it.
[4] That, or with smashed front teeth and a fractured cheekbone.  Been there, done the first aid, rinsed the blood off the t-shirt.  Don’t try this at home, kids.  It’s not big and it’s not clever.
[5] Mace Windu, in “Jedi: Count Dooku”.  No, I’ve not read it.  I’m not that dedicated to the Force.
[6] Ecclesiasticus 28:17-18. 
[7] Confiteor.  No, I have no idea why this is all coming out of the closet, either.  Me and organised religion REALLY don’t get on.  However I’ve always loved this bit of this prayer as a reminder of the multitude of ways in which I can fuck up.

1 comment:

anna valdiserri said...

Comment from the original poster.

Maybe yes, maybe not. The thing is, first of all, in the culture here (at least) touching is a very natural act, and secondly, he's not "touching" the policeman's face, he's only rubbing the book against his shield. I'm not even sure if he's rubbing (like you do to mock someone), we see that he has opened a page and is showing it to him.
Could be that he's showing the police the law where it says "everyone has the right to unite and protest wherever and whenever they want to, without asking for permission." This one may be a guy who's tent has just been burnt by that "offended but in composure" police. We're talking about police who act with animal instincts, not about the British police. I pity those who are “so lucky” to be in the police force; you see, becoming a police or an imam are the best paid jobs for people who'll never be able to study at university, who've never been open-minded or nor have open-minded friends, who’ll never be kissed by a beautiful girl in a red dress...
This is not the scene of a lucky intellectual bastard showing how intellectual he is to one who isn't. This is the picture of a guy who's overcome all fear and is acting in the least expected way, to convey a message which he knows will never pass through... or could it?
Yesterday the police attacked people with carnations in their hands… You see, in those universal uniforms, the Turkish police today is brain-washed, full of hatred against their own people, seeing themselves totally different from us, and accusing us to be the reason behind their and their families' poverty: we are the whole source of their inferiority complex. I'm so sorry because they will never be able to think freely for themselves; there will always be that grey cloud upon their minds saying "they hate you, they hate you". Nobody hates them. But they are being used by a few people who hate us and use them against us.
One of those policemen had said "it's been 48 hours, for some of us 100 hours, that we didn't get proper sleep and go home to our families. We are told to evacuate the place, and it doesn't end, they never end, they are still here, so we do the necessary and want it to be over".
Do I pity him? Yes, like I pity a tiger that uses his animal instincts to stay alive and gets wild. He can't choose between hurting and not hurting. Just like the police can't choose between aiming at the ground with tear gas canisters – as the rules say –, or aiming directly at people's heads with tear gas canisters.
Now, how do you show this person (whatever's left of a human), that there is a different reality in the world from what he's always known? How do you penetrate? A book maybe?