Join 3,552 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Now you see the violence inherent in the system
August 21, 2008 11:22 PM   Subscribe

Working Hard, Drinking Hard is a book about structural violence in Honduras by Adrienne Pine. In it, she "explores the daily relationships and routines of urban Hondurans in light of globalizing forces and extreme social inequalities."

In this interview, (longer version here) she says she hopes that her book will raise awareness of inequality in Honduras. She also points out the similarities (and differences) between Ricardo Maduro's and Rudolph Giuliani's Zero Tolerance policies and their consequences.

In the interview, she says "I have spoken with people from all over the political spectrum, which is my aim. I don't see the issue of structural violence as belonging to conservatives, liberals, deists, atheists, or any other group. It is something we should all be concerned with, and which I hope we can come together to change. But we have to start with a dialogue, with understanding."
posted by lysdexic (13 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Patriarchal values also drive excessive militarism, as Deborah Winter, Marc Pilisuk, Sara Houck and Matthew Lee argue in their chapter, Understanding Militarism: Money, Masculinity, and the Search for the Mystical. The authors illuminate how socieites make soldiering a male rite of passage and proof of manhood, thereby showing the close link between militarism and masculinity.

Militarization is also deeply rooted in spiritual motives, as men attempt to experience mystical sacrifice through war. Both masculinism and mysticism drive military expenditures beyond rational ends, and produce great structural violence to those (usually women and children) whose human needs for adequate food, health care, and education go unmet because arms are bought instead. In addition, market forces fuel arms production and distribution throughout the world; half the worlds countries spend more on arms than health and education combined.
Imagine suggesting young girls that "being a real woman" is about playing with Barbies, dressing smartly , being cute. As kids imitate adults, the girl will eventually imitate the housewife model or the aggressive go getter balls stomper model or what have you.

Similarly male kids imitate adult males. If the offered model is that of the heroic, self immolating warriors who swear allegiance to god or The Nation no matter why and if you tell girls that these kind of man are admirable, strong, faithful and honorable "real men" they may eventually learn to favor the men that fit these models, hence the attraction to the officiers and a more or less muted distaste for the common soldier, somehow "lesser" than the officier.

Similar models suggest that there ought to be a few winners, that live at the expense of the losers who constitute the great masses, in a constructed win-lose game that makes no room for win-win strategies.
posted by elpapacito at 2:15 AM on August 22, 2008


From that same chapter: "Furthermore, a soldier is portrayed as a warrior who “self-sacrificially” protects women, children and others who are “in need” of protection. It is very an important motivator for military recruitment. The concept of “protected” is crucial to the legitimacy of force and violence. Moreover, a protector needs to have an object of protection, something worth fighting for."

What really struck me is the book excerpt where Pine talks about how the street gangs were cleaned up: they were killed. All of them, hunted down, even after turning their lives around. That part wasn't mentioned in the New York Times article.

People accepted it because it made them 'safer'.
posted by lysdexic at 5:10 AM on August 22, 2008


"Working hard, drinking hard" reminds me of a chapter in the Redneck Manifesto by Jim Goad. He has a really good rant on the connection between being socially powerless and use destructive entertainment as a substitute of sorts. It's a good read, albeit he's occasionally missing the mark.
posted by monocultured at 6:10 AM on August 22, 2008


From the excerpt:

I was often surprised by the failure of the many examples of personal victimization to change the general understanding of gangs as inscrutably savage. ...

It was, according to her, Sabrina, and everyone else I asked subsequently, an unequivocally good thing that these neighborhood children, many of whom had retained good relations with Rebeca and her family, had been slaughtered for the sake of security.


I think she is downplaying (in this short excerpt; her point elsewhere may be much more nuanced) the corrosive effect of living under constant threat of violence. My experience is that it is a rare person who would object to "cleansing" operations by the police, if they have been living under threat of rape, robbery, and murder for years.

In this excerpt, she's setting up a dichotomy, where the security forces "slaughter" while the gang members are "children" — a helpless category, potential victims we need to protect. But the experience of a person who lives in that neighborhood is more complicated: they knew the gang members from childhood, but knowing the gang members doesn't protect them from being preyed upon. (When it does — when a gang is outwardly focused and serves to protect the neighborhood from violent incursions from other gangs or from the security forces — then people will respond very differently to attacks on that gang, because the gang is providing security and a form of the rule of law where both are lacking.)

Personally, I think that "structural violence" is one of the most powerful and accurate ways to describe the world experienced by the poor in most places — it captures the complicated and interconnected ways in which not having health care, not being able to feed your children, and being vulnerable to direct violence because you are a woman who might be raped, a child who might be beaten, a man who might get shot for being a "subversive," or some other category who gets targeted, all impact one's life together.

But a simplistic "community good / security forces bad" dichotomy just doesn't capture how structural violence works. The security forces are bad when they shoot your son for being on the wrong street corner, but they are good when they clean up the corner where you were mugged last weekend. The community is good, but when it works to protect criminals within it (such as protecting the person who mugged you because he is a local guy, too), then that's not so great.

A lot of the really great writing on Latin America and the Caribbean uses structural violence at least implicitly as a lens for describing the realities, particularly in cities. It's been a major focus of cinema in that region since at least Buñuel's Los Olvidados in the 1950s; the recent City of God is in that same tradition. You even see an understanding of structural violence guiding social policies by elected officials who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, and very recently some evangelical Christians have begun to focus much more on the social gospel in a way that necessitates a look at the impacts of structural violence on people's lives. (Liberation theology within the Catholic Church was always focused on structural violence, but lost its prominence within the Church in the 1980s.)
posted by Forktine at 7:13 AM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


crazy-brave use of the title in this context, and a welcome bit of humor.
posted by mwhybark at 7:43 AM on August 22, 2008


Great post. I'm moving down there in October, so maybe the book will serve as an anthropological primer to life in the cities, which do tend to be [more] violent than their rural counterparts in almost every country I've visited. But in relation to my motives for moving there, I visited two years ago and found the people to be very friendly and warm, but I can see how globalization can create violent undercurrents between the haves and have nots.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:29 AM on August 22, 2008


I think she is downplaying (in this short excerpt; her point elsewhere may be much more nuanced) the corrosive effect of living under constant threat of violence. My experience is that it is a rare person who would object to "cleansing" operations by the police, if they have been living under threat of rape, robbery, and murder for years.

That's a good point about living in fear, Forktine. I think she does have more context an nuance in the book. This is from the newspaper article:
Although Pine’s own experience has not been one of violence or victimization, the incessant warnings she received and the graphic style of mainstream media in Honduras had “an impact on who [she] was - on how [she] experienced [her] life through [her] own body…” This sense of ever-present fear and its affect upon the sense of self became one of Pine’s central research questions for the book.
(Liberation theology within the Catholic Church was always focused on structural violence, but lost its prominence within the Church in the 1980s.)

That got me thinking about structural violence in the Catholic Church itself. If I recall correctly, the priests at the forefront of this movement were decimated by John Paul II, when they weren't being gunned down by the government or military.
posted by lysdexic at 9:18 AM on August 22, 2008


lysdexic-- it is fair to argue that the Church, including Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, were eager to curtail the influence of liberation theology. But it's radically irrational to compare that intra-church debate to the murder of Archbishop Romero.

Thanks for the post.
posted by ibmcginty at 9:57 AM on August 22, 2008


I guess this is an issue close to my heart because I was a volunteer in a country with a very similar gang-fueled violence problem, and later worked in two other countries with the same issues.

Anecdotally, here is how extra-judicial shootings worked where I lived:

Some older youth (maybe early twenties) would show up back in town after some years away, either deported from the US after serving a little prison time, or having come back to the small town after getting in trouble in the big city. Maybe he really was in a gang, or maybe he just liked telling stories; either way, two or three younger boys would be really impressed and start hanging out with him (girls too, but they were always peripheral where I lived, unlike the Honduras story).

They'd start doing some minor thefts, and then start doing some robberies and muggings. If they were only kind of wayward, they'd use knives, but if they were full-on wanna-be bad boys, they'd buy or rent a handgun.

Remember, this is a place where everyone knows everyone, and so right away all the usual community pressure gets applied — their mothers throw them out of the house, maybe an uncle thrashes one, they are yelled at and shunned and threatened. Also, minor theft means a lot more when you are already not feeding your kids every day — the shovel that someone steals and sells to buy some crack or beer is the shovel you depend on to get laboring jobs; without it, you have to look for lower-paid work and your kids eat that much less often.

So if the community pressure doesn't work, someone talks to someone who has a friend who knows a police or military officer or someone in a paramilitary outfit. Sometimes cash is involved, sometimes it's just a favor.

Then a week or two later, a taxi full of scary guys with guns or a security forces jeep with men in uniforms drives through town and everyone gets really quiet and goes home if they can because Bad Things are happening. They drive directly to where the naughty youths are hanging out, because someone phoned a few minutes before to confirm where they were, grab all of them, and drive out of town into someone's field.

Depending on what has gone on and who is related to whom and what was requested and how the kids behave, they are either shot in the back of the head, or kneecapped, or just severely beaten and threatened with worse the next time. (If the kids are known to have guns, then they are just shot where they are found; it's not worth risking a shoot-out to grab them and take them somewhere else.)

And this happens with the at least tacit approval of the community, even though the youths are sons and cousins and friends of everyone there, because they crossed a line and became "outlaw" in the old sense of the word — outside the protection of their community.

The youths I knew and talked to who had been taken out for beatings or leg-shootings were not even angry about it — they saw it as a known risk of their activities, and knew that the police could never have found them if someone in their family hadn't phoned it in.

Anyway, the point is that "social cleansing" operations are really common, and require a certain level of community support to work. Otherwise it becomes counter-insurgency work, or urban guerrilla operations, which are far riskier and more difficult for the security forces.
posted by Forktine at 11:49 AM on August 22, 2008 [5 favorites]


it is fair to argue that the Church, including Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, were eager to curtail the influence of liberation theology. But it's radically irrational to compare that intra-church debate to the murder of Archbishop Romero.

I see your point, ibmcginty, but would point out that the end result - keeping the status quo, was achieved by the two systems working in parallel, even if they weren't working together.

Anyway, the point is that "social cleansing" operations are really common, and require a certain level of community support to work. Otherwise it becomes counter-insurgency work, or urban guerrilla operations, which are far riskier and more difficult for the security forces.


Wow, Forktine. I have no other words.
posted by lysdexic at 12:06 PM on August 22, 2008


Indeed "social cleansing" requires community support, in the sense that you first convince the masses there is some rotten social outkast to dispose of and that they are the sources of all problems and disorder like for instace..who knows... jews, women, nigroes? Some would pick "criminals" because anyone can be, if you twist the law enough , so you can easily dispose of political oppositors no matter their color of skin.

It's convenient, it doesn't require investing in education and community building efforts, who could turn into something vile such an opposition and on top of that it doesn't sound as fascism because "it's the law!". With proper miseducation or a with an unmanageable byzantine set of laws, nobody will figure out all the catch 22s.

Unfortunately there's something wrong with the model : it's completely regressive, it destroyes all the good generated by a rationally limited freedom, basically making life
miserable even for the few "elites" that would emerge, not realizing they are going to pay a stiff price for their desires.

Only a dimwit would suggest such a status quo setting and preservation method.
posted by elpapacito at 12:37 PM on August 22, 2008


Only a dimwit would suggest such a status quo setting and preservation method.

I hope you don't think I'm that dimwit. The routine extrajudicial shootings I knew of were terrifying for me, were immoral, and were quite devastating to the affected families. It's a terrible way for a justice or security apparatus to function, and it's terrible that the young men in question felt that this path was their best choice.

Indeed "social cleansing" requires community support, in the sense that you first convince the masses there is some rotten social outkast to dispose of and that they are the sources of all problems and disorder like for instace..who knows... jews, women, nigroes? Some would pick "criminals" because anyone can be, if you twist the law enough , so you can easily dispose of political oppositors no matter their color of skin.

We are in agreement that the mechanism and the language are the same for disappearing petty criminals and for getting rid of "subversives." (And the language of "cleansing" fits into the history of treating unwanted members of society as "diseases" that need to be purged from the body politic, which is a mighty unsavory history.)

But my experience, which is admittedly anecdotal but was first-hand in three places, was that it isn't about fooling the "masses." It was what the people in those communities felt was their best available option, choosing from a range of pretty terrible options, for resolving very serious problems within the community.

And your language of "the masses" is particularly inappropriate given that we are talking about hyper-local issues. This isn't genocide or ethnic cleansing — this is shooting or beating a particular individual in a particular place, using local knowledge and at least tacit community acceptance to do so.

Basically, I don't think you are considering how miserable and terrifying it is to live in fear, and of how devastating even minor theft is when you are living on the margins of survival. In those situations, the pain suffered by a knee-capped thief seems pretty minor in comparison to the social cost of his actions.

on top of that it doesn't sound as fascism because "it's the law!"

No it's not, almost anywhere. That's why you call it "extra-judicial" killings if it's being done by the security forces, or "vigilante justice" if it's the paramilitaries or hired gunmen. It's clearly illegal, but the legal system turns a blind eye to it (just as has happened with similar killings in the US — the first that comes to my mind is the shooting of Fred Hampton in 1969, but there have been plenty since).

We are in agreement that these kinds of killings are wrong; we differ about whether the communities in question are duped "masses" or are people with agency who are making choices from a limited set of options.
posted by Forktine at 2:01 PM on August 22, 2008


A bit late, but I finally got hold of the book last night. It's a pretty unsatisfying piece of ethnography, compared to some of the people she relies on (and studied under at Berkeley) like Scheper-Hughes and others.

I read the beginning, the chapter on fear, and the end, and skimmed the rest, so can't swear that I didn't miss something really important. But I think she founders on the whole "fear" thing that I mentioned above: She simply doesn't understand how the people she lives with can be afraid enough to welcome a war on crime in which children are targeted for extrajudicial killings, so she dismisses it as a social anomaly, or a miscomprehension.

But what she dismisses in the middle of a chapter should be her central observation: holy shit, people in Honduras were so scared that they approved of semi-random killings of children! From that, you could move to get at why they were so scared — was it realistic, based on all the killings and rapes and robberies in the neighborhoods? Or was it irrational, based on misinformation and rumors and a pathologizing of poor children?

Lumping it all in under "structural violence" doesn't go quite far enough, I think — she sets up a contradiction, and then doesn't fully resolve it. At least in the sections I read, she skirts really close to basically saying that people in Honduras were operating under false consciousness — that they were the deluded masses someone referred to above. But the really nice thing about structural violence as a theoretical framework is that it maintains agency — people may be victims of violence in a way that misshapes their worldview, but they don't have false consciousness.

(I wish I had the time to read the other chapters, because she may have dealt with all these concerns fully in other parts of the book.)
posted by Forktine at 2:22 PM on August 26, 2008


« Older The Frequency of Body Parts in Songs, by genre. NS...  |  The evolution of the US presid... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments