When some Sri Lankans burnt MP's houses, that was called violence. But when the ruling class, beat, gassed, caged, and killed people, that was called ‘keeping order’. You can see that even the word violence is a weapon in class war, and the poor are getting beaten over the head with it mercilessly.
The fact that we use the word ‘violence’ for both attacks on living beings and property is a farce. The fact that people care more about the property of rich people than the bodies of the poor is a tragedy. When people say they don’t support violence, they seem to mean property damage against rich people. They’re totally fine with the state assaulting protestors, and the everyday destruction of the poor.
In a very real example, the police arrested some people for stealing a few brass balls (?) from the Presidential Palace. The cops called those people ‘drug addicts’, which is their usual excuse to beat, torture, and execute people. Not to mention the usual violence of caging any animal. And people accept this, as order. They feel bad for the Presidential Palace. How did we get here, that the property of the rich had such power over the bodies of the poor?
Any threat against rich people’s property is considered violence, and suppressing it with state violence is considered ‘law and order’. But whose law, and whose order? Tolstoy said, “Laws are rules made by people who govern by means of organized violence, for compliance with which the non-complier is subjected to blows, to loss of liberty, or even to being murdered.” Order is just organized violence, a boot stamping on a human face forever.
And this organized violence is more pervasive than just suppressing dissent. Structural violence pervades our societies, destroying poor bodies so the rich property may be kept safe. Every city has people sleeping on the streets surrounded by empty investment properties. Every country has children going hungry while fancy hors d’oeuvres get tipped in the trash. These are all choices to value property over people, and they’re all acts of violence, zealously guarded with security cameras, private guards, and the violence of the state.
If people ever react against property, this is portrayed as violence, chaos, anarchy, a threat to everyone’s well-being. But when pharma companies hoard intellectual property, killing millions during a pandemic, that’s not violence. That’s just business as usual. When the rich continue investing more in fossil fuels that are ending life as we know it, that’s not violence either.
So much violence is between property and people, and property is winning. Property even gets to define the word violence, and portray the mass violence it commits as self-defense. And people believe it.
You can see it in Sri Lanka, where people defend the sanctity of colonial buildings that protestors occupied—the Prime Minister’s House, the Presidential Palace. And yet next door, an entire living neighborhood called Slave Island was demolished to make room for empty luxury apartments. That wasn’t called violence. It was called ‘development’. The sad thing is that many of these defenders of property aren’t even rich. They’re not going to set foot in these luxury flats or palaces, but they defend the boot that keeps them out as well. That’s how much we carry water for our violent masters. This is the mental slavery of our times.
Even the word violence is warped in our minds. We are blind to the violence committed against the poor every day, excuse violence against the protestor and the criminal, and are only aghast when the property of the rich is disturbed. It’s absurd. I say let the people live and let some buildings burn. Violence against property is not the same as violence against people, and revolutionary violence is not the same as state violence.
The fact is that for children to eat, for people to have homes, and for the very earth to survive, some people’s property is going to have to be taken away. A lot of ‘investments’ will have to be outright destroyed or kept in the ground, especially fossil fuels. Many if not all of the powerful will have to have their privileges taken away. This is going to feel like violence to them and, indeed, sometimes it will be. They’ll use the word ‘violence’ liberally as if it’s some new thing, but their very existence is based on organized violence against the masses of people.
We have got to redefine violence if we’re ever going to redefine the world. We have got to save our opprobrium for violence against people and the planet and just let some property go. Honestly, I was happy when Sri Lankans burnt those MP's houses. They deserved it. Those MPs sent mobs in to attack the protestors bodies, it was self-defense, and not even proportional. It was property vs. bodies, but in the media the property was mourned more.
Now the new unelected President is rebuilding those MP's houses with public money, and has deployed military to violently clear protestors. You can see who’s still in charge, and who’s still using violence with impunity. Including violence against language. If people burn a house it’s called violence, but if politicians burn a whole country it’s called order.
And this isn’t just Sri Lanka, this is the world. Shutting down a pipeline is called terrorism while destroying the whole planet with pollution is just investing. This is all called keeping order, but what kind of order is it? These elites all deserve the violence of Jesus in the Temple, overturning tables and whipping the money-lenders.
The fact is that if any of this is going to change, there will be ‘violence’ against property and, yes, there will also be violence against people too. Read any history. It’s literally a catalog of violence. What makes you think the great historical change we need is going to be any different? It could be if the powerful understood any other language, but they don’t.
People have imbibed the opiate of non-violence because we want to preserve our own property, but the drugs are wearing off. Too many people’s lives are being destroyed, their meager possessions are being repossessed, their children are going hungry, they’re losing their homes. People are actually remarkably non-violent about it, but enough’s enough. At some point, the social contract breaks down, and it should. It’s a fraud. The social contract never eliminated violence, it just monopolized it and used it against the poor.
The monopoly of language by the rich and powerful—the monopoly on the very world violence—it’s destroying bodies, it’s destroying countries, it’s destroying the earth. Being non-violent against this isn’t saintly, it’s just allowing greater violence to go on. And being scrupulously non-violent against property is just absurd. Property damage is not the same as human damage. Indeed, property must be damaged for human life to go on.
At this point, it’s us or them. The animate vs. the inanimate. Buildings vs. bodies. The planet vs. profit. The battle has been raging forever, and the greatest weapon property has is words. Their laws, their media, even the definition of the word ‘violence’. We’re in a life-or-death struggle between property and people, and right now property is winning. As Jesus did, it’s time for the tables to be turned.