Words as violence

The Russians have a law against offending the feelings of religious followers.

It came up again today because a magazine did a (somewhat) explicit photoshoot in a church they considered abandoned:

offending feelings of religious people russia ethics
Source: Vkontakte

It turns out the church wasn’t entirely abandoned and was occasionally used. This may result in a court case against the model/photographer/publication involved: not because they perpetrated land belonging to the church, but because they offended people’s religious beliefs.

A man recently received a suspended sentence for catching Pokemon in another church for this reason.

Is the fact that the Russians want to protect the religious any different to the snowflakery millennials are getting accused of?

In West it is kind of the opposite, but the same principle applies. We’re most worried about offending those who fight for more modern things, e.g. non-traditional genders.

It’s a past time of mine to observe the parallels between two places that most people consider as different as night and day. And it allows me to ask: why is there such a global cross-cultural tendency to protect the feelings of minorities through law?

In a recent case, a woman was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter because of what she said. Of course, her words were evil. It was emotional abuse taken to the limit.

But can words really be equated to violence?

I think that this would only encourage physical violence by closing a steam valve. It makes little of victims of real violence. There’s something wrong with putting genuinely violent people in the same category with someone who likes to rant.

Incitement to hatred? Obviously it would be ideal if we all agreed and lived in peace and love. But assuming that we’re not moving to a utopia any time soon, isn’t it better to allow people to peacefully rant and speak freely than to encourage them to band into groups and get violent against the establishment which is what we achieve by marginalising them? In fact, ranters of a denomination could verbally spar with other types of ranters. Might it even be a healthy debate?

Perhaps non-violent hating is like a small forest fire:

“Small forest fires periodically cleanse the system of the most flammable material, so this does not have the opportunity to accumulate. Systematically preventing forest fires from taking place ‘to be safe’ makes the big one much worse.” – Nassim Taleb. Antifragile : things that gain from disorder.

Similarly, marginalising the “haters” just leads to real violence.

Having said that, I can relate. I have often felt like I needed trigger warnings. I get very upset at certain images in films and documentaries. But I would never feel that someone owes it to me to prevent me from them: if I made a choice to watch a film, that’s just part of the consequences. Being honest, I don’t watch that many films for this precise reason.

Virtually every book or film I process results in an overwhelming spillage of thoughts and emotions (hence, this blog). In fact, I am still haunted by a number of books I read.

When I was in school, we were always given a book list for the summer. Part of me wishes I’d never read Three Comrades and The Collector. Part of me is enraged that there wasn’t a trigger warning on those books. But by reading these books I learnt what I do and don’t like – and why.

But let’s just imagine that words aren’t violence and flip the question: should it be a crime to offend people’s feelings?

P. S. I am meant to be working on Philip Larkin‘s poetry, but I’m not a fan, hence, all this 🙂

16 thoughts on “Words as violence”

  1. The whole purpose of art is to evoke an emotional response. Words? Let’s see, how does it go … oh, yes: sticks and stones may break my bones …

    Personally I do not want to be subject to someone else’s overworked sense of offense.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. By admitting that inciting violence is a thing, are we not also admitting that those incited are irrational and incapable of independent, self directed thought? That they are unable to think critically?
    If I drive you, through words, to murder. Am I really at fault? If I am, then are we not admitting that you might be of a mental capacity ripe for exploitation and therefore lesser than? Is it therefore my responsibility then, to speak carefully knowing the left of the bell curve may be listening?


    > Why is there such a global cross-cultural tendency to protect the feelings of minorities through law?

    The west has become sensitive to the oppression of sub-groups. If you can claim a philosophical or biological division, the west will protect you and yours against ostracization and persecution. This sentiment no doubt has filtered out into other cultures. There are of course egregious exceptions, but even these substantiate the growing trend. If you’re different, we will protect you from others who would hurt you for your differentness. I’m pretty sure there was something like this during the founding of the young United States, among other states of the world.

    This, of course, contradicts the village mentality we seem to be drifting back into. Yuck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I love that point about the bell curve. There is a certain brand of politics that sounds empowering and caring, but is actually very paternalistic. People should be able to make their own decision and be responsible for them, but then power is decentralised…

      I’ve never spent enough time in the US to understand how they treat their minorities, but I imagine you’re right

      Liked by 2 people

      1. This theme of protecting, nay, focusing solely on the subgroups, has been the anchor around the progressives (democrats) neck. Rather than treat all of us as humans, they focused on those singled out saying “we’ll be your champion!” when, the majority remained under economic pressure, and suffered for it. This is what must change for the rationals to return to balance the fanatics. It’s not just the oppressed — it’s all of us — against the oligarchs.


  3. GroupThink is Big Business and very busy being implemented these days. And with each ‘progressive’ advance to ‘aid’ victimized groups, individual rights, freedoms, and responsibilities regress in law.

    Few people seem to notice… or even care. The downtrodden, donchaknow…

    Back in 1999, I noted that daring to criticize was becoming a greater crime in the eyes of far too many ‘liberals’ than any crime being criticized. And today I see illiberal ideas become the acceptable doppelgangers of what constitutes today’s ‘liberal’ philosophy.

    Mills I think would be truly baffled by this travesty and inconsolable that no one seems to notice. Remember, today’s ‘progressive’ policies and laws is all about helping the victims, you see… the downtrodden, the people who need our help and protection, the ones who have nothing to lose but their chains…. oh wait… now where have I come across that before?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A lot depends on who is using the “words,” and the structures of relationship involved. “Speech acts” aren’t all benign, like making a promise. Some are assertions of power, like when a 6th grade boy says to a 6th grade girl “go make me a sandwich,” and everyone laughs, and knows that the boys are saying “you may be 6 inches taller and better in school than we are now, but in the end, you girls are going to grow up to be the wives and we’ll grow up to be the husbands.” Some are fairly impotent assertions of power, like when a bunch of people who think Muslims are ruining the United States organize a “draw Muhammad” contest in Texas (the message possibly being “see, we can be jerks and you can’t stop us, so, y’know, take that”). Some are creepy assertions of power, like when you’re black and the guy who works next to you at the US mint tosses a noose over to your work station. (This happened recently, apparently; you could call that a “harmless joke,” but if you did, you’d be stupidly ignoring what that symbol means in the context of US racial relations, as in, living in denial.) Some are “just words” that are backed by the power of the state, like when the head of state calls members of a particular ethnic group “vermin.” What I’m saying is, I think “just words” are often actively part of power plays going on in a situation, and the “feelings” that arise in response to them are an index of those.

    As far as that goes, whether “the feelings of minorities” are actually protected in the United States as a matter of public policy seems disputable. Celebrities who say egregiously pejorative things about blacks or Hispanics on television or the radio sometimes suffer for it – depends on which celebrity, and which media channel. But at the same time, public officials can say and do things that disenfranchise minority communities, like redistrict the state of North Carolina, without caring how “minorities” feel about that, and without suffering any ill effects as a result.


    1. I completely agree that people can be evil and horrible through words.

      I also think that when we’re making a decision, in this case, should speech be punished, we have to consider
      1. Alternative A
      2. Alternative B, etc – not

      1. What we wish happened in real life
      2. What happens

      Obviously, we need to strive for things as a society, but laws need to be practical and therefore pragmatic.

      And the alternatives, as I see it are:
      1. Let people speak and some speech will do controllable harm
      2. Don’t let people speak and things will boil over uncontrollably after a while.

      There isn’t a perfect solution that I can see 😦


  5. Of course it is more humane and compassionate to limit the expression of our anger to words. However one of the things I practise as best I can is to extend the compassion to myself. That means I feel the anger and enquire into it rather than discharging it. Discharging it dumps the energy on someone else (usually they feel more angry as a result) and deprives me of the opportunity to learn more about myself. Some time spent attending to my anger can produce a really skilful action that can bring about change in the other person in a way that being angry with them cannot.


      1. Well yes but history tends not to give us a clear answer to the problem. Those who burn books end up burning people. Maybe pent up anger is more dangerous in isolated individuals than in groups where it may be safer if it is contained?

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I suppose what I think is that individuals with no outlet for their anger are known suddenly to wreak havoc and violence. They often have no reality check. Groups of people need to learn about their power in the context of democracy (if applicable). I think violence arises when we project our power onto the other rather than owning it. Recognising that the anger is only energy can be helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s