26 Jun 2017

Gerald Priestland The Future of Violence

Comments on Gerald Priestland's The Future of Violence, Hamish Hamilton, 1974.

My main problem with this book is that Priestland does not really consider ‘structural’ violence. He dismisses it as ‘injustice’ that does not count as violence because it is not ‘physical’ (page 10-11). On the contrary, economic and social forces can be just as effective as physical forces in perpetrating violence. This is for at least two reasons. Firstly, economic and social forces can starve people into submission or death just as effectively as physical violence. Secondly, they can be - and often are - backed, beneath a thin veneer of civilisation, by physical violence from the same powers as carry out the structural violence.

There are countless examples of structural violence:
  • benefit sanctions and unemployment that starve people into submission;
  • the soft cops of social services that remove people’s children (and will call in the police if the parents resist)
  • schools that punish pupils in all sorts of ways short of coproral punishment. 
And so on.

Priestland is also mistaken about the role of the media in manufacturing consent. He thinks ‘the media have tried to cultivate sympathy for the Biafrans, the Bengalis, Uganda Asians, gipsies, Ulster Catholics and inner-city coloured people’ (page 12). But contrast this with the history of racism towards foreigners in the British media. In the 1930s there was the hatred towards migrants shown by the Daily Mail when it campaigned against allowing Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany into Britain. Most of the media had racist stereotypes of black people in the 1960s and 70s as muggers, druggies and sexual predators. The media today, especially the Daily Mail, are equally vitriolic about Muslims, asylum seekers and EU migrants. The targets may vary, but the racism of the media remains the same. Against that background it is hard to believe that there was a golden age of tolerance to foreigners in 1974 when Priestland wrote ‘The Future of Violence’.

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