Monday, April 10, 2017

The violence inherent in the system

I've never been quite sure where I stand with respect to violence and the use of force.  Instinctively, I tend towards non-violence.  Yet I am aware that, regardless of what I my personal preferences, my whole way of life is daily supported by very serious state-sponsored violence.

I was reminded of this the other day as I listened to this excerpt from one of my favourite podcasts, This American Life.  It features US border guard Francisco Cantu reflecting on his experiences guarding the US Mexico border.  It's not pleasant listening, but I recommend it.  It's 26 minutes long.

In New Zealand, we're surrounded by ocean, not desert.  We're so far from the nearest neighbouring landmasses that the only practical way for a desperate person to come here is by air.  So, instead of border guards with guns, we use Advance Passenger Processing at foreign airports.  We carefully decide who it will be to our benefit to allow in and rigorously deny entry to all others.*  I don't know how often guns are used in this process, but I'm certain they're brought out whenever necessary.

* Alongside its official aims, this process has been remarkably effective at denying people their legal right to seek asylum amongst us. 

And that's not the only violence used to defend my way of life.

Late last year, there was a drive-by shooting in my street.  The first we knew of it was the following morning.  As we headed out to deliver Christmas baking to the neighbours we saw first caution tape, then a police officer, then the officer's large and scary gun.  The state had showed up to shoot first, should anyone else try shooting again.

I don't know what my way of life would look like if it wasn't backed by (most commonly the threat of) serious violence.  To my knowledge, no state has ever tried genuine non-violence, so it's hard to know how that would play out.  But I do know that, no matter how pacifist my inclinations may be, I am complicit every day in violence carried out to protect me.

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