Silence as symbolic violence

I read a summary of Bourdieu’s symbolic violence today, and held my tongue as a result.  I do have power I didn’t used to have;  mostly it is being seen as a cardinal aspect, pushed against, vivid, steady jutting rock the waves jump fiercely against instead of the water or air around the stone which used to be my part.

People get mad for instance, and scowl, or cite me as an example of a success we can all be proud of as one of the pretentious poor who have made something of themselves by following normative rules, plodding toward something, and catching a lucky break at the end of all the schooling, actually.

So maybe I do have symbolic power.  I get all these props and glances and prestige points, because I am a lawyer.

Symbolic violence according to Bourdieu would be if I used this prestige and other forms of symbolic power against people with less of this symbolic power at their disposal.

I oversimplify, and humbly admit I have read little.  This caught my eye:

For Bourdieu, neo-liberalism is deeply complicit in numerous types of symbolic violence. Not only does it ‘betray’ and abandon of all types of social workers (Bourdieu, 1998: 3), but the ideals of individualisation and self-help serve to hide the role of neo-liberalism in the creation of suffering and ‘[make] it possible to ‘blame the victim’ who is entirely responsible for his or her own misfortune’ (ibid.: 7). Thus, both social workers and those receiving help are denied much of the support they need and exposed to a logic which claims that their worsening situation (meaning tougher working conditions for social professionals) is their own fault.

I don’t know about all that.  I have a great respect for social workers, and try not to blame the victim of an economic and property system that fails both the poor and the disorganized and frankly, the always-disenfranchised–  the best examples are people who live in the city of Rochester rather than the suburbs.  Example one: the street corners have cameras in the city, so that if you roll through a red light, you get a ticket and a screen shot and video footage follow-up sent to you  In the suburbs, cameras like that are largely nonexistent.  In the city, your insurance rates and electric bill are higher than in say Fairport or Spencerport, because the rate of auto theft is higher in the city and because the suburbs have their own electric companies. Neither of these facts are fair:  you live in the poor neighborhood and you pay a penalty for being poor in both cases.  Maybe the best example of the disenfranchisement of living in the city proper is that when you get a traffic ticket, you go to an ostensible court where there is no district attorney and no plea bargain process in place.  Everyone talks to the Motor Vehicle Bureau- appointed ‘judge’ and listens to a police officer recite what they did and then they pay the fine and get the points.  There are no reductions to other charges and no negotiation strategies.  Yet, for the same traffic ticket in the suburbs, their attorney would deal with a district attorney and there would be an offer to a reduced charge based on mitigating factors.  The disenfranchised, for living and driving in the city, are punished.  This is the context in which social workers and others try and help the poor, disorganized, disenfranchised poor.

When the system is accepted (paying the insurance rate, paying the RG&E extortion rate, paying the ticket in front of a not-real-judge who should not be credited with due process legitimacy) it seems relevant if the disenfranchised, the poor, and the disorganized are additionally pressured to understand that if they would only work harder, they would be free of all of the injustice they face.  The people that work to help them, who do nothing about systemic flaws, (not so much out of any desire to harm the clients as because they feel a pressure to obey agreed-upon contractual terms, whether impliedly or actually agreed-upon, and because no one quite knows what to do about system issues) are not worthy of contempt, so much as a keen look at why the persistent overarching flaws are seen as impossible to change.

I haven’t even gotten to the system flaw underneath the economic system and the contractual system wherein the terms are predefined, unfair to the disenfranchised, and where no option exists to adjust the terms or to reject the contract at all.  That flawed underlying system is property law.  All mortgages, rental contracts, and hotel stays are based on it.  You can’t consider yourself out of the system even if you don’t own a house.  Even most of the homeless are housed: in shelters, transitional housing, hotel rooms, jails, emergency rooms,  etc.  They aren’t out either.  What all these contractually-based domiciles are based on is the First in Time principle which denies human status to Native Americans.  Whoever-got-there-first-claims-it is the principle.  But, the only ones who counted in such a footrace were Englishmen.  But that’s…that’s ridiculous! you might bluster and complain.  Well it surely is.  In Pierson v. Post, a poor hunting metaphor is also used to defend the concept.  Two arrows shot at the same deer, and one hunter arrives at the kill first.  Thus, the deer belongs to him.  He arrived “first in time.”

What hunter would ever countenance such a rule?  Why only Englishmen, and not the people who resided already on the land, and cared for it?

Symbolic violence is also apparent when one is silent, when one knows of the flaws in the roots of the law, and says nothing  I don’t know that I can do anything about it other than pass on the words.  Possibly the solution is to refuse to play a game, collectively, with such rules.  I suppose that would be an organized anarchy:  to refuse to pay the ticket, the insurance, the electric bill, and the rent, not one at a time, but en masse.  The worry is a fine, a lock on the tire, the house grown cold, eviction.  But would such a fate occur if it were not one who refused, but all?

I don’t know the answer: …it is easier to picture the fine, the lock, the cold house, and the eviction for each and every one [than believe a collective solution results in a fair justice system, reasonable energy prices, housing that is not rooted in metaphoric lies and the betrayal of Native Americans], and easier to accept despondently and quietly that contractual, criminal justice, and property law is made of stone instead of paper.  I wonder, though, where good people turn their energy, to try and work change. Perhaps it is holding one another up: soup, clothing, shelter provided on a cold night.  Possibly it is continuing to ask questions: why is the overarching system we work within acceptable, if the results are deplorable?


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