(Re)Naming and Familiar Resistance to Violence

The more harm we become accustomed to, the more harm we become prepared to inflict ourselves. It becomes organic. It becomes biomechanical. It becomes biolence. However, in spite of so many poets, tinkerers, judgmental continental philosophers, and aggrieved mothers, violence is not natural nor is it inescapable. Violence is not inevitable. Biolence, which I intend to roughly mean those human, animal, biological motivations towards aggression as nature indicates intellectual potential to overcome in human-trusted mechanical biolence against the opposition of an untrustworthy superficial biolence that can easily be understood as something that can be done away with. As we work towards a more perfect society, we cannot actually do so without an understanding of violence as a reality to be overcome. Without an understanding of violence, we cannot overcome it. We are overtly capable of overcoming violence with a firm understanding of it and incorporating that understanding in our push towards a free, communally democratic, secure society. 

Sacred hope takes precedence over inherited inaction towards violence. It could be argued (named) with the degree of violence in history, that it should take precedence, but we are far too wide in accepting our dismissal of good nature and healthy motivations towards others from the most element and common corners of social welfare. In Lisa Diedrich’s book, Indirect Action: Schizophrenia, Epilepsy, AIDS, and the Course of Health Activism, she describes of the motivations and aspirations embedded in the casual thoughts of Susan Smiley who thinks about her mother with schizophrenia each time she passes a homeless person on the streets exhibiting such symptoms, stating, “Smiley’s awareness that ‘that could be my mother’ signals her attempt to find a method to witness ‘the residue of all residues’ not or not only in order to assimilate it through discipline but as a call to struggle against our impoverished response – conceptually, politically, practically, and aesthetically – to mental illness” (2016, 175). The stigma of mental illness extends to an ingrained stigma against hope through and in mental illness and the hope to rise above and conquer it or the ability to live with it. This is not unlike the stigma of sacred hope. “[C]onceptually, politically, practically, and aesthetically” we react against the best of interests of others in favor of an easy, accepting, laissez faire economics of care for ourselves and others. Through casual naming, we isolate those most vulnerable. We find it difficult to stipulate our values in a shared economy. The thought occurs then retracts to indifference and the commonality of restitute occurrence. 

Michael S. Berger, in his book chapter, “Rabbinic Pacification of Second-Century Jewish Nationalism,” regards and warns that “[c]ontrary to the view of some social scientists, it is not whether, but how, God is brought into a conflict that determines the likelihood of a conflict inviting religious violence” (2007, 48). Berger argues that with the defeat of three Jewish revolts, particularly the aftermath of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, the enduring assault of Jewish practices were “long enough to sear into Jewish memory the reality of martyrdom, a fate many Rabbinic scholars apparently suffered” (2007, 50). The demoralizing defeat instilled a reaction to violence as a sense of the need to weaken equally violent responses.  

The need for a continued spiritual practice evolved among rabbis as a practice to avoid being curtailed from hegemony and social order. Berger argues “the latter tannaim (second century CE Palestinian scholars) and early amoraim (post-200 CE Palestinian and Babylonian scholars) engaged in a deliberate program to dampen or counteract the tendencies for large-scale violence contained in Jewish texts and memory” (2007, 50). However, I would argue that what is perceived as a “practical embrace of passivity” (2007, 53) was, in fact, a religiously based tactic-laced order of resistance to the imperial doctrine of oppression through (re)naming. Berger cites Jacob Neusner, who states, “weakness is the ultimate strength, forbearance the final act of self-assertion, passive resignation the sure step towards liberation” (2007, 53). Whether messianic or passively responsive, it can be demonstrated that departing from violent appraisals was the penultimate legislation towards the photometry of articulating God-reference in the order of expressed reality. Here, I intend “articulation” in what Diedrich prompts as in “Stuart Hall’s double sense as both a form of expression and a linkage between multiple expressions, concepts, and objects” (2016, 75-76). Rabbis engaged in a peaceful understanding of enforcing memory into the town squares of Jewish resistance and remodeled a scholastic order of reprimanded, gallant, formerly disheveled God-reference; a stored ensemble of written and ascribed articulation.  

Ruti Feuchtwanger writes about “women’s yeshivas” and batei midrash that only in the last generation began to learn and teach Talmud with divided approval in “Knowledge Versus Status: Discursive Struggle in Women’s Batei Midrash.” Feuchtwanger states, “[t]he fundamental value and power of this knowledge make it the basis of power relations between those in possession of it and those who lack it” (2009, 168). Surfacing from the austerity of knowledge comes a galactagogue of language and learning that (re)possesses an enforcement of just egalitarian values that meet and dissemble along given traits of more holistic flags of even and cool temperament. Wimpfheimer repeatedly returns to Bava Kamma 22a and takes away an articulation of negligence, “One is liable for an animal’s damages, for example, because they can be anticipated, and a failure to guard against them is tantamount to negligence” (2018, 69). This negligence is how we have treated our sisters and mothers from our own communities. It is how we have treated the sick and marginal. It is how we have inquired among the cancer stricken to defend themselves as to whether they are responsible or deserving of the illness, another form of biolence (Bhargava 2019). We are ritually negligent in a cross-border, cross-oceans, intranational, and forensic sense that should eliminate our hope for sacred intervention. However, there is the sacred hope of determination to implement change across judicial imparting of justice and mercy. With that hope, we can teach our way out of our violent inheritance. 

In Meir Bar-Ilan’s fascinating and descriptive article, “The attitude towards mamzerim in Jewish society in late antiquity,” he drafts an argument of an evolution towards an acceptance and growing inclusion for mamzerim over time. Rejected from marriage opportunities, denied the right to study Torah, excluded and unbound, Bar-Ilan proposes a slow progress in Jewish society of compassion and acceptance. In Qiddushin 3:13, it is stated that mamzerim can be purified by marrying a slave with the conditions that the child, also born a slave, would then be freed – would then be purified and qualify for community and interrelated relationships with all privileges. This extreme logic forces us to think about what constitutes just inclusion and how separate exemplifications of counter-intuitive justice is meted out. Bar-Ilan, however, puts forward that:

The tales of the Tannaim and also the Qumran laws, teach of the limiting in the punishment of the mamzer over the years. Whereas in the period preceding the crystallization of rabbinic law, the prevailing religious-social law was very strict with mamzerim and included his social ostracism in all matters, even after death, the later rabbinic law as expressed in the Mishnah and Talmud shows a trend of limiting the sanction against mamzerim: establishment of the law only as a prohibition of marriage to a person of improper descent, and even this at times only through lip service. (2000, 141)

It should be noted that Shaye J. D. Cohen finds Ben-Ilan’s conclusions somewhat circumstantial and rests on assumptions about the reality of lived culture as expressed in the texts where these conclusions are drawn from (2000). However, the texts are where we elect to examine collective principles. Bar-Ilan’s recitation of growing inclusion is not missed or over-elucidated in terms of cultural stature. In that, we find a progressive elimination of cultural violence however slow or distilled it might grow. 

What takes place, in this course, is a form of political violence in that it is a cultural enforcement of accepted norms to which others are subject to. In Cindy A. Sousa’s exhaustive review of literature on political violence, she illustrates the individual and collective responses and needs for the organized action against these acts, illuminating, “[p]articipation in civil society and political processes is essential for the health and well-being of individuals” (2013, 174). Sousa continues, 

It engenders a sense of responsibility for collective functioning, enhancing individual well-being (Nowell and Boyd 2010). Political violence undermines individuals’ ability to engage with, and have confidence in, social and political life by: contributing to individuals’ isolation and withdrawal from society; deteriorating individuals’ trust in others, justice, and government entities and democracy itself; and lessening individuals’ abilities or willingness to engage in political activities. (2013, 174)

With greater collective and individual clarity, we must bring to the surface of our lived social lives the reality that all forms of “[p]olitical violence diminishes individuals’ trust in the moral organization of society, government entities and processes of democracy” (2013, 180). Structural violence put into perspective – either that which is historic or present day – brings us closer to examining our personal path in accepting violence as par for the course of detrimental waves of uninvited dystrophy in allied persuasion towards a just and reasonable outcome of our social experiment of civilization. 

Painting: Bathers; Matriarch(the Naming of Things) by Shelton Walsmith