Structural Violence, Moral Responsibility, and the Role of Educators
"The crucial question", said American peace-activist Mary Jo Bowman, is "what does our commitment to nonviolence mean as citizens of one of the most powerful and oppressive nations in recorded history?" Bowman wrote in the 1980s, but her point remains relevant today: Instead of focusing on the violence of "others", we who belong to privileged groups in powerful nations might ask what we can do to promote nonviolence. Theorists of structural violence, notably philosophers Johan Galtung and Thomas Pogge, begin to address this question, for they remind us that behind highly publicized outbursts of violence is the less visible violence of poverty and social disruption, responsible for 14 to 18 million deaths annually, which occurs systematically from the normal operations of our own social institutions. However, while Galtung and Pogge theorize structural violence, they say little about why, even after structural violence has been theorized, many people remain apathetic. Drawing on postcolonial and feminist critics including Frantz Fanon, Jean Paul Sartre (in his introduction to Fanon), and Dorothy Smith, I examine how psychological attachments to "innocence" forestall honest reckoning with structural violence. Specifically, I argue that desires to avoid uncomfortable self-knowledge deter many of us from facing our own relation to violence, while common moral categories abet such self-deception by enabling us to identify ourselves as "innocent" and to ignore our socio-historical roles. As an educator, I pay particular attention to the part that educators can play both in maintaining and resisting this dishonest culture of "innocence" and concomitant acquiescence in violence.
Keywords: Violence, Pedagogy, Fanon, Structural Violence, Moral Responsibility
Dr. John Stone-Mediatore
Associate Professor, Philosophy Dept., Ohio Wesleyan University