Extending Violence, Extending Compassion: A Response to Mike Rugnetta’s Response

First, context. Then, some comments.

Mike Rugnetta recently presented a really, really thought-provoking video on the theoretical framework of violence as essentially the forceful removal of a person’s agency (a theory well-developed in social and cultural studies). He followed that video with his usual comment response video responding to the discussion that ensued on YouTube, Reddit, Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere.

Here are the two videos.

This blog isn’t here right now to argue for or against this particular theory of violence (even though I’ve been thinking about it a lot–both before and after watching these videos–and tend to be sympathetic to it myself).

But I wanted to say something, a sort of indirect response, specifically speaking to the following portion of the comment response video dealing with some of the contentions that surrounded the discussion:

The point of this concept [of violence] is not that it only works for people that I like or agree with; it’s that it provides a way to appreciate the experiences of people: all people, in many different situations, many of them seemingly inconsequential, who feel like an act of violence–even a minuscule one–is being perpetrated. And that happens to people who I don’t like…all the time.

What I’m trying to do is provide a tool to think about the experiences of others–which I know can often be very scary, especially if they’re people you disagree with or don’t like. … The framework helps us appreciate how bigots can treasure the right to share their terrible opinions, and it gives us a technique to appreciate them as human beings with agency. I like to think of this as a way for us to be more compassionate for them than they ever are for the group of people who they judge.

I guess what I want to say is that, as a Christian in the United States, I have to deal with a historical tradition (or at least continual re-occurrence and re-justification) of anti-intellectualism and violence and bigotry (tacit and explicit) that has recently become so inflamed. Without going into the details of what I believe to be true and problematic and false Christianity (the last of which I’ll just summarize, would for one thing include pretty much anything rationalizing human violence and bigotry), that REALLY STINKS.

Philosophy and theory of the kind exemplified by the above videos comprise what amount to tool kits: not necessarily dogmas and doctrines but means of inquiry, ways of interrogating what may seem natural or obvious to us. If indeed no position is free from some theory, some underlying ideology or other system of assumptions (a state of affairs I tend to admit), then there should be space, I think, for self-criticality and philosophy.

Disagreement can still exist within a framework of compassion.

And if such a discourse enables the creation of a space where we can critically evaluate and explore the borders and substance of our assumptions, and maybe come to a better understanding of other subjective experiences, to be better equipped to move responsibly and compassionately in this world—full as it is of things fascinating and terrible—all the better, it seems to me.

That is all. Thanks.


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