Sunday, 20 November 2011

Reflecting on violence

A week ago, for the first time in my life, I sat through a boxing match from start to finish. As a general rule, watching people beating each other up isn't one of my top past times, so last week's fight has given me a fair amount of food for thought, leading me to reflect on the nature of violence and aggression.

I have not become a boxing fan, nor am I likely to become an advocate of a sport where the winner is he who hits the other hardest and most frequently. But I can't help thinking that there are far worse forms of violence than the one that had millions of Filipinos glued to their TV screens last weekend. 

When Marquez and Pacquiao stepped into the ring last Sunday, they did so because they had chosen to be boxers. I can’t help thinking that the reality of this choice makes a huge difference to the danger of this violence. There are no innocent bystanders caught in the cross-fire; nobody caught in a spiralling web of violence from which it is hard to see a way out.

There is also something to be said for the equality of a boxing ring; unlike on the battlefield, strict rules mean heavy-weights are not pitched against feather-weights. Outside the ring, it strikes me that violence rarely follows this rule, just as in the school playground the big kids are likely to single out the weak-looking ones; on the world stage too; the rich and powerful choose their victims carefully: and not on the basis that they’re evenly matched and would be up for a “fair fight.”

Reflecting further I recalled the TV cameras zooming in on the boxers’ faces each time they returned to their corner. Apparently close-ups of bleeding eye-lids make particularly good television. I disagree, but it did make clear the human face of the pain you are inflicting, and even without the zoom lens of a TV camera, it is clear that in a boxing ring, the fight is up close and personal. You look into the eyes of the person you are hitting. How different from the aggression of a violent world. Modern warfare and technology has meant bombs can be dropped and scattered from thousands of miles away from those who they’ll touch. A series of sub-contractors can allow arms manufacturers to wash their hands and deny all knowledge of atrocities committed where their weapons end up; a fog of numbers and jargon blinds our eyes to who and what is being hurt by our global financial transactions. The unseen victim is much easier to hurt than the one who looks you in the eye and reveals their pain.

I suppose the sum of my reflection comes down to this. Boxing is violent, yes, but it seems to me it is not really oppressive: and the worse forms of violence, the ones which, sadly, govern a lot of the way our world works, are those forms of violence which are used to oppress. The violence of the rich and powerful ensuring it stays that way; the violence of the few to control the many. It’s the violence of guns and bombs and arms dealers; but it is much more than that too. It is the violence of dictatorship and the silencing of the majority’s voice. It is the violence of financial corruption and unfair trade. It is the violence of countless faceless victims. It is the violence and oppression so endemic in the way our world works that we don’t even recognise it anymore. It is the violence that seems to hurt less than a punch in the face but actually does far more damage.

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