Language And Violence

How did we become so violent? 

Dictators seize and remain in power through the use of what the late psychologist Marshall Rosenberg calls “domination structures.” He defines these as structures in which some people claim to be superior and have the right to control others because they know what’s best. They call themselves kings, czars and geniuses. 

In order for their structures to sustain themselves, Rosenberg states, people must be educated to be obedient and submissive. Citizens need to be disconnected from their own power (lack of access to quality education, economically disenfranchised, etc.) and so look outward to authority for guidance on how to live.

This simply requires a language that describes people as good/bad, right/wrong, Christian/Muslim, American/Mexican. To maintain domination structures, authoritarians use language that judges people according to their behavior, appearance, skin color, religious affiliation or sexual identity (“Crooked” Hillary, “Lying” Ted, etc.) 

In addition to this language, the authoritarian leader practices what Rosenberg calls retributive justice. If you are judged as bad by the authorities, you deserve to be punished (“Lock her up”). If the authorities judge you positively, you deserve to be rewarded (recent obviously unqualified Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh, former Sheriff Arpaio, etc.)

Rosenberg believes that this combination — teaching people to think in terms of good/bad, right/wrong, and retributive justice based on punishment and reward — is at the heart of violence. 

The current domination structure and language of judgment we are experiencing started long before Trump; he’s just really good at it.

Kurt Jensen