What threatens our security? Which are the origin and causes of insecurity? Which role does the diverse types of violence—systemic, cultural, and criminal—play? Which unresolved or ill-resolved conflicts generate violence and risk the security of societies and persons?
Individual reaction against security threats is trying to protect oneself. This includes preventive behaviors to isolate us from threatening contexts, which seriously affects the way of living and living together. We believe that in this way we have more security even though the causes that originate it go far beyond what we believe and surpass the adopted protections. There is not enough protection without solving conflicts that lead to episodes of violence. It is worth remembering that violence is always related to the abuse of power among people or institutions.
In these lines, we distinguish violence in terms of its systemic, cultural, or criminal nature, and we state that violence emerges from ill-resolved or unresolved conflicts. Moreover, if violence situations break out, authorities unfold contention actions that, if they surpass certain threshold, become part of a forth category of violence: repressive violence.
Criminal violence against people and their belongings is easier to perceive as we can visualize aggressors and victims. However, systemic violence associated with the concentrating way of functioning that prevails in the world and cultural violence that serves to legitimate systemic violence are perpetrated with subtle mechanisms and procedures. Different types of violence, and conflicts that originate them, do not take place in unconnected spaces, but rather, one way or the other, they are related. This interaction of violence and conflicts is what threatens security and produces insecurity situations.
Systemic violence is generated by the concentrating way of functioning that is imposed on us, favoring minority groups who do not cease to enrich and punishing large majorities with loss of rights and purchasing power, unemployment, deterioration in education and health; abysmal inequalities grow, as well as impoverishment and indigence. It is an appalling violence whose origin is tried to conceal to minimize resistance of victims and protect those who are favored. However, as what happens is understood, resistance and search for exits from the concentrating trap grow. Against that, dominators apply hard repressive and cultural violence, trying to contain transforming attempts.
It is unavoidable that the violence the system exercises “downward” be answered by those who suffer it. In most cases, pacific resistance prevails, but answers with different degrees of violence are also developed. These are situations that appear in almost every country because of unsolved conflicts and contradictions, submission, social fragmentation, plus a formatting of subjectivities orientated towards alienating people so that they do not recognize and defend their interests. Without transforming this explosive situation framework, giving way to more equitable societies that care more for the planet, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to reduce the level of unrest or potential for conflict and violence that threaten our security.
It is not an easy challenge that can be solved with pure voluntarism as it requires confronting powerful interests that are not willing to lose privileges. However, peoples also do not get trapped in insurmountable fatalisms, as ominous voices try to impose.
A sample of complex challenges to address to dismantle systemic violence includes, among others, the following:
- No country operates in a geopolitical vacuum, rather it is conditioned, though not determined, by how the global system is structured and functions. It is critical to transform today’s submission relations into collaborative relations, as they are imposed on weak nations regarding their productive development, trade with the world, and exploitation of their resources, such as mining, forests, fishery, aquifers, among others.
- Unresolved geopolitical conflicts lead to wars, killings, famines, hundreds of thousand killed, injured, tortured, displaced, migrants that escape their countries and are discriminated against where they manage to settle. These victims suffer much more than threats to their security.
- The world, and each country in particular, needs to eradicate the preeminence with which financial speculation operates today, one that neither generates social wealth nor satisfies popular needs. It is sustained in the abusive power that it exercises by controlling financial and trade order at global and national levels; their tentacles reach up to remote territories. Among other measures, it will be necessary to regulate the free circulation of capitals that has turned into an out-of-control debauchery. It is worth starting country by country until new international normative can be established.
- It is absurd to unfold tremendous efforts to generate domestic savings leaving open the gate that facilitates capital flight linked to tax evasion and dubious or ill-gotten profits. This flight to tax havens and other jurisdictions sterilizes the possibility of financing national investment with genuine resources as well as the State in its condition of operator or essential services and provider of the main social and productive infrastructure.
- Another variable that is necessary to orientate is foreign investment, mystified as an alleged key factor for national development. It is worth discerning such that is welcome as complement to national investment by opening technological and commercial spaces, from foreign investment that only extracts primary resources without processing them and adding value (jobs and other multiplying effects).
- In almost every country, the concentrating process makes markets more and more oligopolistic. Such nature allows a handful of large corporations for abusing the rest of the economic actors by imposing prices and commercial conditions. There is a diversity of mechanisms for transforming these fragrant inequities that prevent a sustainable growth of the entire productive system. Each country can chose those that better serve the particular circumstances of their processes and situation.
- One last example, so as not to extend indefinitely this description of the critical systemic challenges, is to suppress the capacity of concentrated groups for obtaining regulatory favoritism. The lobby they are able to exert can enervate and bias the whole system of regulatory decisions and the selection of public policies at the expense of the interests of the population.
These and other critical dimensions of the concentrator functioning generate conflicts that are not solved without transforming actions; instead, they sow the germs for open or covert violence that impact on our security.
Cultural violence is exercised by sectors that impose institutions, values, and attitudes onto the rest of society. They are able at subordinating the rest through force, bribery, buying wills; controlling politicians, sectors of the judiciary, media, and think tanks so as to make their interests prevail. Their supremacy in terms of resources and influences allows them for aligning in their favor good part of public opinion. With the complicities of those they coopt, they conceal the magnitude of the damage generated on victimized majorities, trying to block their response capability.
Thus, social spirit is manipulated to legitimize systemic violence, by covering up ill-resolved or unresolved conflicts. Concentrated groups impose ideologies, biased agendas, educational content, diagnoses far from reality, trying to justify the chosen course presented as the only possible one and devalue those who resist the submission.
Cultural violence associated with the concentrating process discriminates majorities, including immigrants, promotes individualism over collective effort, exalts profit as organizing criterion for economic activities without considering that enterprises and markets can function focused on satisfying social needs and caring for and preserving the environment. The ultimate purpose of concentrating cultural violence is to maintain democracies captured.
Therefore, efforts towards dismantling cultural violence are part of the process of liberating captured democracies. It requires leaderships aligned with the interests and needs of the people, with democratizing the functioning of the media to diversify voices and perspectives, transforming the judiciary so that judges and prosecutors secure equity and transparency for their actions (Imagine how good part of the judicial systems must be, for having to set as an objective to accomplish what is already established in the constitutions!), adopting new educational contents, confronting perspectives that close the way to new and very different referential utopias.
We have gathered other forms of violence under a denomination that might lead to confusions: criminal violence. The fact is that there are also organizations, groups, or persons that commit criminal acts within the spaces of systemic and cultural violence. Nevertheless, we use such categorization believing we will be able to explain its content in what follows.
The most serious criminal violence is that exercised by organized crime, criminal organizations dedicated to trafficking of drugs, arms, and persons. For their scale and economic power, they obtain complicities within the State apparatus, judicial system, own security forces and certain financial entities that facilitate money laundering. This issue is not simple, because it requires political determination of the highest level for dismantling criminal networks targeting their chieftainships and eventual international connections. It is fruitless to just incarcerate operators at ground level as they are easily replaceable.
Abating these criminal organizations requires not only repressing them directly but also containing the demand for drugs, arms, and victims of human trafficking, which is what sustains their extraordinary profits. That is, sole repression is not enough, rather we will need to act to cut or reduce significantly the sources of income for organized crime. For that, it will be necessary to adjust the regulatory context that opens the spaces where these criminals make profit. As a good reference, we can analyze the experience regarding alcoholic beverages and illegal gambling where decriminalization and corresponding regulation helped. It is a field that produces heated controversies, therefore, it is worth advancing prudently. One of the best known cases is that of the decriminalization of marihuana given the ineffectiveness of traditional approaches and research done over its therapeutic effects. There are already pioneering experiences in different countries around the globe, including Uruguay not so long ago.
Another critical front of intervention is developing actions that clarify the tremendous social and individual consequences of consuming drugs, arms trafficking, and slave prostitution. This includes dismantling mechanisms used for coopting juvenile victims in schools and neighborhoods, providing options that motivate and actively include youths in cultural, working, and sports spaces of their choice. Among other measures, there can be special units for juvenile inclusion, with participation of social organizations, small and large enterprises and municipal, provincial, and national states. On the other hand, the situation of people already trapped in addictions requires differentiated approaches for rehab according to the particular circumstances of each age and territorial segment. It is a hard work that involves the addicts, their families, educators, social referents, media and state agencies.
In addition to organized crime, we need to restrain crimes committed by individuals or groups that belong to very different social strata. It is a field that this author only knows rather superficially; so I will only point out that we need to combine preventive with repressive actions. What is already known is that repressive action and the application of judicial punishments tend to concentrate on vulnerable sectors who cannot hire good lawyers. Therefore, these people remain in detention for long periods of time without final sentence, while others with resources obtain reduced sentences or charges dropped.
Laws establish that incarcerated persons must be treated in such a way as to promote their rehab and appropriate social reinsertion, but, apart from few exceptions, prisons end up being centers that aggravate criminal situations. Far from reducing threats to our security, they exacerbate them; mixing inmates of very different levels of danger is absurd and has tremendous consequences. Apart from solving these dysfunctional imprisonments, it is worth considering alternative punishments to deprivation of liberty for minor crimes as, if they were correctly assisted, most of them could recover and reinsert themselves into their communities.
Faced with criminal violence against persons and their belongings, the dissuasive presence of security forces plays an important role. It is necessary to insist on that police repression, when needed, must be exercised within the margins established by the law and regulated by protocols for police intervention.
A final remark
our security are generally presented as if only existed criminal violence.
Little or no attention is given to systemic violence and cultural violence,
thus, ignoring main causes for insecurity. Facts are presented, and repeated a
thousand times, with simplicity and morbid curiosity regarding what is apparent
and what is evident. Little progress is made regarding the conflicts that
generate violence and even less are the underlying processes recognized, from
which conflict and violence emanate. This reductionism is neither naïve nor
casual; it allows for concealing causes and those responsible.
 . I am thankful for the sociological comments received by Lic. Claudia Laub
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