Incomplete collectivist look

Without the double look the researcher often misses his subject. Example with an article on violence in Pour La Science (in french), published by Charles-Édouard de Suremain, anthropologist. He usefully walks the collectivist eye of his specialty on the contexts and forms of violence, but at no time allows to grasp its essence. Because it is individualistic. Let’s see how the collectivist turns around him without being able to settle in his center.

De Suremain uses this definition for violence: “any constraint of a physical or psychological nature likely to result in the terror, displacement, misfortune, suffering or death of an animate being; any act of intrusion which has the intentional or involuntary effect of dispossession of others, damage or destruction of inanimate objects”. Let’s take this other definition: “to rush the world so that it becomes conform to my desire”. The first can be taken from the second. The first is a description and the second true ontological definition.

The individualist/ ontological definition

Two elements make up this ontology. 1) Individual identity wants to impose itself on the whole. Existential desire. 2) The transformation must take place now, otherwise it will not occur. Time imperative.

Each of these elements is installed, separately, in any healthy mind. Desire is omnipresent. It is experienced in the satisfying routines of the present. The world responds to my habits. Desire is also sought in my predictions. It builds me a more or less distant destiny. Desire thus fills the entire temporal extent of my identity and is completely satisfied.

The immediacy of the intended destiny is sometimes imperative

If danger looms over me in the moment, it is not in the future that I must constrain the world. I rush it. I turn my steering wheel sharply to avoid the accident. I rush to the fire extinguisher to smother an incipient fire. I pull the arm of a child who has come too close to a precipice.

The two elements are thus, separately, natural and necessary. Why can their association, defining violence, take on a pejorative meaning?

Under the collective eye

This meaning appears only in the eye of the collective. Violence is always positive from the point of view of the individual. Why would he undertake it, otherwise? It eventually becomes negative under the other look, that of the collective, which can be reduced to the couple formed by two individuals.

The social sense of violence is a manifestation of the conflict between these two looks. Taking the height is not an anthropological walk but to see that there is a violence of violence. Some abruptness of the individual are tolerated by the collective, others are reprehensible and must be stopped immediately. Violence responds to violence, it is said. Yes, but they are not of the same order. One is exercised by the ego, the other by social consciousness. The first is lawful only in the strict field of the individual mind. It can be freely fantasized. It can only spring into the common reality if social conscience allows it. Personal violence, also called aggressiveness,must negotiate one’s collectivist passport to enter society. If it does not show a white paw, then violence against it is justified. It crossed the border unduly. The social gendarme reacts.

Collectivist violence

You understand here the inanity of some protests against police violence. It is compared to the one it is trying to stifle and criticized for this reason. Absurd. First, because violence is not a separate entity; they are a string. The first link builds the others. If it breaks down, the whole chain disappears. On the other hand, police violence emanates from global society, that of demonstrators is a grouping of individual violence. Social consciousness versus egos. The former has no right to exercise violence in the heads of the latter. The latter have no right to trigger it in the field of the first, without its agreement, without respecting its rules.

Police violence is reprehensible when it is the unjustified expression of ego violence. The death of George Floyd in the United States is a murder. The federal police who beats without any qualms is the arm of the collective. It did not initiate violence.

How to judge violence?

When it comes to the social judgment of violence, we must be attentive to these two criteria: 1) In what order is it situated? Individualist or collectivist? 2) In what field is it exercised? Personal or social? There is no need to exercise violence against violence when its order is adapted to its field. Thus our indispensable aggressiveness can be freely exercised.

Complementary questions

How can we change society when its rules are unjust, without violence from its members?
Is a crowd of demonstrators a collective or an individual grouping?
Why does the mind choose immediacy over planning to exercise its desire?

A track for your reflection: social consciousness exists only in individual minds, in the form of mimicry from one to the other. Violence is therefore a conflict intrinsic to our minds, between certain representations and others. How do we resolve a major conflict in our minds? By organizing it, by cutting it through different circles of importance, by modifying the elements of the conflict in their dedicated space. In this way the reassembled elements are no longer so contradictory. The reduction of social violence implies modeling physical society on this model of mental society. It is a question of straightening and protecting the interlocking of Russian dolls that represents the social hierarchy, while making it more fluid. Very few universal rules, but a precise hierarchy of local rules.

As to whether a crowd is a collective or an individual grouping, we must take ‘collective’ and ‘individual’ in reference to this hierarchy of social circles. Every group is ‘collective’ for the individuals who compose it; any group is ‘individual’ for the larger circle to which it belongs.

What if the researcher had a theory of mind?

In conclusion, can we reproach Charles-Édouard de Suremain for his sophisticated but reductive anthropologist’s view of violence? Isn’t he just locked into his discipline and asked to get out? Probably not. Nevertheless, we can expect science to speak to us of the other view, intrinsic to the individual, on violence. ‘Pour la Science’ follows this article by two others, by a primatologist and a psychologist. Ah! I said to myself, finally we will insinuate ourselves into the ontology of the psyche, understand where these unbearable eruptions come from! Of course not. More descriptions. The absence of a theory of mind is sorely felt. Only its properties in the environment are examined. Nowhere is the double look exploited.


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