• A Response to Gray on Pinker •

• A Response to Gray on Pinker •

Mark D. Price is a Lecturer in Philosophy
at Manchester Metropolitan University


“This sprang almost fully formed in an e-mail exchange with Austin Collings after he put me onto a forceful piece of counter-optimism from John Gray [Guardian Review, 14.03.15]: in which Gray trounces Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, an American book claiming that the world is a safer, less warlike place than ever before.”

It is almost impossible to say how many people are killed in war because the language of violent death has become obscenely slippery. ‘Security operations’ cover all bases now, from policing football matches to incinerating civilians with white phosphorous. It is possible to have an anti-war demo, but apart from Black Flag extremists (atheistic anarchists and people in the terminal stages of Islam, ironically enough) what person would attend an anti-security demo? Who could be ‘anti-operations’? I’m sure the CIA have Chomsky-teams figuring out the euphemisms most likely to fool the sound-bite hungry herd. They’d be fools if they didn’t (and they’re not fools) but their wisdom is pretty sickening. Since the US invasion of Vietnam the terms ‘policing’ and ‘assisting’ have been successfully deployed to make wholesale political homicide acceptable to the domestic media consumers. Like ‘successfully’ re-branding rape as ‘surprise sex’, the so-called victories in these dirty propaganda wars are worse than losses.

I find myself in violent agreement with John Gray’s thoughts on this front: what counts as ‘war’ or ‘violence’ is key territory, because control over language, auditing the numbers, and drawing up definitions is already a war. Ask an Irishman to define Ulster. Ask a Rabbi about the six million figure, then ask an Iranian holocaust-denier. Ask either to define ‘Israel’ or to choose one word describing what Israel as a nation is doing. Any attempted definition of violence is open to accusations of being violent, on account of the things it leaves out or suppresses. Should sex done for money be seen as simply business, or are we suppressing the fact that it is coercively violent? Does the Capitalist definition of all free market labour violently suppress the reality of exploitation and class warfare? By definition, a definition has to leave things out to be any use at all. Thus anybody with a different evaluation of the extent and nature of the violence can see your definition as a weapon ranged against them. Your definition reveals you as an enemy, willfully excluding or suppressing their point of view. Defining violence is metaphysically cluster-fucked.

Nevertheless, I would like to see people prosecuted for war crimes in the pursuit of the ‘war on drugs’. Well intentioned or not, the fuckers who prescribe methadone are de facto army doctors in a war against free-range junkies: those who have come untethered from the government apparatus. What the state-sanctioned use of methadone tells us about the war on drugs is that it is not about drugs. It’s about who you score them from. Obviously, the government says its got to be from the government’s boys. Its a great naked hole in their so-called commitment to the free market. Without any desire to master others, without wanting to be ‘in the right’ or wield a definition, we need to fight through words, in words, against words. We need fight over words like ‘free market’, challenge what counts as ‘violence’, what counts as ‘drugs’, and especially ‘sex’. It is suicidal to leave ‘sex’ to the tabloids and pornographers, and the others words to the generals, cops and politicians. Language is inseparable from war, that’s why we need to be writers.

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