COMMENT

Hiding behind stereotypes

By Pantelis Boukalas

All those stereotypical expressions that recur in our speech probably once carried some actual meaning before losing it somewhere along the way.

The value of these expressions was mostly undermined by overuse, which was in turn prompted by two apparently contradictory desires that in fact complement each other. On the one hand, it is our desire to be eloquent (or merely come across as such) when in fact we have nothing important to say, or we wish to say nothing important. On the other, it is our desire to bypass the issue that we ought to talk about and duck the responsibility of literalism.

The familiar phrase “We condemn violence wherever it may come from” says more or less everything, in order to say nothing. Or rather, it says everything in order to not tell the truth, that particular truth that every party or every one of us believes in.

This is exactly why it is no more productive than it would be to say that “we condemn the wind wherever it may blow from,” north or south, west or east. Yet winds continue to blow, regardless of our condemnation. The same thing happens with violence – including terrorist and racist violence.

However, take a moment here to imagine a conversation among the lovers of violence after they hear a politician sing along the chorus of condemnation – either because of confusion, habit or ulterior motives.

If it were troublemakers relishing the chaos (such as members of the far right who mimic the vocabulary and the tactics of the far left), they would have a good laugh. If it were self-styled Robin Hoods, they would brag on the realization that, once again, we are trying to interpret their acts on the basis of a common code of understanding and ethics. Meanwhile, they, comfortable in their narcissism and conviction that history rests in their vanguard hands, think, feel and act in accordance with their own self-righteous terms. Their morality has nothing in common with our petty bourgeois morality. For example, it does not condone the belief that every life has absolute value; that no life can be sacrificed in the face of some revolutionary ideal.

However, many of those who like to “condemn violence wherever it may come from” are also prone to relativism and bias. Like no religion ever gave up its sacred right to the exercise of metaphysical violence, similarly, no state functionary ever denied the state’s monopoly over “legal violence.” Rather they consider it as legitimate, fair, even natural – even when it violates the law. This “wherever” is worth no more than the “forevers” uttered in teenagers’ early flirtations.

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