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ACTIVITY: How Violence Works (excerpts)




1. Background for older students on the “Spiral of Violence”



The Spiral of Violence. Everyone is concerned about violence -- violent crimes, domestic violence, violence in schools, terrorism.  But some miss the most pervasive form of violence when they focus exclusively on overt physical violence.  The deeper problem is institutional violence.  Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, Brazilian social justice advocate, sees three kinds of violence which combine to form what he calls "the spiral of violence.”



Violence #1 - Institutional Violence.  Violence #1 is called structural or institutional violence.  By institutions, we mean "fairly stable social arrangements and practices through which collective actions are taken” -- government, business, unions, schools, churches, courts, police, etc.  Institutional violence could be defined as “any institutional condition, action or policy that emotionally or physically dominates, diminishes, dehumanizes or destroys others or the rest of creation.”  In short, institutional violence is injustice.


More descriptively, institutional violence is rejection or neglect as well as attack -- a denial of needs, a reduction of persons to the status of objects to be broken, manipulated, or ignored.  The violence of bombs can cripple bodies; the violence of miseducation can cripple minds.  The violence of unemployment can murder self-esteem and hope.  The violence of a chronic insecurity can disfigure personalities as well as persons.  And the violence of unequal laws can kill personhood as well as persons.



Violence #2 – Counter Violence.  As Dom Helder puts it, institutional violence breeds counter-violence, violence #2 -- race or food riots, prison revolts, taking hostages, terrorism, violent revolutions, and some of the crime we experience in our communities. But the response to violence #1 can also be nonviolent resistance -- labor strikes, rent strikes, land takeovers, and other forms of civil disobedience as well as legal protests.



Violence #3 – Repression.  Violence #3 is the repression that is generally the response to violence #2.  It takes the form of bigger police or military forces, military interventions, more prisons and tougher prison sentences, torture, censorship, destruction of unions, and other repressive practices characteristic not just of military regimes around the world but, at times, of our own government as well.  While there are times when violence #3 is necessary, it is never sufficient to solve violence #1.  Injustice must always be addressed.  As many victims/survivors of injustice have put it: “no justice; no peace!”





Use the BUTTER-BATTLE BOOK by Dr. Seuss as an illustration of how violence escalates or spirals.




3.  Personal Experiences of the Spiral of Violence.  Ask students to give some examples of the "spiral of violence" from their own experience -- times when they experienced violence #1, reacted with violence #2, or experienced violence #3.  These could be in their school, community, or even at home or in their faith community.  You might begin with an example from your own life. 



“The Spiral of Violence in Fiction”





Share examples from your own experience of times when you experienced violence/anger #1, reacted with violence/anger #2, or experienced violence/anger #3. Invite students to share their own experiences of the spiral of violence.




Read together or have students read individually THE BUTTER-BATTLE BOOK by Dr. Seuss.




After reading the book, discuss the following questions:

  • If this book isn't just about Yooks and Zooks, what is it about?

  • In the story, what could be identified as "violence #1",  "violence #2",  "violence #3".  Is violence #3 ever justified?

  • This story ends unresolved.  What kind of ending would you give it?  Why?



Discuss the following questions:

  • If you were to begin this story with a Biblical passage or add one at the end, what passage(s) would you choose?

  • How does Micah 4:3-4 apply to this story?



Discuss the following questions:

  • Who are "the boys in the back room"?

  • "Fight, fight, for the butter-side up, do or die."  What are some of the "pep songs" or slogans that feed enmity in our world?

  • What does this story suggest about how we form "enemy images"?

  • "We will see."  Is there anything for us to do besides wait?  How can we affect the outcome of the waiting?


Notes:  from  Charlene Watts, "The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss".  The book version is available from Random House (1984; $ 6.95).  Video versions include a 14-minute filmstrip from Random House Media and the probability a video based on the TNT TV version shown in the fall of 1989.


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