Society Is Based On Violence

Nick Williams
9 min readJan 13, 2023

Image — alchetron.com

Human beings love to control other human beings and there’s no arguing with this — it’s what we do, it’s our number one preoccupation. We don’t want to admit it but this is how it is. Controlling each other is ‘the name of the game’, it’s what it’s all about. To exist as the compartmentalized rational ego is to be inescapably committed to non-stop controlling.

We wouldn’t put it as bluntly as this of course. Even the most shameless dictator wouldn’t put it as bluntly as this — what we generally say to excuse our controlling is that things just aren’t right the way they are and so we want to make them right, which — on the face of it — seems like a highly commendable motivation on our part. Or if it’s other people we’re talking about, then we say that other people aren’t seeing things the right way whilst we are and so it is incumbent upon us to educate them in this regard, to show them the right way. This is an old, old line of course — it’s the oldest line there is, in fact. On the one hand we have the control, and on the other the justification for that control, and that’s how human society works.

What we don’t focus on when we automatically justify our controlling is the way in which it is us who get to SAY what the right way is or is not. A vampire has been put in charge of the blood bank, a biased person has been put in charge of the argument, which means that any talk of what is ‘right’ or ‘not right’ is just a very thin disguise for our visceral need to be in control, a transparent and derisory justification for it. Controlling — when we’re talking about the ‘psychological’ rather than the ‘pragmatic’ side of things — is simply about getting our own way, it’s simply about ‘getting to be the one who says what goes and what doesn’t go’. We automatically throw in some justification in for this most basic of behaviours — we might invent some religion, some philosophical or political set of ideas, for example, but that’s all it is really is the insecure rational ego trying to assert its supremacy wherever it can. I don’t seek to control because I’ve got the ‘right idea about how things should be’ (which is a meaningless thing to claim) I control because it feels good to do so, I ‘control for the sake of controlling’, I control because doing so satisfies some deep-down unacknowledged need that I have.

Everything in society is about control — society is simply about ‘regulating human beings so that they can be relied upon to behave in a generic way’. How we think is regulated, how we behave is regulated, how we see the world is regulated, and all of this is just ‘regulation for the sake of regulation’, or ‘adapting to the coercive system just for the sake of having a coercive system to adapt to’. We never, ever say this however — we talk about values or principles or ideals, which makes what we’re doing unquestionable, ‘for the greater good’, etc. When a bunch of people get together and — through the process of social adaptation — tacitly agree on what the right way to live life is then a kind of ‘mass justification’ sets in which is extremely hard to go against. If we can’t (or won’t) go along with the group norms then we will feel deeply ashamed, as if we had betrayed life itself in some inexcusable way, rather than it simply being the case that we have exercised our innate freedom with regard to whether we want to play the social game or not, with regard to whether we want to ‘do what everyone else is doing’ or not. Deviance is only a sin because the group makes it so, in other words, because it needs for it to be. Rules create ‘rule-breakers’…

What we don’t focus on is the fact that control — when it’s people were talking about — is always an act of violence. This means that society is fundamentally based on violence, as Krishnamurti says, and if society is fundamentally based on violence then what good can possibly come out of this? We blame the individual perpetrators of violence (or anti-social behaviour) — we have a whole self-serving ideology in place which says that crime comes about comes about because of ‘bad people’, ‘bad actors’, because of people who freely (if unaccountably) choose to behave in a certain way. This means that the role of society must be to make an example of these individuals by locking them up in prison, or punishing them in some other way (whilst in doing so cleverly exonerating the collective of us for any responsibility). We wash our hands of the miscreants, the wrong-doers. But how can we do this if the whole of society is actuallymade up of violence, made up of control? We make an example of the offender in order to create the impression that this is a special case, and not reflecting the values that we as the collective hold, and this is flagrantly not true. It’s a barefaced lie. The truth of the matter is that the individual concerned is not skilful enough, or clever enough, to disguise their violence by hiding behind some untouchable institution, some collectively held ‘value system’ that will justify our behaviour. The more unquestionable the institution, the more irreproachable the cause, the more safety it provides us with to freely enact our violence.

As has often being pointed out, in the social system that we have created for ourselves the real criminals never (or at least rarely) get caught and punished. On the country, they are generally rewarded for their violence, they are as a rule celebrated for their skilful and ruthless exercise of social control, and the reason for this is that they have been clever enough to align their interests with those of society. We are in effect singling out and punishing those who are doing exactly what we’re doing, only less successfully. As a culture, we fervently worship success in whatever form that may take, but at the same time we take care to never look into what exactly this so-called ‘success’ actually involves, or what we actually mean when we say the word. As long as I am ‘successful’ (i.e., good at doing whatever has been collectively validated as important or meaningful) then no one is going to look any deeper into it, no one is going to be asking any awkward questions — if the group validates it then it must be okay. Thus, as P.D. Ouspensky says, ‘the biggest crimes escape being called crime’ –

In existing criminology there are concepts: a criminal man, a criminal profession, a criminal society, a criminal sect, and a criminal tribe; but there is no concept of a criminal state, or a criminal government, or criminal legislation. Consequently, the biggest crimes actually escape being called crimes.

Singling out individuals for punishment because they exemplify — in a blatant way — the violence which we all tacitly agree to subscribe to (but which we deny all the same) is of course violence itself. The denial of violence is itself violence — everything violence does to justify itself, excuse itself, validate itself, is also violence. Nothing can ever come out of a situation that is fundamentally based on aggression apart from more aggression, in whatever disguised form it may take. As Krishnamurti points out, even if we say that we want to be non-violent (and do our best to bring this about) this remains an act of violence; we imagine that by turning violence upon itself we can undo it, but this is not the case. All we get then is a ‘double dose’ of the poison, like a person who is angry with themselves for being angry, or like someone who is judgemental towards themselves because they are so judgmental. Conventional morality — which has the stated aim of improving human behaviour, of making it less violent) only has the effect of compounding the problem. What happens then is that we turn our violence (which is the only tool we have) against the impulses that are arising, in a moment-by-moment basis, within us. We’re ‘exercising self-control’, as it is said, but since control is itself violence we‘re not ever going to get anywhere like this.

All of our aggression, all of our violence, all of our vicious judgmentalism, all of our control, comes down to thought and because it comes down to thought it can never be cured by thought, remedied by thoughts, ‘fixed’ by thought. ‘Every thought is a judgement’, as Eckhart Tolle says — every thought is ‘a last word’, a ‘black-and-white statement of supposed fact’. Our thinking works, in other words, by saying what things are (or what they are supposed to be) and so when we say that we are suffering as a result of having too many ‘shoulds’ or ‘ought’s or ‘musts’ or ‘have to’s’ in our vocabulary what we mean is that we are suffering as a result of thought. All thought has this dictatorial nature; thought is ‘the Tyrant Holdfast’, as Joseph Campbell puts it. Once thought says what things are (and we fall for this) then nothing else can follow on from this apart from controlling. If we know what things are, or how they should be, then there is simply no room for anything else but controlling, obviously. There’s no room for anything else other than ‘trying to get things to accord with our unexamined ideas about how they should be’ and this is — therefore — the very root of all the trouble and suffering that comes our way in this world.

Thought corrupts all of our relationships — there can’t actually be any such thing as ‘relationship’ when thought is involved. Relationship depends upon openness (which is to say, it depends upon us not taking our own viewpoint, our own position, as being absolutely unquestionable) but that’s just not how thought works. Thought can never question its own basis. The only type of activity thought can ever produce therefore is the controlling sort, the violent sort, tyrannical activity, it asserts itself in all things, and it can’t not do. Thought is ‘a machine for setting certain taking-for-granted (or unquestionable) values’; it’s certainly not the case that thought is a machine that can question its own functioning, question its own rules — no machine can do that! Our relationship with ourselves is corrupted along with our relationship with others; all we can ever do — when we are operating on the basis of the Thinking Mind — is to project our ideas ‘of how things should be’ (or ‘how people should be’) on everything and everyone we come across, and this includes ourselves. When we say that we want to ‘improve ourselves’, for example, what we really mean is that we are ‘dead set on forcing ourselves to accord with whatever ideas we might have on the subject, no matter how stupid, unrealistic or downright ridiculous these ideas might be’. We’ll never gain any insight into how ridiculous or unrealistic our ideas are because all our attention is directed towards getting things to be the way thought says they should be, with no attention left over for questioning or examining these assumptions. Control is always blind, in other words.

In order to step out of the self-imposed prison of our own thoughts, our own prejudices, we would have to be OK about relating directly to life’s inherent uncertainty (or lack of convenient definition), and that’s where the big stumbling block lies. We’ve been ‘institutionalised by the thinking mind’, so to speak, what this means is that we’re used to being spoon fed, we’re used to having everything spelled out to us in black and white terms, despite it being the case that these black and white terms don’t actually exist outside of the thinking mind. We are habituated to having our food handed to us pre-chewed and pre-digested (thus saving ourselves from having to go to the trouble ourselves). How much easier after all is it to go along with the picture of things that we have been given than having work it out for ourselves? Once we’re in the habit of doing this then suddenly having to deal with an undigested reality is always going to come as a major shock to the system. But the price of keeping the security that thought offers us is that we have to live on the basis of control and — as we’ve said — the problem with this is that we are never going to be able to have an actual genuine relationship with anyone or anything. The ‘controller’ (whether they happen to be successful or unsuccessful) is always going to be fundamentally disconnected from reality, and this is therefore a modality of existence — a ‘fear-based modality of existence’ — that has precisely nothing to recommend it…

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