Violence and its aftermath (Joseph Wiinikka-Lydon)

Carolyn Nordstrom calls it “the tomorrow of violence.”

Quoting a survivor of war, who says, “the life of war is a damaged (estragado) life,” Nordstrom begins to reflect on the complicated and ubiquitous ways violence, particularly war, affects societies. How has exposure to war ­– even in such places as in the United States where for many war has been more indirectly felt – shaped culture, politics, and personal and shared development?

The question is vast. Where does it start, where does it end? Alive as we are in the midst of the anthropocene, and having passed corporately through the genocidal century, itself the tale end of a world imperial and colonial project, can we ever understand whom we have become and whom we might have been? To speak in terms of trauma, as Nordstrom does, how does the tomorrow of violence affect what we see, how we speak? Trauma affects memory, speech, relationship. What Nordstrom speaks of must, then, even touch the way we formulate these questions.

Knowledge is traumatized from the start (and so, perhaps, the academy).

It is a question, then, of imagination as much as it is of sociology or anthropology. And it is made even more complicated when we consider that framing experiences in terms of trauma is not free of politics, institutional contestation, and power, as Fassin and Rechtman have argued. Indeed, framing the question in terms of trauma can elide the way that war, that such violence, creates its own goods. Not only in terms of power, but virtue. Some, at least, claim to have been ennobled by war. And others, that it is the best time of their lives. The former U.S. Marine Corps general and Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, apparently said that it is fun to shoot “some people.” It is easy to decry or even lampoon his words, yet such moves are too self-serving. Those who fight, and even those who experience war (though I don’t know how many), can get something out of violence.

Violence provides goods, some of which might not be easily found elsewise.

This only makes the tomorrow of violence that much more complicated, and for many in society, uncomfortable. This of course only compounds the problem, as trying to face what approach the facts of such tomorrows themselves challenge assumptions and even needs that construct our worldviews, threatening our hold on what we think is the world. And yet, as the anthropocene moves toward the catastrophic, we are poised for more transformations still, transformations we hardly understand.

How will tomorrow’s violence shape what we love and what we resist?

Joseph Wiinikka-Lydon