In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Chapter 2 We Are Written A Narrative Framework of Harm I am after the cultural rhetorics that promote harm. The case studies presented in the coming chapters—concerning genocide, animal abuse, intimate partner violence, and punishment of offenders—lead me to rhetorics that communicate at their most basic level who we are. In this chapter I consider what we talk about and how we talk when we discuss ourselves and others. Two principal identity anchors or themes, position and power, are examined, along with the key role of narrative in forging identity. Whereas these are fundamentals of identity, I wed the discussion to harm, drawing connections between storied selves and harmful action. Positioning the Self and Other Students of particular harms have paid close attention to social distance, or the extent to which we construct targets as familiar or foreign. An us-versus-them mentality is widely held to be dangerous. Supposedly, the greater the social distance between parties, the greater the likelihood of harm. Conversely, harm is inhibited when the Other is familiar. According to Emmanuel Levinas, “the face is what forbids us to kill” (1985, 86). We eat nameless chickens, not our pets. A. Ayres Boswell and Joan Spade found that the college fraternity parties that posed the 19 greatest rape risk for women were characterized by gender segregation and that women who were strangers to the men were most likely to be sexually assaulted: “These women are faceless victims, nameless acquaintances—not friends. Men said that their responsibility to such persons, and the level of guilt they feel later if the hookups end in sexual intercourse, are much lower if they hook up with women they do not know. In highrisk fraternity houses, brothers treated women as subordinates and kept them at a distance” (1996, 143). Gresham Sykes and David Matza propose that social distance is inversely related to the likelihood of juveniles doing harm, citing discursive stipulations against harm to familiars: “‘don’t steal from friends’ or ‘don’t commit vandalism against a church of your own faith’” (1957, 665). Adolf Hitler recalls his early recognition of the otherness of Jewish people: “Wherever I went, I began to see Jews, and the more I saw, the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity” ([1925] 1999, 56). Arguably, othering Jews was a prerequisite of the atrocities against them that Hitler would later order. Some view physical distance as interacting with social distance in the etiology of harm. Donald Black posits terrorism as a means of addressing a grievance whose consequential features are social and physical distance: “Terrorism arises only when a grievance has a social geometry distant enough and a physical geometry close enough for mass violence against civilians” (2004, 21). For Georg Simmel, proximity highlights estrangement . In his classic essay “The Stranger,” he writes, “This position of the stranger stands out more sharply if, instead of leaving the place of his activity, he settles down there” (1971, 144). In fact, social distance is both positively and negatively related to harm. Clearly the relationship is complicated. Whereas people do not ordinarily eat their pets, they otherwise abuse them, as well as their partners, children, siblings, and parents. Violence is most likely between acquaintances, not W h y W e H a r m 20 strangers (FBI 2012). When police are able to discern the victim-offender relationship, they reveal that the majority of murder victims are known to the offender (FBI 2010). Joseph Michalski (2004) found that couples use more violence than do other pairs of individuals such as coworkers, although abuse is more likely to occur among unmarried cohabiting partners than among spouses (see also DeKeseredy 2011, 24–25). In a study by Lynn Magdol and colleagues (1998) cohabiting couples were more violent than mere daters. How to explain these contradictory findings? Russell Jacoby suggests that our familiars pose a unique psychosocial threat: “It is not so much the unknown that threatens us but the known. We disdain and attack our brothers—our kin, our acquaintances, our neighbors—whom we know well, perhaps too well. We know their faults, their beliefs, their desires, and we distrust them because of that” (2011, ix–x; emphasis in original). Jacoby insists, “Like, not unlike, prompts violence” because too much similarity threatens our identities (xii). Thus, for instance, extreme Islamists “fear losing themselves by mimicking the West” (154). Another prominent example Jacoby offers is that of men terrified of the taint of the feminine...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.