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109 Chapter 7 Synthesis Why we harm, the question that launched this book, is broad, some might say audaciously so. But I hope to have revealed the far greater audacity of the rhetoric of harm: The circle of life constitutes some animals are bred to be nourishment (chapter 4). I know you’re not going to leave me, so I can crack you as much as I want (chapter 5). When we spotted a small group of runaways trying to escape by creeping through the mud, we called them snakes (chapter 3). We are not sufficiently alarmed by these discourses, least of all by those that concern conventional and everyday harm. I want to spotlight them, to launch a conversation about the role of discourse in harm doing. In this penultimate chapter I briefly synthesize the answer I have arrived at of why we harm. I also entertain some of the complexities of that answer, including potential problems, and recommend some research directions to locate resolutions to those problems. We do harm because of cultural logics, typically in the form of stories, that reduce the target of harm and conjure ourselves as both authorized to harm and powerless not to. Observers of types of harmful action not examined in this book have arrived W h y W e H a r m 110 at similar theories. Consider the conclusion that Martha Huggins, Mika Haritos-Fatouros, and Philip Zimbardo reach based on their study of secret police engaged in torture: “We discovered that serial atrocity was nurtured out of an interrelated dynamic that included three spheres: the politics of an internal security ideology; the specialized hierarchy and competitive organization of social control units; and the associated social psychology of deindividuation, obedience, dehumanization , modeling violence’s acceptability, and moral disengagement ” (2002, 161–162). Thus, in their study, reduction (deindividuation, dehumanization), license (specialized hierarchy ), and powerlessness (internal security ideology) are all in motion. Oliver McTernan touches on storied powerlessness and license in describing the motivations of one Islamic man, who had spent most of his life in France, inspired to commit terrorist acts: “even though his rebellion against the society in which he was educated was triggered by a deep sense of grievance, it is his faith that provides the ideology that sustains him in the conviction that it is his task to change the world in accordance with the designs of God” (2003, 28). Grievance is one text, the designs of God another. What about the Westerners who, once presumably familiar, became this man’s adversaries? They too are “made up.” A Reduced Target The target of harm is my enemy, a Westerner, an inmate, a suspect, a terrorist, an Arab, an American, a communist, a savage , the prisoner, a faggot. She is a bitch, my wife, my woman, a cockroach, a nigger, a kike. Its flesh is “meat.” He is just a kid. She is just a hooker. It is just a fly. It is prey. It is my property. Reduction might pay too much attention to targets, as with genocide and penal harm, where they are hyped as monsters, or render them invisible, as with the nonhumans we mistreat. Reduction essentially entails obscuring the array of unique interests and experiences of the target. The actor’s interests may be cast in such a way that they overshadow those of the target. No discursive room is left for the intricacies of the target’s experience. In answer to the interviewer ’s question of whether eating meat causes harm, research participants thought immediately of their own health interests, just as our dependence on meat has scholars most concerned with environmental strains and health problems that afflict humans. A more subtle version of this maneuver is a flattening identification such that the target is merely an adversary or potential adversary in one’s story. Americans’ depiction of Arabs, according to Edward Said, is illustrative: So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Moslems and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world. What we have instead is a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression. (1980) This kind of reduction involves not...


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