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Violence is a central concept for describing social relationships among humans, a concept loaded with ethical and political significance. Yet, what is violence? What forms can it take? Can human life be void of violence, and should it be? These are some of the hard questions that a theory of violence shall address.
In this article, we shall address verbal violence, which will be kept distinct from physical violence and psychological violence. Other questions, such as Why are humans violent?, or Can violence ever be just?, or Should humans aspire to non-violence? will be left for another occasion.
Verbal violence, most often also labeled verbal abuse, is a common variety of violence, which encompasses a relatively large spectrum of behaviors, including accusing, undermining, verbal threatening, ordering, trivializing, constant forgetting, silencing, blaming, name-calling, overtly criticizing.
Verbal violence is compatible with other forms of violence, including physical violence and psychological violence. For instance, in most bullying behaviors we do find all three variants of violence (and verbal violence seems to be the most essential form of violence to bullying - you can have no bullying without verbal threat).
Responses to Verbal Violence
As with psychological violence, the question is posed of what sorts of reactions may be regarded as legitimate with respect to verbal violence. Does a verbal threat give someone the leeway to respond with physical violence? We do find two quite distinct camps here: according to some, no act of verbal violence may justify a physically violent reaction; according to another camp, instead, verbally violent behavior may be as damaging, if not more damaging, than physically violent behaviors.
Issues of legitimate response to verbal violence are of the utmost importance in most crime scenes. If a person threatens you with a weapon, does that count as a mere verbal threat and does that authorize you to a physical reaction? If so, does the threat legitimate any sort of physical reaction on your part or not?
Verbal Violence and Upbringing
While all forms of violence are related to culture and upbringing, verbal violence seems to be related to quite specific sub-cultures, namely linguistic codes adopted in a community of speakers. Because of its specificity, it seems that verbal violence can be more easily circumscribed and eliminated than other forms of violence.
Thus, for instance, if we are left wondering why is it that some people do and need to exercise physical violence and how we may prevent that from happening, it appears that verbal violence may be more easily controlled, by enforcing different linguistic behaviors. Countenancing verbal violence, at any rate, passes by the exercise of some form of coercion, be that even only regimentation in the use of linguistic expressions.
Verbal Violence and Liberation
On the other hand, verbal violence may be sometimes seen also a form of liberation for the most oppressed. The exercise of humor may be in some case entrenched with some forms of verbal violence: from politically incorrect jokes to simple mocking, humor may seem a manner to exercise violence over other people. At the same time, humor is amongst the most "democratic" and gentle tools for social protests, as it requires no particular affluence and arguably provokes no physical damage and need not cause great psychological distress.
The exercise of verbal violence, perhaps more than any other forms of violence, requires a continuous check on the part of the speaker of the reactions to her words: humans almost invariably end up exercising violence over each other; it is only by educating ourselves to try and refrain from behaviors that our acquaintance do find violent that we may be able to live peacefully.