Today we live in a violent world. Every day, war and terrorism are exterminating human lives somewhere on this planet. In advanced countries, violence is not tolerated, and is strictly prohibited by law. In many underdeveloped countries, however, violence is so rampant and omnipresent that people have no other choice than to live with it.
Violence takes many forms. Some forms of violence are visible and obvious, and others are invisible, subtle, or inconspicuous. Experts say there are four general categories of violence: The first one is “physical violence,” which is the most common and primitive type of violence that we can witness on the street or in the subway every day.
The second one is “psychological violence,” which is invisible, but more painful than physical violence. The third is “spiritual violence,” which may have to do with religious persecution. And the fourth is “cultural violence,” caused by cultural bias and misunderstandings.
In smaller and more specific categories, there is a host of different types of violence as well. For example, we are familiar with “domestic violence,” which involves spousal assault, child abuse and corporal punishment at home. Then there is “collective violence,” which is when a group persecutes someone at school or work. Experts contend there is also “nonphysical violence,” encompassing threats, stalking, or verbal abuse. Dirty words and racial slurs, too, are included in this category. “Intimate partner violence” refers to acts of violence against one’s lover or sexual partner, which is regrettably not uncommon in Korean society.
Many people are not aware of it, but experts argue that even “elder maltreatment” or “neglect” can be acts of violence, too. So is rudeness. Meanwhile, “self-directed violence” refers to suicide. Sometimes, “institutional violence” occurs in the name of benevolence. In Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian,” for example, hospital staff and orderlies force the protagonist to swallow food against her wish to keep her alive. Despite good intentions, they, too, are enacting violence upon her.
When it comes to violence, we cannot rule out “state violence,” that is, violence by the government. For example, Han Kang’s “Human Acts” well depicts ruthless state violence during the Gwangju Democratic Uprising in 1980. The problem with state violence is that the government is capable of exercising violence against its people legally and so can justify it.
In his seminal essay, “Civil Disobedience,” Henry David Thoreau writes, “That government is best which governs least.” However, dictatorial or totalitarian governments almost always try to rule their people with iron fists. So do socialist governments.
The “tax bomb” in some socialist countries is regarded as an act of violence committed by the government that ultimately makes rich people emigrate to other countries. If politicians with power persecute their political opponents or dissidents and throw them in jail, it may be called “political violence” or “ideological violence.” Needless to say, “political assassination,” too, is an act of violence. So is war, which is an ultimate form of violence, no matter how noble the cause may be.
Not knowing that it is an act of violence, many people upload verbal slurs on the internet or send threatening text messages to those whom they do not like or support. But such a thing is surely not only an act of violence, but also a serious crime. Privacy invasion is an act of violence, as well. Yet we do not hesitate to unscrupulously invade other people’s privacy.
Self-righteousness could likewise be an act of violence. If you are convinced you are absolutely right and all others are wrong, you are guilty of being violent to others. If you believe in a particular political ideology and try to impose your faith on others, you are exercising an act of violence as well. Terrorists, too, are self-righteous people who have a firm conviction that they have to impose what they believe on this world. If the world does not listen to them, they massacre innocent people without remorse because they firmly believe they are unquestionably doing the right thing.
If you verbally attack a newspaper columnist or a YouTuber simply because you do not agree with him or her, you are committing violence as well. Your inconsiderate, offensive remarks can be a murder weapon if the insulted person takes his or her own life.
In the past, there was a well-known proverb, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” These days, however, the phrase has changed to “The keyboard is mightier than the gun.” Regrettably, we often misuse our keypads, so they become lethal weapons.
Living in the era of social media, we do not realize that our keypads can turn into deadly weapons if we use them unscrupulously and indiscreetly. We think terrorists are another species, totally different from us. If fact, however, we, too, may become terrorists, though unwittingly.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University. -- Ed.