The Dichotomy of Care and Violence

One of the main course concepts thus far of Professor McCoy’s Hurricane Stories has been the concept of violence. Throughout this course we have seen many forms of violence and have at length discussed the author Joseph Roach’s definition of violence in a previous discussion post. To summarize here, Roach argues that there are three main aspects of violence: it is always purposeful, it must be excessive in order to demonstrate its purpose, and it must have an audience to receive its message. The scholar Saidiya Hartman proposed the idea that the antidote to such violence is care. There is more than one definition of the term care, however, I find the most relevant definition to be Oxford’s definition as to “feel concern or interest.” Past Geneseo graduate Davina Ward disagrees with the idea that care is the antidote to violence, stating that “Violence can exist as care.” This dichotomy of this discussion represents a gray area when it comes to the concept of violence which gives the term much more nuance that brings up an interesting discussion. Both points are in a way correct, yet neither alone correctly describes the full picture of both care and violence. Only together can these points make a cohesive description of the dichotomy of care and violence.

I find the usage of the term “antidote” to be striking and deserving of a discussion on its own as it applies to my own background in both medicine and biology. In the medical sense, the National Institute of Health defines an antidote as a drug class which “negate[s] the effect of a poison or toxin.” If Hartman was correct in discerning that care is the antidote to violence, we then can consider violence to be like a poison which falls in line with Roach’s definition of violence. Many animals that are poisonous, such as pufferfish for example, will use this poison to protect themselves from predators as eating such animals will lead to the absorption of the poison, causing the predator to ultimately perish. In this way, the poison is purposeful as it protects animals from being eaten by predators, it is excessive as the predators who attempt to eat the poisonous animals will perish, and it is demonstrative as predators will avoid eating this certain type of animal as a result of the poison. Thus, the concept of care in this case would act as antidote, counteracting the effects of the poison, or violence. For the most part, this logic is sound; however, there is one glaring flaw with this train of thought.

The term antidote brings with it a certain context that it negates all effects of a poison. This is misleading as even when an antidote is administered, it does not guarantee that the effects of the poison will be negated and one may still perish. When many think of the fields of biology and medicine, they tend to think in absolutes, however, this could not be further from the truth. There are many exceptions to most principles of biology as biology is a field of “should-bes.” One major example is Darwin’s idea of “survival of fittest” which can be more accurately described as “survival of what works.” This same logic can be applied to care as well. Even if there is care, it does not mean that this care will negate the effects of violence and in some cases, it may make the violence worse. A great example of this is demonstrated in the case of New Orleans Police Chief Eddie Compass as described in the documentary When the Levees Broke and the collection of poems Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith.

Eddie Compass was the police chief of the city of New Orleans during the events of Hurricane Katrina who on live television made unfound claims about the people taking refuge in the Superdome, even stating that “We had babies in there. Little babies getting raped.” This villainized the survivors of Katrina and led to more violence toward them. Although saying this was an act of violence, it came from a place of care. Compass had family members that were in the dome and he was worried for their safety during a tense time. Thus, Compass used his platform and these extreme claims in an attempt to gain more help for his struggling city and people. Unfortunately, these claims were unfounded and only seemed to worsen the situation. Chief Compass may have cared greatly, but this care would ultimately only spew more violence. I believe the word treatment would be far more accurate in describing the complexity of the term care. A good analogy would be that violence is like a cancer, infecting the body whilst care is like chemotherapy which may be effective for some but may also only cause harm to others.

After establishing that treatment is a far better description of care than antidote, we can now better tackle the dichotomy of care and violence. There are many examples in this course of how care helps to alleviate the symptoms of violence. One such example during the events of Hurricane Katrina was how the local communities of New Orleans worked together to help reduce the effects of the violence created by the storm. As portrayed in When the Levees Broke, many inhabitants of the lower ninth ward created makeshift rescue teams to help as many people as they possibly could. In this case, the care of the inhabitants for their community led to an alleviation of some of the violence created by the storm. We have also seen in this course how a lack of care during violence only creates more violence through both the compilation of works Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas and Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Throughout many sections of Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, it is made abundantly clear that many of the authors believe that a lack of care by the government ultimately led to the effects of Hurricane Katrina being much worse than they needed to be. One section of the collection that highlights this well is the section Snakes and Ladders: What Rose Up, What Fell Down During Hurricane Katrina by Rebecca Solnit. Solnit makes many claims about how authority in New Orleans lacked care saying how “the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had [not] built adequate levees” and that the police had “gone berserk.” Solnit highlights best this idea of a lack of care by authority leading to violence in the quote “Imagine that even though the levees failed and people were left behind, everyone in a position of power had responded with urgent empathy so that no one was left to die on a roof or in an attic.” It is evident from Solnit’s work that care can ultimately limit the effects of violence.

The Tempest expertly crafts a narrative on how violence can lead to even more violence when there is a lack of care through the plotline involving Sebastian and Antonio’s attempt to usurp King Alonso’s throne after their group is involved in a shipwreck. After experiencing the violence of a shipwreck, it is evident that none of the members of the group care about the violence that just took place as they make banter, wordplay, and jokes about the situation in which they have found themselves in. After the rest of their groups falls asleep, two members of the group, Sebastian and Antonio, who especially lack empathy attempt to use more violence to take advantage of the already present violence to better themselves off. In Act II scene I, the two discuss the possibility of usurping the throne, even mentioning how Antonio “did supplant [his] brother Prospero.” Both works expertly demonstrate how in the absence of care, violence will continue to grow like tumor a plaguing a body. This further supports the idea care is like a treatment for the cancer that can be violence.

There are far less examples in this course of violence being used as a form of care but they do exist. As mentioned early, Chief Compass committed an act of violence due to his care for his family and his city during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Another example is found in the book Zone One by Colson Whitehead which takes place in New York City during the events of a zombie apocalypse. Throughout the novel, the main character nicknamed Mark Spitz performs many acts of violence upon both types of zombies in the novel, killing them. However, the reason for these acts of violence is care for his fellow man as these “skels” and “stragglers” provide a threat to humanity. During the climax of the novel, one of Mark Spitz’s acquittances Fabio is in a situation in which “four blood-streaked hands snatched him into the vortex” and he is going to be torn apart by zombies without any way out. Instead of letting Fabio die brutally, Mark Spitz instead performs an act of violence, putting “three rounds into Fabio’s chest [terminating] the man’s screams.” Because of Spitz’s care for Fabio, he kills Fabio quickly rather than letting him die slowly. Although this is a very extreme example that is hard to apply to the real world, it demonstrates excellently how violence can be used as a form of care.

It may seem that this is a shut case that Ward is correct then. Violence can exist as a form of care and thus Haiyman was incorrect that care is the antidote to violence. However, just because Ward is correct that violence can exist as a form of care, that does not mean that care is not a treatment to violence. Rather violence as care can be used to treat other forms of violence. For example, if Spitz were to let Fabio die brutally and painfully, this would be another form of violence and a lack of care. However, when Spitz kills Fabio quickly, he is performing both care and violence which creates a better outcome. A medical analogy would be a doctor performing surgery on a patient to remove a tumor that is growing within them. In this case, violence would be used as a form of treatment; however, only due to the threat of further violence towards their patient. A doctor would not perform a surgery on a patient that did not need it but only those with whom a greater violence is already present.

The idea of care being used as a treatment of violence is one that I find especially relevant to my own life now as throughout the semester, I have been attempting to increase my own level of care, both in and out of class. One of my major struggles in this class has been my dominating approach to working in groups which can often be interpreted as an act of violence. This dominating approach is often one which is reinforced in the field of STEM as those who are most dominant tend to receive the greatest number of resources. However, this dominating approach conflicts with many of the core principles which I believe a future physician should have, most notably equity. Thus, I have been working to integrate the criticisms of Dr. McCoy, attempting to care more about the opinions of my peers and to decrease my violent approach of domination. I believe that I have ultimately improved myself because of this new found care which can be displayed in my group’s collaboration on Typhoon Tembin.

Although care can come in the form of violence, if I have learned anything in this class, it is that care is the ultimate treatment to violence. This has been demonstrated both through course content and my personal journey and struggles through this course. In this case, the approaches of both Hartman and Ward weave together to create a full picture on the true nature of the dichotomy of violence and care.

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