Violence, Care, and Action

Care is not the antidote of violence, rather care is the start of recognizing what we can do to prevent violence and alleviate the problems that stem from violence. I have learned that care, at times, is all we have to offer, but at others it’s an empty signal that does nothing more than perpurate violence. This very idea has changed how I view my own care and how it affects myself and other people when I consider my own actions. The idea of violence being considered care on the other hand is very dangerous. The mindset of violence being care could lead to a perpetual cycle of violence which is a far greater danger than the passivity of care being an antidote. 

Saidiya Hartman’s quote, “ Care is the antidote to violence”, in context is very interesting and powerful. By offering care to people who need it the most we can change their lives for the better such as those who are victims to the prison industrial complex. However if someone read this quote out of context or believed simple care could end all violence It would be a gross misinterpation. Care is a powerful thing in our everyday life, caring is what keeps people connected. We care about our family, we care about our friends, we care about strangers, and we even care about more abstract things like laws and morals. Yet, our level of care can vary greatly. Let us compare a climate activist and a regular person who is aware of their plastic intake. Both care about the environment, but who makes more change? An active participant or a passive one? 

This is why care is not strictly the antidote to violence. Rather care is the foundation of wanting to prevent violence while action is the structure that actually does something about violence and its outcomes. This very idea has been very challenging for myself, yet it’s been one of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far. 

One example I find very important to discuss this idea is through president Bush’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina as well as my own initial reaction. Hurricane Katrina was massively devastating for the city of New Orleans. Over a thousand people died, with a million people being displaced. Homes were washed away, with people’s history also being a victim to the storm. What was especially tragic about Hurricane Katrina, which was greatly highlighted by Spike Lee’s documentary, When the Levees Broke, is that a lot of this suffering and waste could’ve been prevented before AND after the storm.  

Whether that be the US Army Corps of Engineers poorly constructed levees that barely held up against the power of Katrina, the lack of resources for the elderly, people with disabilities, or the people who simply didn’t have the financial means or transportation to evacuate New Orleans. Or afterwards when we see insurance companies deny victims of the storm due to fine print and people waiting months for a trailer from FEMA.      

One person who got a lot of criticism, rightfully so, was the then president, George W. Bush. George Bush was not the greatest president nor the greatest person, especially with his choice to see New Orleans from within Air Force One. In Patrica Smith’s poetry book, Blood Dazzler, she follows Hurricane Katrina’s path over New Orleans including George W. Bush’s response, “Stifle the stinking, shut down the cameras, wave Dubya from the sky”(Blood Dazzler, Pg. 27),showing  that he was completely separated from those stuck in ninety degree heat and in multiple feet of water.

 People argued that Bush did not care about these people, the very people he was supposed to serve as president. It’s quite hard to argue with these people because George Bush’s actions spoke for himself. For all we know, Bush could have been torn to shreds over the suffering and destruction that Katrina brought upon New Orleans but will people remember him for that? The memory of Bush will be a negative one for the people of New Orleans, he will be remembered as someone who ignored their suffering because of his lack of action. George Bush was the most powerful man in the United States, the head of our government, which was why so many people were frustrated and angry at him because he had direct authority to make a systemic change that would help the people impacted by the violence of Katrina and alleviate their suffering. 

This is an example of why care isn’t a direct antidote to violence as well as a learning moment for myself within this course. Being angry towards people who caused or exacerbated the violence we see in New Orleans is a valid response but what does it do? I can be as mad as I want to be towards a certain politician, an insurance company, or an organization but what is productive about that? Or rather how can I channel this anger into something productive. Anger can be just as unhelpful as passive caring. 

To be clear, Anger can be an effective form of care. Much like care, anger is only helpful when it is constructive. Anger can be used as a form of passion that drives someone to make change. But, anger can also be destructive, both within ourselves or towards others. 

This concept and feeling also came up in a group project about Cyclone Idai, a tropical storm that greatly impacted southeastern Africa. When the storm hit people were very concerned about the well being of the peoples of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. People donated, engaged in conversation over the conditions that people are living through but then the conservation stopped and so did the care.

The same situation was also highlighted when we covered Hurricane Maria in class, which impacted the island commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The behavior of then president, Donald Trump, is a funhouse reflection of Bush’s reaction towards Katrina. President Bush and Trump are both guilty of greatly dropping the ball during their respective Hurricanes. Bush was too passive in his response to Katrina, viewing the destruction from Air Force One. Trump on the other hand made a joke of this grave situation by tossing paper towels to the people of Puerto Rico who saw their communities destroyed and left without electricity for almost a year and water for 6 months. 

 This revelation challenged my thinking, altering my mindset. Angrily doing nothing is not helpful, even though our actions do not hold the same weight as world leaders, apathy is dangerous. But this leads me to the question of then what? What can we do? What could I do? Violence is something we can not escape, we have been afflicted by violence for so long that it has shaped the world we live in. 

This is why I think people will gear towards Davina Ward’s quote, “violence can exist as care” , and see violence as a tool. Although this is easy to do, this is quite dangerous. Historically we have seen violence used as a tool during the Reign of Terror. In the middle of the French Revolution, more radical revolutionaries sought to rid society of ‘counter revolutionaries’ which saw innocent people be executed when clashes against the beliefs of the revolution which is liberty, equality, and brotherhood. No matter what, we must try and prevent heading towards violence to prevent it because that will lead to a never ending cycle of violence and destruction. 

Violence being used as a tool can be seen in Colson Whitehead’s post-apocalyptic novel, Zone One,  which sees the world ravaged by a pandemic that turns the infected into the living dead. All is not lost, humanity hangs on by a thread, fighting back against the dead and trying to rebuild the world. The Novel is focused around Mark Spitz and his team clearing ‘Zone One’ which is located in lower Manhattan.

Mark Spitz and his team are ‘Sweepers’, not quite soldiers but rather mercenaries, directed to kill the remaining undead in Zone One so that New York City can be habitable once again. Mark Spitz and his team are on a mission of care with their main tool being violence.  The bulk of the undead were already killed by soldiers and this was seen as a great thing, a necessary thing, so humanity can rebuild. But even though these soldiers were fighting the Undead, it still affected these soldiers, “They knew they were being fundamentally altered, in their very cells, inducted into a different class of trauma than the rest of the survivors.”(Pg. 95), and for this very reason care can not exist as violence.

The course concept of memory and forgetting has been a recurrent topic in our readings, such as in the case of Mike Spitz. The Novel may take place through a long weekend, Friday to Sunday, we are filled into what happened to humanity through Mike Spitz’s memory. Whitehead’s use of memory helps flesh out this ravaged world but it also helps the reader tap into the mindset of the survivors. 

All of the survivors are afflicted with PASD, the post-apocalyptic variant of post traumatic stress disorder, “Everyone suffered from PASD. Herkimer put it at seventy-five percent of the surviving population, with the other twenty-five under the sway of preexisting mental conditions”(pg. 67), which makes sense due to their situation. Much like the victims of a natural disaster, war, or a pandemic, these people have had everything stripped away from them and forced into a period of high stress, especially when you consider that many of these people saw their loved ones turn into cannibalistic monsters. 

The violence, the act of sweeping, that Mike Spitz and his team engage in is seen as care. a necessary action because they’re making Manhattan liveable again yet it’s at a cost. Not only are the sweepers and soldiers putting themselves in harm’s way but they are traumatized to such an extent that ‘the Forbidden Thought’ is something the provisional government views as a threat, “Killing yourself in the age of the American Phoenix was a rebuke to its principles”(Pg. 251), because the weight of the violence is too much for survivors, especially those in the thick of retaking back the world from the undead who were once family, friends, and strangers. 

The parallels to Sweepers and soldiers of Zone One to real world combatants and veterans can also be made. Often these people enlist to make a difference, to protect one’s country, to serve in good faith, and utilize their care. Yet their good intentions are used against them and these people end up seeing and committing terrible acts of violence that stick with them for the rest of their lives. Sadly their sacrifice and care does not end violence, more so their care is seen as a justification for their violent acts.  

Overall, Hartman’s and Ward’s quotes sharply contrast one another. Hartman views care as a triumph of force over violence while on the other side of the spectrum, Ward see’s violence as a tool that can be wielded as a force of care. I see where these two writers are coming from. But I can not subscribe to their black and white view on violence and care due to what we’ve learned thus far in class because each situation is different. 

Although I view the gray path of active caring as the more successful path of understanding violence and the problems that stem from it and working towards combating it, this has also challenged me in my own way of thinking. Often people, myself included, enjoy things that are black and white such as good and bad. Situations and ideas that are not complicated, situations and ideas that have a clear answer. The gray path is uncomfortable and leaves a lot up to interpretation. But what I’ve learned from our experience in class is that exact discomfort fosters growth and understanding. 

One important thing that Dr. McCoy said to me that they learned from their Tai chi teacher which relates to my understanding of care is the idea of, “practice makes permanent”, because there will never be a perfect answer. However,  it’s through my own input and dedication that I can make change. I have learned that I have the power to use my care and go out and find these answers by discussing differing interpretations. We as people do not yield the same power as world leaders, government organizations, or fictional protagonists to prevent violence but we have strength with all of us. We must be active participants in our care to be able to alleviate the preventable violence and suffering that surrounds us and make a change. If we can recognize that violence yet choose not to do anything about it we are also to blame for the perpetuation of that violence. 

Violence, Performance, and Waste

In Joseph Roach’s book, Cities of the Dead, he states “violence is the performance of waste” (Pg. 41), which initially is somewhat of a confusing quote. What does Roach mean by violence is the performance of waste? Why is waste a performance? especially with violence? This quote is actually quite complex, but it helps us understand the deeper issues of our course and how people view natural disasters as well as those who suffer from those disasters.

 Before we discuss our course concepts we must unpack exactly what Roach’s quote means. The act of violence is a performance in the sense that for it to have any meaning, it must have an audience. This also highlights another aspect of this quote, all violence has meaning. There is a point to be made when an act of violence is performed. Finally, all violence is wasteful because without something being wasted, (whether that be people, resources, energy, or even time) nothing would’ve been sacrificed, meaning nothing would be lost therefore giving it meaning. 

Violence and Meaning

As discussed before, an act of violence has meaning because there is a point to be made. We can see Roach’s idea on waste be fleshed out in the 2004 box office hit, The Day After Tomorrow, a science fiction climate disaster flick starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal. The premise of the movie centers around Dennis Quaid’s character, climatologist Jack Hall, a man so overly dedicated to the pursuit of science that he has overlooked his fatherhood responsibilities. Although Hall has shortcomings as a parent, he is by far one of the brightest minds when it comes to understanding the history of earth’s climate as well as what the future holds. 

Earth’s climate is expected to be a disaster in the upcoming decades (much like our real world counterpart) due to human involvement, especially by industrialization and the use of fossil fuels, meaning that the world will be uninhabitable, spelling certain death for our future generations. Hall warns the United Nations of this very possible future, which is preventable if humanity intervenes early enough, yet he is met with blow back, most vocally by the Vice President. The Vice President scoffs at Hall’s claims, saying that this is many years out and will be a massive blow to the global economy. Hall tell’s off the VP, telling him his shortsightedness will impact the lives of billions, yet this climate shift comes quite early and much more extreme.

The first victim of humanity’s carelessness is Los Angeles, with multiple tornadoes touching down on the City of Angels, laying waste to countless lives and buildings. The Violence we see in Los Angeles is meaningful to the plot of The Day After Tomorrow because it is the tipping point within the movie. Not only are millions of lives lost and the LA metro area in ruins, but this is the point of no return for humankind. Hall’s theory is bitterly correct, with LA and eventually the entire Northern hemisphere being expended due to humankind’s greed.

Violence and Excess

Violence is inherently excessive. Such excessiveness can be seen in the Los Angeles part of The Day After Tomorrow but a perfect example of how excessive violence can be is Hurricane Katrina and Spike Lee’s documentary, When the Levees Broke. Hurricane Katrina was a devastating Category Five Hurricane that hit New Orleans in 2005, with Spike Lee’s four part documentary, When the Levees Broke, covering the story of the natural and manmade disaster of Katrina by covering the stories of those who experienced Katrina first hand. 

Throughout each four parts of the documentary there are countless examples of excessive violence and waste. We can see the excessive waste of Katrina with the destruction of New Orleans. Countless homes are literally washed away with people losing all of their earthly possessions, their family histories gone to waste. But the lives lost from Katrina was the greatest thing wasted from the storm, mostly when the majority of suffering within this documentary was preventable. 

One of the greatest aspects of Lee’s documentary is showing how Hurricane Katrina was a preventable disaster, that the destruction and death could’ve been avoided. The title of the documentary, When the Levees Broke, alludes to these poorly built levees. These levees that were meant to protect the city of New Orleans, which were built by the Army Corps of Engineers, were no match at handling the power of Katrina, not because of the strength of Katrina but rather the poor engineering of the Army. One of the greatest natural disasters in American history was preventable, so why would anyone allow such a violence to occur? 

Another topic that Lee covers is a course concept within our classroom which is the idea of supernumeraries. The people of New Orleans who suffered the most were seen as supernumeraries, in the sense that these people were seen as expendable and sacrificable. These people were people of color, poor, elderly, and disabled. You can see these notions when those who were not affected by the storm said New Orleans was a fish bowl, that it was the residents’ fault for living in an area that is below sea level. A more extreme case is those who saw Katrina as a purifying event that will wash away the “filth” of New Orleans, which are those who were deemed as expendable to the violence of Katrina. 

Violence and Performance 

The final aspect of Roaches quote is the performative aspect of violence. Throughout our course we spoke about how performance is not just a theatrical affair but is present in our society, with the politician being a performer within our everyday lives. One politician’s performance shows the violence within Katrina as well as broader society is that of George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States. 

To say President Bush dropped the ball with Katrina would be an extreme understatement, mostly compared with how his administration handled the Iraq War as well as the September Eleventh attacks. Bush was quite distant from Katrina, especially with how he viewed the destruction. Instead of coming to the city of New Orleans, George Bush views the destruction of Katrina from the comfort of Air Force One which is illustrated in Patrica Smith’s poem “The President Flies Over ”, from Blood Dazzler, “I don’t have to come down. I can stay hood to heaven, dictating this blandness”(Pg. 36), which greatly exhibits how this performance by Bush rubbed Americans the wrong way. How Smith uses the word Heaven and blandness shows how Bush was apathetic to the situation that many New Orealens were suffering through. By being in an Airplane, especially Air Force one, Bush was divorced from those who were stuck in a foot of water, with no power, and in ninety degree heat while he was able to sit comfortably like a god. George Bush was a powerful man, he had the power to do things for New Orleans and for those who were affected by Katrina but he sits up in the clouds looking down upon the destruction. 

Although Bush did not cause Katrina or have a hand in the destruction that came of it, his passiveness in the days following the storm is inherently violent. Kanye West states his frustration with the president by stating, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”, and West was not the only one who felt this way. The black population of New Orleans, which is the majority of the city, felt neglected by someone who is supposed to represent them, someone who’s supposed to protect them. 


Overall, Joseph Roach’s quote about violence helps us dissect the violence and the waste that is present in our society when it comes to hurricanes and to broader injustices within our country’s history and current day. Roach’s quotes also help us unpack and understand other course concepts that are present within our class.