Language and violence

What if, however, humans exceed animals in their capacity for violence precisely because they speak? As Hegel was already well aware, there is something violent in the very symbolization of a thing, which equals its mortification. This violence operates at multiple levels. Language simplifies the designated thing, reducing it to a single feature. It dismembers the thing, destroying its organic unity, treating its parts and properties as autonomous. It inserts the thing into a field of meaning which is ultimately external to it. When we name gold “gold”, we violently extract a metal from its natural texture, investing into it our dreams of wealth, power, spiritual purity and so on, which have nothing whatsoever to do with the immediate reality of gold.

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“Language, not primitive egoistic interest, is the first and greatest divider, it is because of language that we and our neighbours (can) ‘live in different worlds’ even when we live on the same street. What this means is that verbal violence is not secondary distortion, but the ultimate resort of every specifically human violence.”

Violence, Slavoj Žižek.

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