No, words cannot be violence: violence resides in intention

No, words cannot be violence: violence resides in intention

"If words can cause stress, and prolonged stress can cause physical harm, then it seems that words (at least certain types of speech) can be a form of violence." This is the syllogism that is raised in a widely circulated article of 2017 , published in The New York Times by Lisa Feldman Barrett , a prestigious professor of psychology and researcher of emotions.

However, words, no matter how connoted they are (read the extremely forbidden "nigger") cannot be violent, any more than knives are: violent is the intention with which we use them .

Logic error

In Barrett’s syllogism lies a logical error that was brought to light by Jonathan Haidt , a social psychologist and professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University, in another article published in The Atlantic : basically that we cannot accept that harm Physical is the same as violence.

That is to say, that words cause stress, for example, and that stress causes harm, does not mean that the words are violent in themselves. They only state that words can cause harm.

It is enough to substitute the words for any other act in Barrett’s syllogism to see how wrong it is: "break up with your girlfriend", "put a lot of homework on the students", "reveal that your father did not survive the operation." All of those words cause stress, pain, even physical pain, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those statements are violent, not even violent acts .

Even more erroneous would be to choose a list of words that, among all of us, we have agreed that they cause stress or pain in themselves, and therefore it is peremptory to regulate or prohibit their use because you do not have to be very intelligent to circumvent this regulation . For example, if we cannot say "fat" or "moronic" because these epithets are inherently offensive, then we can offend as much or more by substituting "figurehead" or "genius" for those words.

All you have to do is give the word the right inflection of the voice to make calling someone a "genius" or "Einstein" and expressing that they are very silly is more offensive. Yes, more offensive, because if we all use certain agreed words as insulting, their effect is also devalued by overuse (for example, we can call a friend "subnormal" in a friendly way).

As soon as we choose a word as intrinsically offensive and replace it with a euphemism, then if reality does not change the euphemism it will end up being infiltrated by the pejorative connotations of the offensive word itself, which will force us to replace it again with another, and then for another one … in what has come to be called a wheel of euphemism , of which I speak more extensively in the book ¡Mecagüen! Swearing, name calling, and profanity.