Acid Attacks. Misogyny. Ressentiment. Sadism. Capitalism. Modes of production. Human potential.
Acid attacks are a premeditated form of torture. They are one of the worst things you can do to a person. The effects on the body are horrendous. Most victims survive to live a life of disfigurement and pain. The images available are graphic. Shocking enough, like Auschwitz or the Rape of Nanjing, to shatter faith in humanity. This post is me trying to make sense of acid attacks.
For source material, thanks to Jane Welsh and her informative work, “It Was Like Burning In Hell”.
This article states that the motives and perpetrators vary region by region. Women torture with acid too. Tat Marina’s case is exemplary, as are the highly publicized cases in 19th century France. The latter producing the painting “Vitrioleuse” (The Acid Thrower) by Grasset, used as the cover image.
The statistics for the phenomenon are contradictory. Welsh suggest that this is a result of victims often not reporting the crime. Although some sources list men as more likely being the victim, from what I’ve researched, this is a misrepresentation of the facts. In England, that might be true. But globally, 80% of victims are women. London-based charity Acid Survivors Trust International says 60 percent of acid attacks are on women. Welsh suggests as much in her thesis.
Breitbart attempts to present the data in a characteristically revelatory fashion. Really, they say, white men are the victims. This is half-true. Men attacking men with acid is usually related to property disputes or gang violence, the latter being the most common cause of acid attacks in England. The white male victims are in regards to England. Against global research that consistently shows women are far more likely to be attacked by acid then men, and more often by men, the alt-right has to place itself at the center. They want to claim victimhood of acid attacks.
They go fuck themselves.
Acid attacks occur around the world, both in the ‘developed’ West and the ‘developing’ East. They are most prevalent in south Asian: Cambodia, Bangladesh and India/Pakistan. Bangladesh is considered the acid attack capital of the world, and its victims are almost always women.
Considering acid attacks as a form of violence against women, two motivations can be considered. First, as an act motivated by resentment. Second, as an act of sadism / sociopathy. I’ll briefly discuss both, offer a Marxist historicization of acid throwing, and some consequences for the meaning of ‘human nature’.
Acid Attacks as Resentment
To quote from Welsh’s study:
Irwin postulates that the consequences of losing face through ego deflation,
dishonour or irreparable insults can often be devastating (Irwin 67). This particularly applies where the preferred weapon of choice is acid. In most cases where a woman is the intended victim of an acid attack (and particularly where she has rejected a marriage proposal), the perpetrator will target her face. In many Asian societies tremendous emphasis is placed on a woman’s appearance, particularly her face. Along with virginity, this is her sole other resource in the marriage market (Chowdhury 164). Therefore, “by destroying women’s appearance, male attackers try to bolster the political power that they feel was threatened when the women rejected their proposals” (Anwary 308), and additionally, by marking a woman as ‘spoiled goods’, the prospect of her finding a suitable and financially attractive marriage is greatly diminished (Chowdhury 163). Again, as Chowdhury aptly comments, “because women are considered bearers of tradition and honour, it is on their bodies that contestations over gender, ownership, and power are played out”(164).
The motivation is an attack on the women’s resource of her body, specifically her beauty. Often this is over property, money (dowrys), maritial disputes or the woman has rejected her attacker. The underlying theme, in any context, is a loss of power. The attack is an attempt to regain that power.
The male attacker, his ego hurt, like a pathetic bitch, attacks the woman in an attempt to feel strong again. The attacker, therefore, acts out of ressentiment.
The true nature is that the man(child), unable to control his emotions, sees himself (like Breitbart) as a victim. The victim mentality (think Nietzsche’s slave morality) sees the woman (wielder of the ‘no’, the powerful one, the individual, the woman as a subject with action) as evil. The attackers are lambs, resentful towards a predator’s strength.
Female agency is a direct threat to weak men.
“These birds of prey are evil, and he who least resembles a bird of prey, who is rather its opposite, a lamb,—should he not be good?”
In his subconscious mind, the weak man-child, an injured ego, rejected by the woman that he presumed to have control over, is told ‘no’. He is not affirmed. He is not identified as ‘yes’, but as ‘no’. He is abjected. He is identified as ‘shit’. This is what he has always feared. Weak himself, unable to stand on his own legs, he needed the woman to give herself to him, to say ‘yes’, to tell him that he is somebody. The woman has all that power in her simple yes or no. Instead, he has been cast off, told he is shit, by the ‘evil’ ‘bad’ powerful woman.
I argue then that 1) ressentiment and 2) abjection are the two subconscious elements in the man-child’s mind. These constitute the dissonance he experiences when he chooses to attack the woman with acid. He has no power. The woman does. He seeks to destroy that. This leads to sadism.
We aren’t talking about BDSM. We’re defining sadism as a inflicting suffering or pain on another person for the sake of pleasure or gratification. The sadist is weak. Their act of cruelty is an attempt to have power. If they did have power, they wouldn’t need cruelty. As Nietzsche reminds us, distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.
It can be argued that we don’t know the attacker feels gratification. I think this is absurd. Of course they do. Or they wouldn’t carry out the act. We aren’t talking about remorse. The attack is an attempt at negative feedback. The man-child feels ressentiment at being abjected by the woman. He seeks to negate this ressentiment through attacking her power and agency. When the acid attack happens, this occurs. Perhaps the attacker feels remorse afterwards. Regardless, the attack is sadism. They are seeking gratification.
This sadism is sociopathic behavior. It is a purely destructive act. The man-child attempts to have power over their victim by destroying the victims power, resource, independence, agency. But, how do we make sense of sociopathic behavior as a phenomenon? Why are people sociopathic?
In classical Marxism, the question of human nature generally goes like this. Individuals are a construct of bourgeois enlightenment theory. Bourgeois philosophers took the idea of the 18th century individual and thrust it into the past. In reality, humans are not individuals. We are beings modified by two things: relations of production and ideology.
History is a history of struggle between classes. The relationship of these two classes, and the relationships of production (how things are made and by who) constitutes different epochs in history. We call these modes of production. Think: hunter gatherer society, slave society in antiquity, feudalism, capitalism. Different modes of production give rise to different ideologies. It isn’t until capitalism develops and the individual bourgeois has the appearance of its own freedom that the idea of the individual progresses and comes forth.
Ideologies (and their possible behaviors) are created by modes of production, and the opposite is true. Both influence one another. The different ways the production / distribution / exchange / consumption take place determines thoughts and behaviors. Humans ‘nature’ is not static but active and always changing and always being modified and influenced.
I hold this to be scientifically true.
As regards sociopathy of acid attacks, we can historicize this gendered violence in relation to different modes of production. The domination of women is considered the first structured oppression of humanity by civilization. As Alan Moore puts it in From Hell, Boadicea’s defeat by the ‘druids praying to the male sun god’ was a part of the struggle to dominate woman for male civilization. Woman in antiquity and still today were considered property, like cattle. The forms of sociopathic violence varied through history. Today, one form is acid torture.
The sociopathic behavior is just a particular form of a structured domination of female bodies. This domination is the cornerstone of human civilization. Neoliberal capitalism, to an extent, attempts to negate this. But only for Clinton. Only for white, hetero women.
In the face of acid mutilation, the conclusion for me is obvious. Women need their own independent, armed self-organization. This is why the Maoist cadre in India and the Philippines and other areas light a path forward.
Humanity as Monster
Acid attacks are up there in worst possible things people can do. It forces you to ask questions about our species. How can anyone be capable of doing this? And yet, they happen, frequently. The horror and tragedy of them all forced me to the conclusion that I have in the past been far too optimistic about my species. I’ve been letting us off the hook. I think many communists share this mistake. In historicizing human nature, we tend towards giving capitalism 100% of the blame for sociopathic human behavior. This is only partly true.
I feel now that this answer isn’t enough. It shirks responsibility. Maybe I’ve just gotten older, colder.
Capitalism is a monster. It is a system of human relations. It is, like feudalism and slave society, humanity’s monster. If behaviors and ideology emerge from modes of production, and therefore capitalism, they still require people to carry them forward. Sociopathic behavior still requires humans to be sociopathic.
We can say that capitalism modifies, imbues, 100% of human behavior. It creates desires. It creates the basis for acid attacks. But, that attacks still needs 1) a human to act out the desire 2) a human to have the capacity for that desire in the first place.
So I remain revolutionary in that capitalism must be destroyed. But I wish to hold my species accountable. Humans prove ourselves to be potentiality. Not beings bound by a fixed nature, but as capacity. We’re actors with a blank script, and a Frankensteinian monster is the director.
If the script is mutilation and suffering, the question isn’t whether or not we have a choice to read it. The point is that we do. Everyday, we continue the theatre of suffering. Not anyone else. Us. Humans. WE ARE TO BLAME.
Schopenhauer says, “A quick test of the assertion that enjoyment outweighs pain in the world, or that they are at any rate balanced, would be to compare the feelings of an animal engaged in eating another with those of the animal being eaten.”
I’d phrase it like this.
We are potential. Not good, not bad (inadequate terms). Think instead of construction versus destruction. Healing versus suffering.
Healing expends energy. Construction requires materials to build and time and energy to put it into place. To heal is to build and that always requires immense energy to do. Think of the time needed for an acid attack survivor to heal. I imagine many never do. Perhaps, if one can mentally recover, it would take a lifetime.
Compare that to destruction or suffering. They require (relatively) simple acts. A soldier pulls a trigger. A drone pilot presses a button. A man-child pours a liquid.
Compare the energy required to construct a skyscraper with tearing one down.
In contrast to healing, destruction can be a careless, convenient gesture. It expends little energy.
Humans have a limited capacity for healing, and a near infinite capacity for cruelty and destruction.
If humans choose what’s easier, then, we’re more likely to be sociopaths. Capitalism supports this behavior, but humans carry it out. Human existence is a prison sentence, where being a monster is just a shot away.