Paul our life, but that may in fact be

Paul Farmer’s analysis of Haiti during its time as a French
colony and after it gained independence shines light on the violent systems that
exist there. He argues that almost every individual is implicated in structural
violence (307). It is important, then, to take a step back and become aware of
the systems we participate in today, systems that we may not even realize are
structures since they have become natural parts of our life, but that may in
fact be hurting others. Without a clear understanding of who actors have been
in the past and the types of actions that have led to the development of
structural violence, it is nearly impossible to make sense of how an individual
could be contributing to a vicious system. The eradication of smallpox can be
used as a case study to show how actors and actions may create violent
structures.

It can be argued that smallpox eradication was slow, which
allowed time for violent structures to develop. Initially, there was a lack of
“political will” from governments to execute eradication strategies (Stepan,
208). A collective effort finally formed near the time of full eradication when
governments realized smallpox eradication “associated symbolically with the
ideas of modernity and progress” (Stepan, 216). Governments also became more
involved in global eradication to prevent smallpox from entering their own
countries (192). They feared the disease they were close to eliminating would
return and hurt them again. There is little reason to believe the global
intervention that finally took place in the late 1960s occurred for the sake of
the people in countries still inflicted with smallpox. Had the governments acted
earlier with humanitarian motivations rather than with their own self-interest,
eradication could have occurred faster and the losses suffered by developing countries
could have been lessened. During the period when the US and European were close
to eradication, developing countries were still dealing with the disease, yet
received little help. Inactivity from developed governments could have built violent
structures, some of which may still be present today.

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Paul Farmer argues, “these structures are transnational, and
therefore not even their modern vestiges are really ethnographically visible”
(312). Violent structures can be formed and can persist without being
explicitly noticed. This makes it difficult to detect an individual’s role in a
system and, more generally, the direct effects of the system. However,
individuals must do their best to become more aware of the positions they are
in, the privileges they have, and the implications of their actions. An example
of this can occur during a job search. If a private medical supply company has
job openings, an individual should first analyze the company’s work on a
greater scale. If the company develops and sells products to developing
countries, it is crucial to fully understand the company’s end goals as they
may primarily include making a profit. The company could be encouraging a
relationship that causes a country to become dependent on them, and if an
individual decides to work for the company, he or she would be participating in
structural violence.

A next step in addressing structural violence is to
deconstruct violent systems while building up healthy ones. This is difficult
to accomplish because not all the systems are detectable as they have become
increasingly complex. The problem, consequently, becomes what can actually be
done about the structural violence today.