Can destruction of property be considered nonviolent?

In order to explore the question of whether violence against property is indeed a violent act, one must first define a few terms.


To answer any question thoroughly, there must be no ambiguity in the question itself, and no room left for debate as to what the answer may be (in the eye of the answerer, at the very least).  If these criteria are not met, the answer is invalid.

First and foremost, one must define the term “violence.”  Once this is done, one must successfully define “property” and determine its relationship to the definition of violence that one has reached.  Finally, one must define “nonviolence.”  The third term should seemingly be defined by default in defining the first, but nonetheless it must be defined.

Violence is conventionally known as the use of force or harmful action on a being.  Standard definitions do not account for property damage to be defined as “violent,” but I intend to prove that it is.  This definition can be further broken down by defining the terms “force” and “harmful,” for the sake of eliminating ambiguity as stated earlier.

Force, in this sense of the word and not in a natural sense, can be defined as a means of achieving an ends by upsetting, changing, or removing something that stands in the way of the achiever.  That is to say that if something is blocking one from achieving ones goal (whatever it may be), one must use some sort of force to remove whatever is impeding them from doing so.  Whatever is standing in its way either naturally (assuming not a human or animal) or willfully does not wish to get out of the way, but rather to stay in the way.  The use of force leaves them or it no other option.  The terms “in the way” and “blocking” are not intended in these usages to be taken literally.  That is to say that I do not merely intend the definitions and usage of the terms to solely refer to items physically standing “in the way” of some kind of motion, but to prevent an ends from being achieved, regardless of what the ends/means may be.  The same holds true for the term blocking.  Therefore, force can be simply defined as the disturbance, un-willful moving, or pressure applied to any item.  In most cases involving violent action, force would be used in order to eliminate the item or being as an opponent to one’s progress (In this sense, progress need not refer to positive, forward movement or change but only progression toward an ends, whatever that ends may be).

The term harmful can be easily enough defined as anything that negatively affects someone or something.  Therefore, the use of force can be considered harmful to a person or objects “wishes” to stand in the way and impede whatever progress they are stopping.  However, force is not the limit of applications of the term harmful.  More so, it is merely one example of an act that could be deemed harmful to a being or object’s well being, wishes, etc.  Essentially, anything happening to an object that is against its nature or intended purpose, and anything happening to a being that the being does not desire can be considered harmful (In some cases, even things desired by a being can still be harmful, for instance when talking about a drug user, the drugs are not being taken against their will and in fact suits their desire, but the drugs still negatively affect the user and therefore, fit the definition of harmful).

Hence, violence defined as the use of force or harmful action against a being must include anything done to someone or something that is not in accordance with their wishes, or that is done in accordance with their wishes but still affects them in a negative way.  This definition also includes any action that disrupts someone or something by the use of force, as to be understood by the definition given earlier.

Without even defining property, it is clear that, given these definitions of force and harmful, objects should be included in the definition of violence alongside humans and animals as things that may have violence done toward them.  By the same token, plants and natural forces could also fit into the same category.  However, since conventional definitions of violence don’t include these things no matter how much I think they should, I will define property and show its relation its owner with regards to any violence against it fitting the definition of violence.


We are taught to think of property as the land and things that a person owns.  For my own purposes, I will define property as any nonliving thing that a person is attached to by ownership.  This is meant simply to eliminate pets from the definition of property, since violence against animals can be seen and is well regarded as violent action in the world, in cases of animal abuse, bestiality, and other crimes against animals and I don’t need to make the argument that this is in fact violence.  In cases of food purposes and for clothing, violence against animals is justified as being natural; however that argument is a whole other can of worms.  Sticking with the idea of property as any nonliving thing that a person owns, one can say that this definition includes land, structures, foods, clothing, machinery, toys and anything other objects that a person may own (I will not enter the realm of intellectual property as it is unnecessary for my argument).

By this definition, it can easily be seen how the destruction of property might have a negative (by our definitions:  harmful) effect on a person.  For example, if a person’s job entailed driving 45 miles to work every day and their tires were slit, that person would have no way of getting to work and could lose their job.  This destruction of their property, in this case their tires, fits our definitions of violence as it keeps the person from getting to their job and resulted in the loss of the job, which is harmful to the person and their well-being, and may also be harmful to those who rely on the directly affected person’s income for their own support.  The idea that these people may have to go without food and other things is of course, the reason they can be considered harmful.  At the same time, the tire slitting could be considered the use of force because it is an action that is throwing a person and a thing (the car) off of their normal routines and intended activity for the day.  Since the person and car are staying home and not going to work against their will, the tire slitting is forceful action in addition to being harmful, and thus fits the definition of violent action perfectly as the use of force or harmful action against a person.

Since people often rely on or hold their property to extremely high value, it is not hard to see why, in cases outside of my own example, the destruction of property is indeed a violent act to the person who owns the property.

We learned that some subscribers to nonviolence use violence against property as a way to prevent more violence from occurring, in the sense of plowshares actions and other such action, where the property being destroyed belongs to some one or some company that intends to use it in a violent way.  In these cases, nonviolentists may try to argue that their property destruction is not harming anyone, and therefore does not fit the definition of violence the way I suggest that any property does.  However, I argue that since property can not exist without an attachment to at least one person, someone is being harmed in the process.  It is safe to say by simply citing the example learned in class, the Molly Rush story, that the destruction of nuclear-arms components by the Plowshares Eight may have been an affordable loss to the company involved (G.E.).  However, the destruction caused still meant that they lost money, which can be considered harmful to any entity or person no matter how much of it they have.  Not only that, but the actions of smashing of the parts with hammers was certainly done by forceful break in, and using force, force which was fully in opposition of G.E.’s best wishes.  Since the action was undeniably harmful and disrupted of the routine of the company and its workers by use of force, it fits the definition of violence.

One may try to further argue that, since I have defined violence as being done toward a being, that I am arguing incorrectly based on my own definitions (since a company is not a being).  However, all companies are owned by someone and cannot exist otherwise.  Even in the cases of corporations where the ownership is simply shared among many people, someone (or many people) still own the property being destroyed and are harmed by the actions.

By each of these definitions and examples, all property destruction is violence.  Even if you refuse the idea that objects and property should be included to the definition of violence alongside beings as things that violence can affect, violence of property harms a being or disrupts their will in some way or another, and therefore violence against property is tantamount to being violent against a person.


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