In recent years we have seen many examples of population discontent and correspondent protests. First, the discontent expression is a required element as an alert mechanism indicating those components that are not working properly to advance the living standards of the population. Such dynamics involve rights and duties. Then, the political system and correspondent institutions collect the information provided by the alert mechanism represented by the protest and translate the identified problems into proposals of institutional solutions.
Many of the protests we have seen around the globe in recent times include a high degree of violence. It is precisely violence the opposite of peace. The rationale why societies decide to keep a particular political arrangement involves societies’ preference for living in peace. Peace, the opposite of violence. So, as an alert mechanism, the violent protest not only signals that something is not working but that some or many things are wrong in pragmatic terms. In normative terms, this does not mean that violence, as a consequence of some improper rules implemented, should be allowed and/or tolerated. To live in peace requires rights and duties. So when protesting, despite the anger provoked by the injustice claimed, we must fulfil determined rules that support non-violent actions and penalize violent ones.
A society’s preference for living in peace reflects itself in its institutions both, formal and informal. And these are responsible for enforcing the rules that allow such a society to live in peace. Institutions are sticky to change. This is because they have increasing returns. Therefore, the alert mechanisms are necessary to signal when the institutions are demanded to change or adequate themselves to contest the updated settings. To accomplish that is at least challenging because, on one side, some institutional layers are questioned, while at the same time, some of the same institutional set must face the unpopular task of implementing the enforcement mechanisms required to try to tackle violence. And this is the case for both formal and informal institutions.
In this way, regular people’s actions and formal institutional mechanisms attempt to tackle violence in various manners. Among those actions that can effectively aim to tackle violence, it is worth highlighting the explicit disapproval of older generations when encountering violence executed by younger generations.
What a difference can do to tackle violence by combining sound institutions and older generations’ frank disapproval. Not only in the specific context and time, but also in the future perspectives of younger persons performing violently today. The riots in Chile in 2019-2020 and the Netherlands in 2021 provide examples to analyse the different generation behaviours and institutional performances concerning violence.
Although similar actions can be identified in both cases, the Dutch institutions and older generations’ disapproval of violence as a valid protest method were more effective than in the Chilean case. Therefore, though the causes of social discontent differ, the results concerning tackling violence were dramatically different. In the Netherlands, those detected in violent acts were formally punished and socially condemned. Regrettably in Chile, although many were formally punished, the social and institutional condemnations of violence were at least blur. Its worths remembering the shameful scene where young face-covered persons called “the first line” (of the violent rallies) entered as heroes in the Chilean ex-congress building in the middle of an international conference concerning human rights that applauded them.
Finally, the explicit approval and/or blind-sided toleration of violence not only place us as passive complicit but lead to vicious cycles risking populism and violence escalations.