Conflict Is Not Abuse: Mistaking Discomfort for Violence is an Error of Our Times

Lesbian novelist and nonfiction writer Sarah Schulman speaks in Vancouver Canada about her book “Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair.” The book could not find a publisher in the US, but was picked up by Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press. As of this reading in 2018, it had sold more than 10,000 copies. Schulman argues that it is not simple to divide the world into the good and the bad, where the good are the abused and the bad the abusers. She says many abusers have themselves been abused, and thereafter feel themselves constantly under threat. Abusers also often call on police or others to punish the very people they have abused. She argues that we need to untangle as best we can what is really happening in any given situation of discomfort – our role as well as others’ – and to be as honest as possible with ourselves about our own discomforts.

Sarah Schulman is the author of a dozen novels, a playwright and nonfiction writer. She has had a long activist career, including being a founder of the Lesbian Avengers, an early member of the AIDS community social movement ACT-UP, and an advisor to Jewish Voices for Peace. Her most recent book is a social history of ACT-UP. She is now a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at College of Staten Island (CSI) and a Fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities.

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