Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Nature of Violence, and How We can Reduce it

Premise: Following various reports of heinous crimes being committed in our country, and the recent confession by a former G4S employee of killing 17 people, many Kenyans are shocked at the frequency and intensity of violence.

Violent Times

Many people believe that we live in especially violent times. But is this true? To better understand this, we need to distinguish violence against other people and against things. In fact, the concept of using force [read violence] to realize law and order in civil societies is in many situations inspired by a mood as violent as that which it claims to fight.

Heightened Awareness

All in all, rising crime continues to be much discussed, with statistics frightening many people. Hate and destructiveness are impulses which obscure rational and objective thinking and easily create a polarization, by reinforcing each other.  

Is Violence Inherent?

1) An affirmative answer has been maintained from Hobbes to Freud to Lorenz. Those who subscribe to this school of thought maintain that aggression and destructiveness are innate, directed toward self or toward others.

 2) A counterview asserts that man is good by nature, and only destructive because social circumstances corrupt him. Others assert that aggressiveness is learned. This was the thinking that was popularized by psychological experts during the age of enlightenment.

3) A third view, originally presented by John Dollard, maintains that aggression is always occasioned by frustration. Despite all the above however, some individuals and societies have either very high or very low levels of violence.  

The case with Humans

The theory that violence is hereditary and has been passed down generations is found wanting, upon the observation that other mammals, especially primates are less aggressive and destructive than man. Human destructiveness is consistently more frequent and intense. It can therefore only be explained as a result of specific conditions on our existence, not animal hereditary or as a neurophysical necessity.

Types of Human Aggressiveness

  • Reactive or defensive aggressiveness - when vital interests are threatened.

  • Lustful aggressiveness - sadism, and cruel desire to exercise absolute control over others

  • Necrophilia - a cold, unalive attraction to death, decay, sickness and the mechanical

Controlling Destructiveness  

Main causes of Violence

  • Feeling of anxiety

  • mechanization of life, where thinking and reasoning are much separated

  • powerlessness of individuals

  • contradiction between values professed and what is acted

Control Measures

  • individuals should cease to feel powerless

  • compulsive consumption should be reduced

  • humanization of our technological society

  • society must serve human ends - growth and development of humans

  • emotions and reason should be brought together

In a nutshell

Reduction of violence will be achieved not through an increased control of aggression and violence, but reduction of destructiveness and violence. This is best done by making individual and social life more meaningful and human. Note: This post has been condensed from the article "The Nature of Violence" by Eric Fromm


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