Violence can manifest itself in many forms and shapes. It can emerge in the midst of silence or in the centre of chaos and commotion. It can creep up on you from behind, or stand in front of you: confronting you with an intense eye-contact. Violence can strike instantly as sudden excruciating pain – or become a permanent part of your life, like a rock you carry on your back at all times.
But what is at the root of violence?
Barack Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Violence begets violence, hatred begets hatred, and terrorism begets terrorism”. With this statement he makes two assumptions about the character of violence:
a) Violence often manifests itself as a reaction
b) Violence is also prone to create a vicious circle, in which actions grow more and more extreme – like a snowball effect.
Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychoanalysis, considered that suppressing the inherently violent nature of human beings is one primary aims of the modern state structures. He likened this process to when parents say “No” to a child, which compels children to suppress their urges to act violently. In this process, the child develops a conscious or what Freud calls: a super-ego. But is not it possible that this kind of repression would lead to the vicious circle described by Wright? Perhaps, but perhaps not, after all, there is a wide spectrum of actions between “violence” and “suppression”.
Violence appeals to emotions which make it advantageous to expose – for ratings and sensationalism. Perhaps humans have such a profound fascination with violence due to its relationship with power. As the one using legitimate or illegitimate violence tends to be on the top of the pyramid. Hence he or she is often portrayed as either the hero or the anti-hero of any work of fiction. Kill Bill, for example, would have been a nightmare to watch if Uma Thurman would have been a pacifist. “I’ll start a blog so everyone will know what a douche Bill is”.
Is it then fair to say that people are inherently violent in an almost unchangeable way? Even thou TV-channels, newspapers, radio stations and social media are constantly exposing stories that tell us how violent and dangerous the world is, people in the 21st century are de facto living longer, in better living conditions and with a greater access to education than ever before. Of course, there is still injustice in the world such as inequality between the sexes, military occupations of civilians etc.
Maybe both Freud and Wright make valid points. A fair, just and well-working state machinery and society suppress some of the fundamental violent tendencies humans have, whilst maligned groups who face hate and aggression are prone to react violently.
Therefore, working to prevent violence becomes a duty, rather than a right. If you have time, the Challenge 2050 project, is a great place to start. By Johannes Jauhiainen