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Is Violence Necessary?

Updated on October 23, 2011

Is Violence Socially Acceptable?

Is violence really necessary? Do human beings NEED violence? It's been a burning question to me since I was very young. When I was a kid, I'd come home from school, and Mom would let my brother Danny, my sister Carole, and myself watch some afternoon television. As in about every other home in America, television was a great new babysitter. Mom could go about her household tasks relatively undisturbed while the kids were "glued to the tube". Though our household had few amenities due to the strictness and rigidity of our household economy and Dad's religious principles, we always had the latest thing in televisions. Our dad worked at GE Sylvania, and was awarded seven patents in his lifetime, mostly for developing television applications for integrated circuits. So, he'd bring home "test models", for home testing, from the test lab.

I was often stricken by the violence on television. Things that were supposed to be funny looked like people getting hurt, to me. I hated it! I thought it couldn't possibly be necessary to be so violent; it wasn't entertaining to me, at ALL!

My brother and sister always wanted to watch "The Three Stooges". That show made me terribly uncomfortable. I didn't like it. Moe was always hitting people, and jabbing at their eyes , and causing pain and doing violence of some kind. I really didn't like it. Even most Saturday morning cartoons were too violent! All that unnecessary violence in Road Runner, Bugs Bunny, you name it!

If any of you reading this have followed my story, you'll understand why. I would escape to the cold upstairs, and read a book. I didn't even like the sound of people being hurt. I was very sensitive to violence .

I'm proudly American. I do love my country, and think this country, which welcomed immigrants from all nations, is the strongest just because of it's terrific ethnic mix. I'm proud of the many people in this country who have made so much from so little. I'm proud of our native American heritage, which is blended and mixed, but retains a special connection with the earth, the animals, and the environment, especially in the West and Southwest parts of the United States.

I'm proud of our black American heritage, which had to defeat three major prejudices to survive and thrive: the difference in skin color from the majority of European immigrants, the lack of a heritage of literacy, and the fact that these people's ancestors were kidnapped from their home continent and compelled into slavery on American soil--their ancestors were not here voluntarily, for the most part, and were treated abominably.

But I'm not proud of violence in America. I don't think it's necessary, and have done a little research to discover why, what is this penchant for violence that Americans seem to possess? Why do people think violence is necessary, or entertaining, or thrilling? Or funny?

  • America has 150 times the murder rate of Great Brittain
  • In Detroit, in 1973, there were two million people , and two million guns . A gun for every person living in Detroit.

Americans vote with their pocketbooks, and Americans seem to adore violence. How many unarmed action heroes have you seen in the movie theaters lately? The Terminator movies, a great succession of box-office smashes, seemed to embrace extreme violence and carry away an entire generation of movie goers. The Terminator character was so loaded down with weapons it was ludicrous, I could name hundreds of violent box-office hits, and very few non-violent ones. What catches our attention, what rivets us absolutely, is violence. Look at the latest:

  • Video Games
  • Movies
  • News Stories
  • Cartoons

before you disagree with me.

From "Understanding Human Behavior":

Does violence on TV affect the young, as well as adults? Dr. Robert M. Lieberts, a psychologist at the State University of New York who was a principal investigator for the Surgeon General's report, reviewed more than 50 studies covering the behavior of 10,000 children between the ages of three and 19. Dr. Lieberts states, "The more violence and aggression a youngster sees on television, regardless of his age, sex or social background, the more aggressive he is likely to be in his own attitudes and behaviors. The effects are not limited to young people who are in any way abnormal, but rather were found for large numbers of perfectly normal American children."

"It was not a boy's home life, not his school perfromance, not his family background, but the amount of TV violence he viewed at age 9 which was the single most important determinant of how aggressive he was 10 years later, at age 19.

American Civil War Photo

The Biological Determinants of Violence

From "Understanding Human Behavior":

  • Emotional behavior is highly correlated with electrical activity in the limbic system a related set of neural centers that include the amygdala in the temporal lobe. Stimulation of the human or animal amygdala is often followed by aggressive attacks. Removal of the amygdala leads to a marked reduction in aggressive behavior in animals but not necessarily in humans.
  • Violence is also influenced by psychological and environmental factors. For example, some cultural attitudes appear to accept or even encourage violent behavior. Cultures who hold such attitudes engender people who are much more likely to be hostile and aggressive than the people in non-violent cultures.
  • People will become more aggressive if they are rewarded for violent behavior. People will become more peaceful and placid if they are rewarded for peaceful and placid behavior.
  • Psychological frustration or physical pain often, but not always, leads to aggressive behavior
  • People who suffer from damaged amygdalas often fly into violent rages for little or no reason, particularly if they are drugged or drunk.
  • Human behavior is multi-determined, and there is no one unique solution to the problem of violence in today's world.

The word "Amygdala" is Latin for almond.These two little nut-shaped clusters of neurons, in the inner surface of the cerebral hemispheres, in the deepest part of our brains, affect but do not entirely determine how violent we are. This part of the limbic system, (the communication system between the two halves of our brains), is very specially studied by doctors and psychologists who treat the criminally insane. Occasionally surgical removal or neurosurgical techniques involving microtransmitters in this part of the patient's brain can effect an amazing transformation on the part of a violent patient. The patient, who was formerly prone to outbreaks of unreasoning violence and a danger to fellow patients and staff, becomes very placid, very calm. His behavior changes appear to be permanent. Oddly enough, these techniques do not always work, even when the diagnoses are nearly identically. About one patient in three can be effectively treated with these techniques. Other patients retain their violent behaviors, or resume them after a short period--three to four weeks--of calm placidity.

There are some ethical questions which have arisen due to advances in neurochemistry, neurosurgery, and micro-neurosurgical techniques, about how far is it right to go to artificially alter a human being's personality? Where is that ethical line?

When the amygdala were removed from very violent, very aggressive animals, they uniformly became gentle and placid under any and all circumstances--even when attacked. They also became markedly oversexed, attempting to mount inappropriate objects. The connection between sexual drives and aggressive behavior doesn't appear to be biologically pre-determined.

These animals also over-indulged in food, when allowed.

Were they compensating with food and sex for a loss of appetite for violence? Did they miss the stimulation ?

Intra-psychic Determinants of Violence

From "Understanding Human Behavior":

According to many intra-psychic theorists, we are born with an aggressive instinct that we often do not learn how to control.

Konrad Lorenz, a German scientist, has spent a lifetime studying the behavior patterns of wild animals. Lorenz believes that while aggressive instincts first evolved in the lower animals, the tendency toward senseless violence has reached its peak in human beings. In his research, Lorenz noted that animals of one species will often kill members of another species for food--or if threatened--but they seldom kill each other or any other species out of hatred, prejudice, politics, or "just for fun". During mating season, males will occasionally battle other males for possession of females, but the males rarely do each other lasting harm.

Konrad Lorenz is a noted German ethologist who believes that humans have stronger killer instincts than any other animal. He received the Nobel Prize in 1973 for his research.

There are several main causes of violence or aggression in both animals and humans:

  • Self-defense
  • Pain
  • Frustration
  • Competition for resources
  • Competition for social domination
  • Defense of territory

Frustration or pain often leads to violent behavior, in both animals and humans. But if an animal has a chance to escape the pain, or abate the frustration, it will most often chose, (by FAR!) to flee or abate rather than attack. This is not the case with human beings.

Freud believed that there is a childish part of our minds that demands immediate gratification of all its wishes. Whenever this "child" in our minds is frustrated, it causes us to become aggressive in the pursuit of our desires.

Psychologists John Dollard and Neal Miller developed an accepted hypothesis called the frustration-aggression hypothesis.

Frustration occurs whenever a highly-motivated individual encounters a barrier that prevents the person from reaching a much-desired goal. If the person cannot overcome the barrier, the resulting frustration leads the person to become less logical and more strongly emotional, and much more aggressive than would usually be the case. According to this model, aggression in humans is always caused by a frustration of some sort; but a frustrated person has many other choices rather than to exhibit their frustration in the form of violence.

That's the key.

We, as human being, as reasoning, thinking, human beings, always have other choices. Violence of any kind is not necessary for the benefit, furtherance, or preservation of the human race. Violence, of any kind, is not necessary for the benefit, furtherance, or preservation of the human individual.

We have other choices.

We have language. We can communicate. We can defuse a violent situation, or avoid it. We do not have to take out our frustrations, wishes for gratification, resources, food...domination...anything that drives us, in the form of violence.

We have BRAINS! We can figure out another way, a better way, to resolve any dispute, than war. Than violence. Than aggression on such a scale it costs human lives and leaves children orphaned and homeless. Is violence necessary? NO, and again NO!

We don't need to do this at all, and sometimes, looking at this American Civil War photo, then looking at some photos from the war in Afghanistan, I find we have not come very far at all.

We do not need violence. We don't need to hurt and maim and kill each other. We don't need to do this. We don't need to stockpile nuclear weapons. We don't need to gather arms which could devastate and depopulate of any life a whole continent, or the whole world.

We don't need to glorify violence in the video games and the movie theaters and the gansta rap. We don't need to make heroes out of violent people.

We know we don't need it. We know we don't need violence.

Then why, why, why, do we indulge in it?

I'm afraid the answer is, the real answer is, BECAUSE IT'S FUN !


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