Published in The Next Truth, Where Science and Myth Meet, March 2020 edition
We are outraged and saddened by the cruelty and bloodshed happening around the world. Aside from record numbers of people fleeing their home countries, there is exceptional aggression on our streets and in our homes. While violence has been a part of human existence for centuries, it’s hard to know if it is getting worse, or are we just more aware of it? Does that awareness have the effect of creating more brutality? What are the underlying causes of extreme viciousness? Can we grab hold of this juggernaut and get it under control?
Each one of us strives to have our basic needs met; enough food to keep us healthy; decent shelter to protect us from the elements; appropriate and suitable clothing; and a sense of belonging. Typically, if these needs are met, it’s unusual for anyone to lash out to strangers in anger. When we perceive that others want to do us harm or deprive us of the necessities of life that we attack, it’s rare for a person to intentionally go out of his or her way to make another person angry. That would be completely illogical.
Fear plays a huge role when it comes to hostility. It’s one of the biggest motivators for negative actions. Our instinct toward perceived danger is fight or flight. First, we stand our ground and fight. If that doesn’t work or isn’t possible, then we flee. Fear is an essential emotion that we need for our survival. It tells us to protect ourselves against potential harm and prepares us for action. However, today we have been taught to entertain unnecessary fear. Now it follows us around, biting at our heels, while we think of how to deal with it.
Historically, churches offered healthy slabs of guilt and the retribution that followed if their dictates were not obeyed. This daily dose of dread was to teach us morality. Although the churches used it as a means of power and control, it’s unlikely that this was part of the original intent. After all, Paul taught the concept that Jesus died for our sins to the churches in his letters. Perhaps it was initially included in the first Nicaea Council because they believed it, and the ensuing control was a side effect that was later recognized and used. A side note here; Christians invented and elaborated upon the concept of the Devil and hell.
Then again, not all fear came from churches. For many centuries it was a tool in raising children. Spankings and physical punishment were in common usage up to the mid-1970s. Plus, we use imprisonment and severe punishment on those who ‘sinned.’ Thus, our anxieties have been tools for power and control in many areas of our lives.
Outrage has become a fabric of our society. Women are furious for the eons of ongoing abuse they have suffered as a species. Men feel threatened and angry because liberated women usurp their traditional roles in society. Have-not nations are enraged because other countries of the world control their resources without returning the gains to them while turning their backs on their poverty and desperation. And, the Middle and Near East have been angry for centuries. It has become built into their society as they seek revenge for the ills others have done. Retribution is taught to children along with the A, B, Cs.
We like to think of ourselves as independent thinkers that can make our own decisions. But closer examination shows us it is far from the truth. The world before television reveals how innocent we were. We were in the process of stepping out from the control of the churches and leaving the farm for a prosperous life in factories. The only commercials were on the radio and contained no subliminal psychology to manipulate us. This situation remained true for the first ten years of televisions in our homes. The advertisements were simply information based on available products.
There is a bit of history to know here. While the Second World War brought us out of the depression of the 1930s, afterward, there was a slump in the economy in the early 1950s. Although it wasn’t serious, people panicked as the memory of the depression was still too fresh.
Until that time, goods from clothing to cars were made to last. That’s when a bunch of business types put their heads together and realized that the high quality of the products we use was a part of the problem. Things that lasted didn’t need replacing, thus stagnation in the economy. Planned obsolescence was the solution. Things are now intentionally made to break down eventually and need replacing. This plan took capitalism to a whole new level of greed.
Commercials have become insidious — our instinctual fear has become a tool. Ad companies know more about us than we do ourselves. They have our habits, routines, and instincts to the point of being science. They can predict our reactions to specific stimuli and know precisely what motivates us. Sadly, the best one is fear.
Built into almost all commercials is an element of apprehension. It goes like this. First, efforts go into convincing us that we lack something significant. Once that is established, a sense of dread becomes applied by convincing us that without it, severe consequences will result. Those consequences can be anything from being shunned by society to losing our jobs. That’s when the cowboy in the white hat, comes to save us. They are here rescue us from that threat and make everything right again, but only if we buy their products. This technique works so well that we need to be diligent or say goodbye to independent thought.
In recent years, that same manipulation has been used by politicians to convince us to vote for them. First, they instill fear into what’s coming in our lives. They make the situation sound dire, whether it is or not. They build on that until we are significantly scared. That’s when they jump in there with a rescue, never fear, they alone will save us. No other person or party can do as great a job as they can. Sadly, this is the most effective at getting our votes.
Another tactic is to divide and conquer. That scenario goes something like this; those guys over there are causing distressing problems (induce false fear) but no worries because we are here to fix it and stop that threat. Sound familiar? This thinking is behind Brexit, Donald Trump, and far-right ideology. Trump’s base is loyal because he alone is going to save them. How does this relate to violence? The present level of anxiety has shot up, has turned people against one another, and are dividing nations.
The young people of today are fantastic. They are standing up everywhere to demand action on significant world issues. They are far more open to people’s differences than ever before, and they are terrified. Today’s youth have moved beyond fear and are genuinely alarmed for their future and where to from here. They worry that robotics and AI (Artificial Intelligence) are taking over the jobs of the future. They see their parents fear real or manipulated and can do nothing to change it.
In the past, employers hired young people straight out of school because they started at beginner’s salary, were enthusiastic, and had fresh ideas. Not anymore. Employers complain about the “entitlement” attitude, or that they don’t have the needed training. Those fortunate enough to find jobs get paid minimum wages, as are unskilled laborers. Some people need two or three jobs to keep up with the cost of living. How are these parents supposed to be at home for their children? They usually live in an impoverished part of town, and the absent parent adds to the violence of youth.
These facts have run from fear to anger to despair throughout the world. Many feel the world has turned its back on them and see limited options to their futures. In the wealthier nations, the alternatives are addictions to computer games, drugs, and gangs. Their desperation has turned to deep resentment and fury. Our youth are now being handed a polluted world for their future. At the same time, bug-business refuses to listen to their pleas.
Throughout the world, there is an attitude and expectations toward violence that was absent before the 1980s. We have become immune to violence. At one time, the average person’s stomach became queasy at the sight of blood or human suffering. Aside from the above, embedded in brutality are other elements. Our games, movies, and entertainment are classified as dull if it isn’t there.
The 1970s saw an upsurge of violent movies that told it like it is. They became so realistic there was nothing left to the imagination. Films with no gore became challenging to find. In the last twenty years, we are beginning to see family-friendly films come into the theaters. But don’t get too comfy, because they have just found a new outlet in computer games.
The level of poverty in the world is astronomical, and homelessness is growing. We see glimpses of the slums in South Africa and India that beyond our understanding. How did it get that way? Why isn’t anyone doing anything to help them? What’s wrong with their government to allow this? We are shocked to learn places in the world where people still live in caves with no water, no electricity, and the laundry is done at the river. Even affluent Western nations have places where slum landlords flourish.
Every human being on the planet needs to feel they are significant in some way. They may not be looking for fame and fortune, but they do want to matter. When forced to live in poverty or harsh conditions, we become resentful and wish to lash out at the perceived injustice.
The Middle East did not suddenly decide to be angry and attack other countries. Wealthy nations have done what they have done everywhere in the world; they have taken the resources and left without even a thank you note. They have dictated to the developing world how to run things and shown total disrespect for the religions of those nations. And, to put the cherry on the cake of destruction, the corruption and greed of their governments are staggering.
Contrary to the norm, some individuals do perpetrate horrendous cruelty and violence on others with no apparent cause. How did they get this way? It’s not a surprise to learn this person either suffer from mental illness or raised with aggressive and brutal treatment. Children do not do as we say; they do as we do. But what of those who had no cruelty in their lives. What pushes these people beyond the norm and into violence?
People with schizophrenia who have stopped taking their medications can sometimes spiral into bizarre behavior that often leads to extreme violence. In these cases, their actions are beyond their control, and once they are hospitalized and stabilized, they can function well in society. It’s an important question, why they stop taking their medications that baffle others. People with bipolar disease are known to also go off their meds, and then they too will spiral out of control.
Every abuser will find a way of rationalizing their treatment of victims. They may convince themselves that their prey enjoys the abuse, asked for it, or deserve it for some obscure reason the rest of us cannot fathom. In some cases, there’s a mental leap that made. As if a switch has turned off, the perpetrator stops seeing the victim as genuinely human. Sure, they look like humans, but in the abuser’s mind, they don’t count, they are no better than rats in the sewers. Thus, any torture, or savagery is acceptable.
There is no such thing as a baby born a bad seed, a baby born bad. The only place where bad seed babies exist is in movies and our imaginations. Children need the proper conditions, primary personality type, and mental outlook to take things to another level. Most often, this is because of untreated mental illness. Governments have closed a high number of psychiatric hospitals because, in the short term, they don’t bring in revenue. They leave it to the mentally ill to self-regulate.
We have seen that even in non-abusive, caring families, children turn to violence. While the parents may not brutalize the kids, they could have abdicated their role as the leader. Perhaps they bailed the child out of their messes, thus not allowing them to take responsibility for their actions. In other cases, it’s hard to tell, who is the parent, and who is the child. It began when the parent gave in to two-year-old’s temper or the three-year-old’s constant hounding. Thus, teaching the child that’s what they need to do to get what they want. As the child grew, it got worse until the child has become a tyrant, and the parents are wondering what they did wrong.
An aside here, parents aren’t always the bad guys. As mentioned earlier, up until the 1970s, spanking was the primary method of child-rearing. Then, overnight, it was classified as child abuse and became against the law. When this was all the parents knew, they had no idea how to get the kids to behave without physical punishment? Suddenly, parents had no concept of how to raise their children.
Human beings are pack animals that instinctively need a leader, someone who establishes the responsibilities and consequences of the group. When the leaders are weak, another member of the group will take over. In the case of the home, if the parents are not the leaders, then one or more of the children will take over. Problems arise because children do not have enough life experience to know what the outcome of their choices will be, plus kids tend to be little dictators and demand to have things their way. Then the parents try to take back control; they have a distressing war right in their own homes. As children grow, the battle is brought into a society that does not give in to their demands.
As kids age, three other elements come into the picture, the teen developmental phase, male testosterone, and the adrenalin rush. During the teen years and into their early adulthood, they become completely irrational. This stage of life is the most dangerous for them as they will do anything to fit in. Any parent who thinks they have influence over their children at this stage is delusional. If friends reject a teen, it can be a disaster for them and can stay with them for many years. When they are part of the crowd, they are willing to do things that, under normal circumstances, they never would. This behavior includes stealing, vandalism, drugs, and escalating violence.
While females can be violent, at least they don’t have to go through the rutting phase. That’s when males position themselves in their group. Those with quiet personalities are happy to sit back and allow the alpha male to take the lead. The problem is that they may become victims of that process and willing to kill to stay involved. It may begin with teasing but gradually gets stronger and stronger until it turns to abuse and cruelty.
One day, when I was a counselor, I asked a fellow in his late teens why he vandalized cars, did he not think he might get caught? He said it didn’t matter if he and his friends got caught because that was a part of the game. He knew they were doing something wrong, and that was the point; it was the adrenalin rush they were after. Without danger, it wouldn’t be the same.
Power is like money, when is enough, enough? Bigger, better, best is the cry of those locked into gaining power and control. The same is true of violence. There is a sense of power and control, and a significant adrenalin rush in cruelty. The perpetrator feels invincible because they have the power of life and death over others. It may begin by pulling the wings off butterflies, but like any addiction, that is never enough. The violence escalates to abusing animals, then to children, and eventually to adults. Then, when that isn’t enough, it can entail torture to satisfy the cravings.
We may strive to watch for the signs of abuse when they begin, but when whole countries, we have less influence. Our response to this is the return of aggression and violence. These tactics will never work. An eye for an eye only leads to an endless circle of pain and sorrow. We need to understand that the harder we push against other’s philosophy, the harder they will push back in return. We need to stop with the war, and reach out by building roads, bring in electricity, and running water. Pay attention! This is precisely what Russia and China are doing and, in the process, gaining more world power.