Thursday, 24 February 2011


As an integral part of the human experience and societal institutions, violence is the mirror of the human condition expressed creatively in literature, art, music, religion and other social science and humanities fields. Symptomatic of complex personality (biological and psychological) and societal factors, violence is studied by various disciplines from criminal justice and psychology to forensic science and sociology.

Violence is multidimensional, transcending gender, ethnic, religious, and racial groups. Although there is some controversial evidence that women are less violent than men, placed in an institutional setting of violence (military or position of authority that requires policy decision resulting in violence), women behave no differently than men. Because most societies since the dawn of civilization were patriarchal, women have been victims of gender and institutional violence. At the same time, patriarchal societies from ancient to modern deem women as carriers of evil.

In the 16th and 17th century Europe, hundreds of thousands of women were tortured and put to death for witchery as a means of cleansing society from evil. Naturally, violent means were used to rid society of women as the source of evil associated with violence. Today many women from Asia and Africa are subject to human traffic violence. Throughout sub-Sahara Africa they are victims of HIV/AIDS because the patriarchal society renders them powerless to protect themselves and their babies.

As civilization unfolds, as science and technology advances and presumably tames the human mind toward a less belligerent disposition, violence becomes increasingly prevalent at the individual level, but especially at the institutional level as governments launch wars that leave countless innocent people injured and dead. Ironically, the US as the most advanced country in the world since 1945 has the one with the highest level of violence in the world both at the institutional and individual levels. More gun violence, more family violence, more serial killings, more prisoners per capita than any other country on earth, despite presenting itself as 'law and order nation'.

Today as well as throughout history, far greater violence and destruction has been caused by calculated government policies against 'defined enemies' and against their own people than any individual acts of violence. The 20th century of course was the bloodiest, producing the greatest number of fatalities and mass destruction in human history. The 20th century also produced some of the most devastatingly tragic holocausts, including Armenians slaughtered by Turks; Jews, Gypsies and Communists by Germans; Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge; Muslim Bosnian catharsis by Christian Orthodox Serbs; Rwanda tribes slaughtering each other in the name of ethnic cleansing in a pursuit of hegemony.

In the first two months of 2011, the world has witnessed Islamic regimes across North Africa and the Middle East pursue violent policies against their own people, leaving many of them dead and injured, especially in Libya. Authoritarian regimes at gunpoint try to perpetuate themselves on a reluctant society that demands greater social justice, greater respect for human rights, and a more inclusive political democracy. Other examples of institutional chronic institutional violence is the apartheid situation in Israel that has been repressing Palestinians at gunpoint for the past six decades, while the world led by the US has failed to stop this chronic tragedy.

Given that nations today whether in the Middle East- North Africa of in Afghanistan live by institutional violence, it is impossible that such belligerent policies would not influence individuals and their conduct. If nations in their quest for political, economic, and military power pursue aggressive means and their desire for hegemony transcends the quest for harmonious co-existence, why would the conduct of individuals not emulate that of nations? The inexorable links between institutional violence by the nation-state and violence by individuals were a subject of focus by various scholars from Georges Sorel at the turn of the 20th century and scholars in the interwar era shocked by the mass destruction of the first world war.

In his work Reflections on Violence, Sorel argued that psychological violence in the absence of the physical act, or institutional conformity to the exploitation of a segment of society (workers by industrialists, peasants by large farmers) can be worse than physical violence. Doing nothing is evil and a form of violence when every 3 seconds a person dies of starvation around the world (75% of which are babies, estimated at 40,000); when more than one billion people are chronically impoverished and have no access to clean water, medicine or shelter; when there is a form of collective punishment against social groups; when people seek social justice and freedom. Doing nothing is a form of violence indicative of amoral behavior that seems to permeate modern society where the individual has been conditioned by atomistic values rooted in materialism to the detriment of any ethical social responsibility.

In the Medieval period it was widely believed in Barbarian Europe and in Eastern Christendom that root causes of violence were triggered by the devil or evil spirits. Learned theologians of course provided more refined explanations, arguing that humans carry the seed of evil within them from Adam and Eve, mostly Eve that theologians blamed for the fall of man from grace. In Paradise Lost, John Milton sees Eve as the source of evil more than he sees the fallen angel in that respect.

Whether the act by individuals or institutionally, whether psychological or the absence of involvement to help mitigate exploitation, violence is indeed a manifestation of evil. However, it has nothing to do with the devil, evil spirits, and certainly nothing to do with Eve, the female prototype that patriarchal society used for centuries and continues to use to explain evil. Violence is largely learned behavior for which society institutionally is responsible for inculcating into the minds of individuals.

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