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Are we inherently violent?

  • Published at 12:02 am December 12th, 2016
Are we inherently violent?

Throughout the history of civilisation, men have always fought till the end to rule over one another. The Book of Genesis even starts with an example of human violence, the murder of righteous Abel by his angry brother Cain.

We are probably the only species in the world that show collective violence against each other so fiercely. Human-like aggression and violence are extremely rare in animals, though Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, considered human beings to be necessarily predatory beasts.

Philosopher George Santayana believed that all our so-called generous impulses are actually weak and fleeting: “Dig a little beneath the surface and you will find a ferocious, persistent, profoundly selfish man.”

Thomas Hobbes did not even believe in the existence of basic human kindness in men. The idea that we all are selfish and prone to violence has dominated our thoughts for centuries.

But we cannot simply deny the existence of innate feelings such as love or empathy in ourselves. Despite all of our fighting spirit, we have also evolved a mechanism for showing empathy with other fellow human beings. If anyone sees a child standing dangerously on a cliff, about to fall, wouldn’t they feel the urge to rush forward and save her?

Ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius firmly believed that there could be no one without such feeling. In the mid-1700s, David Hume relentlessly wrote about the “natural benevolence” of human beings. Existence of an innate “instinct of sympathy” in human species was observed by the great Charles Darwin too. He preferred to call it the strongest of all instincts.

Recent findings show that pre-historic men, living around 80,000 to 70,000 years ago, felt anxiety and pity for killing wild beasts for food. Anthropologists observed that they considered animals as their friends and all their hunting rituals were invented to show solidarity towards those dying animals.

Men usually disliked killing and hunting, though they couldn’t do anything about it. Eminent author Karen Armstrong believes that ritual and art helped those ancient men to express their empathy and reverence towards their fellow creatures. May be we are not as bad as we think we are.

The idea that we all are selfish and prone to violence has dominated our thoughts for centuries. But we cannot simply deny the existence of innate feelings such as love or empathy in ourselves. Despite all of our fighting spirits, we have also evolved a mechanism for showing empathy with other fellow human beings

Over the past few decades, numerous scientific research have indicated that aggression or violent behaviour is not essentially inherent. Many biological, psychosocial, and socio-cultural factors are responsible for fuelling up our instinct of aggression. Old-school psychologists such as Miller and Dollard have suggested that aggression is a logical and expected consequence of frustration.

A frustrated person is prone to violence and considers it as an effective way of dealing with certain problems of life. Bandura has observed that aggressive behaviour is instantly learned through observation and imitation of aggressive models.

It has been widely observed that young people who are exposed to aggressive models will quickly adopt aggression as a part of their behaviour repertoire. A number of investigators have pointed out that this exposure of youth to violence in the mass media tends to de-sensitise them to violence in the world, and to foster the acceptance of violence as a means of resolving conflicts.

In 2014, Public Health England conducted a study where it was found that children who spend long hours looking at computers are vulnerable to mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and feeling of loneliness. The report further mentioned that children who spend more than four hours a day on computers, television, and video games are highly susceptible to mental problems such as depression and anxiety.

Some 750,000 teenagers were so depressed they had “nothing to live for.” A new form of violence has been observed these days among depressed youth which can be effectively termed as “Electronic Aggression.” Growing numbers of emotionally depressed school goers use electronic platforms to gratify their aggressiveness by harassing or threatening others (ie cyber-bullying).

Studies conducted show that youth who are victims of electronic aggression usually experience severe psychosocial difficulties that affect their emotional functioning.

We still do not have enough research on the effectiveness of strategies in addressing electronic aggression.

We may not be inherently violent, but social scientists have long argued that depictions of violence and destruction in films and video games do inspire violence in real life. Portraying any violent person as a role model causes serious damage to children.

Parents should make arrangements to prevent their kids from imitating aggressive models. Furthermore, we should include appropriate courses on stress/anger management as part of our school curriculum. It will help young students to fight mental issues like depression and anxiety more effectively.

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