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social and psychological origins of violence

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by writing irish, Apr 17, 2007.

  1. writing irish

    writing irish Active Member

    The other thread is pretty much all about gun control laws, so I'll move the discussion about social factors over here. As I mentioned on the other thread, mass psychologizing is risky because the elements defy quanitifcation. But sometimes the most useful questions are the hardest to answer.

    Mass psychology isn’t given much credit in our individualistic culture. Books on the subject tend not to make much of a splash, although I remember Susan Faludi and Robert Bly getting some ink the 90s with half-academic, half-pop psych studies of postindustrial masculinity. I like the genre. When I was a kid studying Orwell, I was led to reading “Escape From Freedom” by Erich Fromm and “The Mass Psychology of Fascism” by Wilhelm Reich. Both of those guys influenced Orwell and the concepts there explain some dynamics today as well as what was going on in the 20th century. And yes, I know Reich went batshit crazy toward the end, but he did good work before the war.

    Anyway, last night I was thinking about personality charcateristics shared on a mass scale. I was thinking also about Jung and his concept of light and shadow aspects…every trait has a creative and destructive manifestation. Courage-recklessness, caution-timidity, sensuality-hedonism, confidence-arrogance, etc…these pairs of traits are the positive and negative manifestations of the same quality. What’s your best personal quality? What’s your worst? Chances are, your best and worst traits are two sides of the same coin.

    So I decided to find out what’s worst about our culture by looking at what’s best. We’re an optimistic country. The pursuit of happiness is written into our Constitution…this must seem like lunacy to cultures that are more fatalistic. Most of the world takes it as a given that life is hard, sometimes boring, and that if you experience comfort or pleasure, you’re lucky. Here, we expect things to work out, all the time. Not a bad idea on one hand…there’s a lot to be said for the “can-do” attitude. But when things don’t work out, well…?

    We throw tantrums. The “Ugly American.” We blame, pout, piss, rage. Here’s where we’re diverge from our Old World roots. The shitting in our britches that we do when we don’t get our way isn’t something from our European or African ancestors. It’s something we’ve perfected right here…and the postindustrial age seems to be fueling it, because I think this phenomenon is greater than it used to be.

    We define success, particularly for men, as the ability to control our environment. To dominate. There’s no difference between the gangsta in his pimped-out sedan and the patrician business mogul in his yacht…or the suburban douche in his Hummer. They’re all desperately broadcasting that they’ve succeed in dominating their environment. They are King Shit, the God Baby, the Brat-in-Chief. They’ve achived the dream of having to answer to no one. I don’t have to answer to anyone! What a shallow, childish and yes, subtly violent definition of success. Worse yet, it’s stupid. It denies that we are interdependent creatures living in a world that’s 99% out of our control.

    So when that bubble bursts, there’s hell to pay. Tantrums happen. I’m not talking about yesterday’s shooting here…I’m talking about the violent freakouts that seem to happen here more than anywhere else. No surprise that men are almost always pulling the trigger. I think that the American Alpha Dog instinct is in need of some remedial training.
  2. zeke12

    zeke12 Guest

    An interesting hypothesis. Let me throw out a devil's advocate question:

    How do you reconcile the fact that American has been a violent nation since the time of its founding, even though its national pschologial profile has changed from that of a rebellious upstart to that of the lone remaining superpower?

    Wouldn't that support a shared madness emanating from another source other than a common ethos?
  3. writing irish

    writing irish Active Member

    There's no clear line between the phenomena of interpersonal violence like fights or shootings...and political violence like the Native American and African holocausts or imperialist wars. We've always had plenty of political violence...am I naive in thinking that interpersonal violence is getting worse? Or does it just seem that way?
  4. MartinEnigmatica

    MartinEnigmatica Active Member

    This would be a fascinating book...and I suspect there might be something out there on it. But without it right in front of me, we can only speculate.
    And the interpersonal violence is extremely hard to gauge, because a good deal of it in the past might be undocumented. A fight was a fight, and just overlooked maybe 70 years ago. Gang fights, mob duels, and shootings might have made the news, but the firearm is just one tool for expressing interpersonal violence.
    There are, also, several ways to look at interpersonal violence - volume and intensity. Has there been more violence, or does an increased media exposure distort that picture? Or is there truly more violence because of the increased exposure, to take it a step further?
    Then for intensity, does a guy engage in this violence more easily or gung-ho than in the past? That's probably an impossible question to answer, so I'll stick to the first. I doubt this applies to all cases, but it seems that a kind of Theater Mentality has developed over time for whatever reason.
    In this state of mind, people believe that they're in front of a camera, acting out a script - when in fact, no one's watching, paying attention, or really caring all that much. I'll give an example.
    I watched my brother argue with my sister a few weeks ago. While my brother remained in a calm state of mind, my sister acted like she was on a sitcom or TV drama: raised voice, phrases that, in the words of Nuke Laloosh, were uttered to announce her presence with authority and have the definitive last word, period. As though some audience would rise and applaud for her performance.
    "Who do you think you're talking to? Who? I just won't stand for it, so don't even talk to me." Or somethign like that.
    And really, my brother was just trying to reason with her. We see kind of the same thing around here when people act like asshats for no reason other than to, presumably, sound smarmy and project an image of themselves as....something. There's no reasoning, no authenticity...just scripted, dramatic words.
    To widen the scope, there's YouTube and other outlets for people to say, "Look at me!" And suddenly, everyone's a theater major putting on a play to critique. The public knows others are watching, and that's become an ingrained fact in the collective societal unconscious.
    So perhaps this violence is now done half for personal reasons, and half because it's some grand show. Raise the curtains, watch the shots ring out. Maybe that fact, that Theater Mentality has caused more people to say, "screw it" and snap. Every punch is a scene from 24, every shot a snippet from Bourne Identity, and every next act a brutal encore.

    I know that's a lot of rambling, but it's just one theory.
  5. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    If we want to talk about interpersonal violence, we should also look at interpersonal relations. And by that, I mean look at the massive decrease in personal interaction that we engage in.

    A big part of that is the creation and expansion of suburban America, especially after World War II. Both urban and rural communities of the past were more close-knit, because they had to be. Lacking the technological advances that we enjoy today, people had to depend on other people. It made us aware that we were each one among many, that we weren't just responsible for ourselves, that we held a responsibility to our community, and consequently, to society at-large.

    Technology has sped up the process, but so have our choices. We have chosen to isolate ourselves in gated communities, in private schools, in long, solo commutes to work.

    As a result, we don't interact with other people very much. Certainly not as much as we did in the past. And when we do, most of us tend to interact with people in very similar situations as ourselves.

    So by the very nature of the culture we've striven to create, we're less aware of how our actions affect other people -- because we're not around other people very much. Thus, many Americans (and this is not a world issue, because I think that America's geography lends itself to being isolated more than any other country) have lost the skills of interaction: how to communicate with others, how to respond to others, how to resolve conflicts, how to manage their emotions about and around other people.


    Maybe there is a mass American psyche or state of mind that enables an insanely higher rate of violent interpersonal relations, but if there is, I'm not sure that there is some macro form of therapy or education that we can engage in to understand and/or change it.

    I think we'd do better about looking at our culture of isolationism and finding ways to bring people more together, whether by force or by choice. We need to see, on an everyday basis, how other people are affected by our actions, by our reactions, by our decisions.
  6. writing irish

    writing irish Active Member

    Excellent post B-dub. Thanks for giving me some more to mull over on this subject.
  7. Simon_Cowbell

    Simon_Cowbell Active Member

    And within the protective wall an iPod with headphones puts up.
  8. Buck

    Buck Well-Known Member

    But politcal violence isn't uniquely American.
    And the U.S. violent crime rate is down over the past 30 years.
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