Thoughts on Human Violence

Thirty-three people died at the hands of a young madman at Virginia Tech, an unstable twenty-three year old who could not escape the combination of cruel childhood teasing and his own madness, a madness whose incipient danger was all too evident to those around him, including various authorities… who did nothing, all citing after the fact how their hands were tied.

On average, more than 70 people die in the United States every day from gun-related homicides and suicides, most of them killed by handguns, which have no purpose besides target shooting… and killing people. And… effectively, for all the talk, and all the debate on whether guns kill or people do, no one does very much… and hasn’t for years.

On average, more than 120 people die in the United States every day from automobile accidents, and an ever-growing proportion is caused by people doing things they know they should not — driving after drinking too much, driving while too tired, driving too fast, driving while eating, driving while using a cell-phone. We kill more people on the highway every year than we have in warfare in any single year in the last century and a half, with the exception of something like six years — and no one ever seems to make the comparison.

Over the last century, the world has seen genocide after genocide, the Armenians by the Turks; the Russian kulaks by Stalin, preceded and followed by various other purges; the willful exterminations of the Holocaust by Hitler’s Third Reich; the rape of Nanking by the Japanese and the atrocities which followed throughout WWII; the Russian retaliation against the Germans; the ethnic turmoil following the partition of India and Pakistan that cost close to a million lives, if not more; the triumph of Ho Chi Mihn in North Vietnam that resulted in at least hundreds of thousands of deaths, the death of millions in Cambodia at the hands of Pol Pot; the ethic cleansings in the Balkans, the massive killings in Ruanda; the massacres of the generally Christian population in Darfur; and now the daily sectarian carnage in Iraq.

In the past 107 years, we’ve also seen war after war — the Second Boer War; the Boxer Rebellion; the Philippine Insurrection; the Chinese overthrow of the emperor; WWI; the Irish struggle for independence; the Russian Revolution; the Spanish Civil War; the Fino-Russian War; the Italian Invasion of Ethiopia: WWII; the 1948 Arab-Israeli War [and the subsequent wars in 1956, 1967, 1973-74, and 1982]; the fall of “Nationalist” China; the Korean War; Vietnam; the Chinese invasion of Tibet; the Iran-Iraq War; the Russian invasions of Afghanistan and Chechnya; the Serbian/Bosnian Police Action; Desert Storm; the Iraq War.

One of the explanations for all the war and violence is that they’re all about resources, but why do we have famines when food is actually available in the area or the region where people starve? Why do we engage in conflicts, domestic and international, that actually reduce available resources? Why are some resource-rich nations impoverished, and some with no natural resources to speak of wealthy?

Others claim that it’s about beliefs, yet most major religions claim that they espouse peace.

In almost all the cases, general and individual, the blame always falls on the “other person.” “They” drove drunk or talking on the cell phone; “they” started the war; “they” abused human rights. “We” didn’t do anything wrong.

The only problem with this is that you’re my “they,” and I’m your “they.”

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that, while we as individuals don’t want violence used against us, as societies and/or smaller groups we don’t mind using it against others, and we really don’t want to get involved in preventing its use against others — unless we “have to” because something of ours is threatened or because we want something someone else has. Or could it be that our nature is to ask, and if we don’t get, to take what we want or do as we please?

Or maybe, for all our protests to the contrary, we really do like violence and fighting and other assorted carnage, live and on video. Why else do we refuse to admit the almost unitary link between the amount of violence depicted in the media and the growing incivility and violence in society?

Or it is that most of us don’t dislike violence enough to give up much of anything to stop it?

Can you think of another explanation? One that doesn’t involve blaming someone else?