It’s the language everyone speaks, but no one speaks about; until we listen to It, however, It will continue trying to make Itself understood.
By Robert Simmons
Viewing violence narrowly from the perspective of psychological dysfunction shirks the larger truth that the biological roots of rage exist in all of us.
R. Douglas Fields, Ph.D.
Since violence largely occurs without conscious thought…particularly relevant…are the psychodynamic principles that give us the capacity to observe ourselves [and] develop self-knowledge…so that we can apply that understanding to others.Bandy X. Lee , Causes and cures III: The Psychology of Violence
You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it.Grace Lee Boggs
At the time of our birth, each of us receives a Survival Toolkit, hardwired into our hindbrain, beyond our conscious reach. In the past, our pre-programmed hindbrain could navigate us through our entire day, telling us when to feed or fight or flee or fornicate, without a single bit of input from our conscious mind. As modern life has grown more complex, however, more and more input is needed from our frontal lobe; sadly, many of us still go through our day without significant input from the conscious part of our brain.
It does no psychological good to blame ourselves for this failing; besides, there are already plenty of people around to do that for us. The fact is, we all score low on mental discipline; we feed and fight and fornicate too much, flee from responsibility and accountability, and have a great propensity for oppressing, manipulating, and freeloading off of others when the opportunity arises.
In short, all of us could use mandatory psychological “bootcamp”, to train our “conscious” mind to better anticipate the pre-programmed proclivities of our “unconscious” mind. It would also help if Economics didn’t pander to our baser instincts, with manipulative offerings of sex and drugs and rock n’roll etc., designed to con hindbrains into coughing up all their cash.
But I digress. This essay is about “Violence”, the tool of last resort in our Survival Toolkit, designed to inflict damage, and because, per usual, we have had no formal training regarding this very powerful mechanism, it too gets misused and overused. Violence training is equivalent to the instruction men receive regarding their penis: just don’t talk about it and hope we never figure out how it works.
In order to mitigate Violence, the first step is to decide we want to mitigate it, because so far, at the systemic level, no one has made even a half-ass attempt to do so. We need to put down the match and the gasoline for a moment, and think about what’s really causing this fire.
The Psychology of Violence
- Nine out of ten incarcerated for violent crime are men
- 77% of the time, women are the homicide victim in spousal or intimate relationships
- Four out of five Suicide victims are men
- In the U.S., Homicide remains one of the top five causes of death for everyone age 1 to 44.
- The Universe was built with an accelerator pedal and no brakes. There is a consuming element to our Universe; a force propelling it to expand (to seek MORE). In reality, we do not really know if it is re-writing over an existing program, or simply filling a void; whether It will meet an opposing force at some point, or stop expanding and begin to collapse in on Itself. Whatever our future holds, the very existence of Death and Time seem to preclude the notion of an infinite Universe.
- All Human Motivation is based on Psychological needs, many of which involve pre-programmed survival instincts.
- When something is given, there is an internal surplus created, that needs to be shared; this is the source from which Power, the mechanism of Giving, is generated.
- When something is taken, there is an internal deficit created, that needs to be filled; this is the source from which Control, the mechanism of Extraction (or Taking), is activated.
The main reason we struggle to understand Violence is that, frankly, we are afraid to look it straight in the eye. We want so badly to anthropomorphize our animal instincts, and employ thought or feeling or morality toward something that existed long before any of those things evolved. Instead, we need to grow eyes that reach down past our so-called soul, to the subconscious stem of our primitive brain.
In Bandy X. Lee’s treatise on the Psychology of Violence, she writes of a gay man who decides to become a skinhead and openly persecute other gays, a bully who acts out due to personal insecurity about a mental disability, and a killer, who through the act of murder attempts to reverse his utterly desperate feelings of powerlessness. Though Violence travels many roads, typically these roads all lead to the intersection of Belongingness and Shame.
- A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the conscious realization of having done wrong.
- A loss of respect or esteem; dishonor.
- Reprove someone for something in an attempt to make them feel ashamed.
Unlike guilt, that freely admits to wrongdoing, and accepts the emotional consequences, Shame cut down much deeper – deep enough to breach the hidden barrier that hides our true self. Immediately, an alarm sounds; our true self has been exposed, and unless our conscientious mind calls off the troops, through that gaping hole, Violence will come pouring out. Anger can be Violent, for sure, but it is only when anger turns to Shame that pre-meditated murder happens. Shame, which informs our true self that it has been compromised, triggers the desperate impulse to destroy all the evidence.
Our conscientious mind (which houses any moral sense of right and wrong) is akin to a behavioral “immune system”. If this immune system is not constantly maintained, or is compromised in any way, it can be breached, either from the inside or the outside. Our conscientious code of ethics is really quite arbitrary, but even so, remains the only thing between civility and savagery. In times of War, soldiers must abandon all conscientious objection, and channel this true self, in order to carry out their orders. Later, back among “civilized society”, the “cognitive dissonance” created between these two opposing psychological forces often manifests itself in emotional trauma and suicide.
Our Conscientious code of ethics is meant to add layers of padding, to distance ourselves from the hidden truth of our past: that we are, at our base, amoral in character. If Neglect and abuse (even witnessing abuse) are the only lessons we learn at the beginning of life, we will, in effect, have no moral “padding” protecting us, and the wall between our true self and the self we create, in order to belong in civilized society, will be too thin to hold.
At this point, I would like to mention that there is another way toward morality: thanks to the development of a higher forebrain, we could choose morality. Our current unsustainable model of morality is to claim morality where none exists, and therefore are forced to punish anyone who makes the rest of us look bad; meanwhile, as individuals, we are vulnerable to killing ourselves or others to cover up the shame of being discovered as amoral. Finally, some of us have been so badly mistreated, we simply have no moral padding at all, and go through life a ticking time bomb.
Why do we even bother to put up this moral front? In order to belong. Despite this love-hate relationship we have with ourselves and those around us, we would never have gotten this far without each other.
Utilizing Maslow’s Hierarchy
Before the babies died, they lost all expression; they ceased all interaction. They did not even cry. They became inanimate.
Twenty babies in the test group received no attention or physical affection. Twenty in the control group did. The experiment, conducted in 1944, had to be shut down after half the infants in the test group suddenly died, apparently from emotional deprivation. Two more died soon after.
All of the babies in the control group went through the experiment unharmed. Oddly, those from the test group who survived later showed signs of stunted growth.
In 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow posed “A Theory of Human Motivation,” tying our decision-making processes to five core psychological needs. Our “Physiological” needs formed the foundation of Maslow’s pyramid, which included essentials like food, water, sleep, shelter, health, and reproduction.
From a child’s perspective, none of these needs could be met without the aid of another; a newborn gains access to the great worldwide web of people via a connection that runs through their mother and / or father. How we are nurtured, and toward what end, has everything to do with the behavioral path we follow the rest of our days. It informs us how we seek security, establish friendships, express affection, grow our self esteem, realize our potential, and treat both ourselves and others.
In this way, who we “belong to” has a lot to do with how we turn out; our connection to another person precedes, and therefore influences, all our behavioral choices, and thus makes Belongingness the primary driver (or foundation) of human disposition.
Studies have found a more profound link to antisocial personality disorders and violence through simple neglect (or the absence of love) than from actual physical abuse or hatred directed at children. Spousal abuse is often driven by people experiencing extreme physical abuse by parents early in life, or secondarily, by witnessing spousal abuse between parents. Children rejected by their parents were more likely to become bullies in school. Those who witness violence at a young age, or are the victim of it, have a high risk for meting out violence to others later in life. On a positive note, when families and neighborhoods support each other, many of these statistics drop significantly.
All these instances speak to the power of Belongingness, or the lack thereof. Even when our arbitrary code of ethics does not include killing cows or pigs or fish, we would not dare harm our pet cow or pig or fish, because we have brought them under our personal umbrella of Belonging. At the physiological level, many a war has been fought to secure favorable territory or resources. Those who are tasked to fight these wars receive none of the actual territory or resources they risked their lives to obtain; their only reward was the opportunity to belong to a group – one that gives them a sense of identity and self worth, and that ironically purports to provide safety while simultaneously placing them in the most extreme danger imaginable. This suggests that loyalty to a group usurps all other considerations, and becomes the prime purpose of their tenuous existence. Gang violence operates in a similar manner: in exchange for membership, individuals are willing to commit all manner of atrocities, and have all manner of atrocities befall them, in order to demonstrate loyalty and worthiness to the group.
The effects of Belongingness are easily detected:
If one is loved, they are filled with self worth: they nurture themselves (because they believe they are important) and thus are capable of disseminating benevolence; if one is neglected, abandoned, or shunned (i.e., they do not belong), they are filled with self-hatred; they torture themselves (because they believe they are unimportant) and thus are only capable of disseminating malevolence.
Violence as a Form of Communication (Where No One is Listening)
All Human Interaction is about Communication. If we have no interest in interacting with someone, we simply pass them by. Whether we smile, wave, or shoot a gun at someone, there is a message we are attempting to convey, and while Violence is not a message any of us wishes to receive, when we choose to ignore it as a society, or answer back with equivalent Violence, we are not comprehending the message. Until we respond to Violence correctly, it will continue to shout at us in Its attempt to be heard.
If an owner neglects their pet dog, they might come home to find their shoes all torn up; the dog is communicating its feelings of neglect. Because it’s a dog, it will probably get taken out for more “walks”; people are not so lucky, it’s usually straight to the “dog pound” for them.
Communication is about sharing information; when one speaks in the language of Violence, a pertinent question would be: where did they learn to speak it? Meanwhile, for every destructive behavior that Violence causes others, there is an equal or greater amount of self-destructive behavior we perpetrate on ourselves; both are clearly victims of some form of abuse, perpetrated by the main caregiver, who themselves was a victim of some form of abuse, and so on down the line. The cycle of Violence can be disrupted, but it will take a concerted effort.
Toward a Solution – Violence as a Healthcare Issue
The Third Option has designed a common sense first step approach toward Violence Mitigation:
- Create a sense of Fairness, Certainty, and Inclusivity by satisfying the lower “deficit needs” (Physiological, Security, Belongingness) of all Americans. This alone will counteract a significant amount of the emotional triggers for Violence.
- Install a system of Universal Mental Healthcare that allows Americans to address their various emotional needs, in the hope of managing the damage that has already been done.
- Begin a new system of Education, placing Mental Health (Emotional Bootcamp Training) at the center, and begin dissipating the generational ripple effects Violence perpetuates.
- Add Daycare for ages 1-2, Pre-K ages 3-4, and two years of Kindergarten, ages 5-6.
- Train our children in the area of Emotional Intelligence; teach them the language of Emotion, where Violence and other misunderstood behaviors can be better understood.
- Hone the skill of Empathy, in order to look past the personal indignity of the violence, and get to the underlying reasons for the behavior.
- Provide mental health counselors to assist teachers in this training process, who can also help detect and treat any signs of neglect or abuse already occurring within the classroom.
- Identify the feelings of Shame, Anger, or Isolation associated with being the victim of Violence, in the hope children would feel safer about opening up and sharing their own traumatic experiences; this could begin the process of reversing any permanent emotional damage, and goes to every one’s equal right to happiness, which could be seen as the overall emotional goal.
- Tackle all forms of Violence: start with bullying, shaming, name-calling, and fighting, then move on to hate speech and discrimination, all the while tying these behaviors to our Need for Belongingness, Esteem, and Safety / Security.
- Develop a PayBack Track within the curriculum, giving each grade an assignment, in order to “pay back” the cost of their education. These missions would start by helping at school, then branch out into the local community, the state, and finally to Peace Missions throughout the Globe. With each child tasked to complete an Associate Degree in a Physiological needs field by their senior year, these Global missions would be a chance to utilize their knowledge of water / sewer management, agriculture, energy, clothing, shelter and communication, to give all disadvantaged people a chance to feel more secure.
Meanwhile, we must confront the Violence we perpetuate systemically:
- Mental Healthcare will not be effective until we turn our Healthcare System from a profit-driven industry into a People-driven Safety need. Nearly two thirds of healthcare costs emanate from self-inflicted health outcomes that are exacerbated by underlying mental health issues. Regardless of the inevitable loss of profits (caused by people getting healthier), counseling should be provided to proactively address mental health issues before they morph into physical health crises.
- Categorize all but the most violent crimes as cries for help, and forgo prison for true rehabilitation facilities, where health professionals can assess the underlying struggles of each individual, stabilize their situation, then use time served to provide job training that leads to guaranteed work. This can begin to chip away at our current unsustainable incarceration strategy.
- Place FBI “peace officers” within communities, to serve as advocates for the people living there. Unarmed, they can direct troubled citizens where they need to go, and take some of the burden off the local police, whose job is often to address situations in a punitive way.
- Through a National Bank dividend, provide housing for homeless people, outside the community, complete with healthcare and job training opportunities, should they wish to come back into the larger community and contribute again.
As Grace Lee Boggs pointed out, we cannot change any societal issues until we first take ownership of our society, admit we belong to it, and are therefore accountable for what goes on within it.
In the taxonomy of the Universe there are two Domains: Giving (which is Power, or Light) and Taking (which is Control, or Darkness). If We choose the Domain of Control, we will remain in the Kingdom of Oppression, and continue to be part of this Order called Violence. Control is always going to be something we take, because it was never ours. Giving is the only thing we actually own; it is the only thing we ever create. All else is discovery of what was always there, waiting for our slowly developing brain to finally notice. Someday, we will notice that Giving is better than Taking; until then, we continue to rule in hell.