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The Siren Song of Violence

I should have a mirror in front of me as I write this—I am a needed audience for these thoughts, which occurred as I wrote Monday’s Kony post.

Humanity is a brutal species, and we have known strife and warfare since Cain slew Abel. As society ‘advanced’ we began to develop philosophical reservations with our bloodlust, yet at an equal pace we found increasingly sophisticated rationalizations for it, and ways to enjoy the adrenaline rush of battle and conflict with less blood, or at least less on our own personal hands.

In this ‘development,’ something even more sinister emerged—violence became a spectator sport. ‘Bloodgames’ like the gladiators, public executions, jousting tourneys and many early sports allowed people in times of relative peace and ease to pretend they were part of great battles…and still be secure in their own beds that night.

With the advent of novels and particularly movies, we became another step removed from the brutality of it, able to view it with romanticism. We see in the stories and movies how the bad guys get it in the end, right at the climax, and we cheer at their defeat, and all the louder the more grisly it is. Then the hero takes a deep breath, kisses the girl, and off into the sunset, happily ever after.

The message of these movies is clear:  if you have a problem with someone, the simplest answer is to waste them and the problem is resolved, happily ever after with no repercussions.

This message is also a lie.

I wonder if the prevalence of PTSD today is because of our now deeply ingrained romantic views on violence are shattered when met by the real thing. In the past, the real thing was such a part of life that we learned to deal with it and move on because we couldn’t let it consume us. Life was too precious and the good times, the times of relative peace, were rare enough that they had to be cherished.

Violence was the norm and peace the reward, whereas now, we consider peace the norm and real violence a failure. This is not a paradox (being addicted to violence but viewing the real thing as failure), anymore than any other aspect of human nature that embraces that which repulses us and vice versa.

As Americans, we are accustomed to the peace and security our geographic isolation, economic and military power have bought us. Our status as a superpower and global policeman have become deeply ingrained in the minds of many. It is easy, therefore, to see the projection of force, especially using our technology, as an ‘easy’ solution to world problems. This is just as naïve as the other viewpoint that says that all problems can be solved by simple dialogue.

We humans are rather too complex for simple solutions, and all too often, simplistic solutions end up being just as unjust as the problem they seek to solve.

We all must wean ourselves from the lie that cutting the head off the snake is a neat and clean ending for our troubles. There is usually a mess to clean up, and possibly a hydra emerging from the carcass. This side of heaven, we will not escape violence. Neither are we required to idolize it.


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