Thursday, January 13, 2011

Violence and Human Nature: Contingency of Opposites

Per Newton's Law, "For every action, there is an equal or opposite reaction;" suggesting forces of nature, bound by opposition, hold the universe in balance through the tension between opposites. To illustrate, if one pushes a stack of books in any direction, the converse action is that the books are pushed in a new direction. Essentially, one cannot move books without affecting the space outside of the action (or the original space of the books). This relationship of action to reaction seemingly governs all energy in the physical universe. Interestingly, since the beginning of recordable history, the contingency of opposites has intrigued the thinking man. However, man's consideration does not end with physics; but such explorations lead to the discovery of opposites within all realms of experience--psychology, sociology, economics, and so on. Through identifying related ideas, man builds conceptualization packages. These packages are often connected by two extremities or opposites, normally of equal impact. For example, the opposite of famished could be satisfied, but perhaps a more appropriate selection would be stuffed. A state of satisfaction would fall on the continuum between famished and stuffed, yet does not effectively communicate the polarization of famine. However, through understanding a feeling of hunger and fullness, one can understand his precise state of hunger in relation to the two opposites. Intriguingly, many basic understandings of everyday ideas most clearly translate through their relation to this supposed continuum—darkness is the absence of light; freedom, the absence of fear, and suggestively—evil, the absence of good. Although modestly dogmatic, such symbiotic definitions help conceptualize otherwise elusive ideas.

In addition, as any good debater would agree, to understand the “other side” of an argument enhances understanding of the defense. Similarly, if man never experienced pain, would he be aware that he had been "painless" his entire life? Certainly not. For, if the entire world were filled with light, no concept of darkness could exist. Seemingly, the spectrums created by the opposites of physical laws also exist within functions of the physiological nature. To entertain this theory, evil and violence—met by good and benevolence—may construct the pendulum which holds humanity in balance. Admittedly, this suggestion projects a depraved outlook for a hopeless world eternally bound to both good and evil, yet such a proposition also offers unmatched grace to those with a “propensity” towards violence. However, before exploring the affects of violence and benevolence, a return to the qualifications of such concepts may prove beneficial.

To return to a definition of violence, specific classification or an action set of what violence is may actually restrict understanding of this force. Therefore, an investigation of violence in connection with benevolence may offer aid. Throughout cultures and across time, man has somehow come to an agreement of the appropriate ways in which humans should interact—i.e., morality or benevolence. Simply, violence could be stated as any action outside of these moral codes. For example, both a native hut-village of interior Uganda and a suburban settlement in Iowa both possess similar concepts of ownership. Considering this idea, both groups would more than likely agree that when a person owns an object, no other person should take this object from him without consent. The justification for this synchronism perhaps that thievery could leave a rightful owner without a possession that necessary for survival. At base, this incident could harm the rightful owner at the expense of the coveter's desire. Such action would go against the universal moral code. Similar codes govern the physical interaction between people. In athletics, one may use aggressive force towards her opponent, so long as the force complies with the rules of the game. However, after the whistle blows in a football down, aggression renders a penalty and would be considered "violent" or "aggressive." Seemingly, violence acts against the moral code that humanity has established.

Yet, if this is the case, then what of those not informed of this moral code? In some homes across America, parents see no problem disciplining their children with spankings or belt lashings, yet the school system no longer tolerates corporal punishment. Within the national borders, only a different setting, varying standards define the concept of violence. However, violence seems to speak to a greater degree of action than discipline alone, or any abstracted event, could portray objectively.

Moving forward, a definition of violence may be tied to the emotion or state of mind of the aggressor, making an already elusive concept that much more difficult to explicate. Yet the irony remains that given a set of events, both violent and non-violent, the vast majority of civilization could agree upon a similar division. Even serial killers acknowledge the violence of their crimes, so although the conceptualization of violence appears evident, to investigate the true nature of violence requires definitive qualities (or non-qualities) of violence. Thus, in examining the emotive connection to violence, such feelings of anger, disappointment, fear, and jealousy (among others) become primal motivators. Yet, as any psychologist would concur, these emotions are subsidiary to a deeper issue, symptoms of a greater disease. In tracing the roots of these emotions, one often finds disappointment masquerading as anger, or jealousy a result of disappointment, or anger really pointing directly to a fear. In the misidentification of such emotions, the connectivity emerges, alluding to the similar origins of the different motivators. Suggestively, the greatest upsets within the individual arise from unmet expectations. Perhaps each act of violence, motivated by a symptom of emotion (the catalyst), finds its roots deeper within some disappointment experienced by the aggressor. Perhaps a man that works five days a week feels entitled to a new house. If his salary does not support this expectation, perhaps he decides to rob a bank. When he enters the bank and demands money at gunpoint, he looks around and sees all of the people around him, unaware of his predicament. He may feel isolated, undermined, or short-changed. In his resolution, he deserves a new home, and his own disappointment leads him to be angry with the people at the bank making transactions and living their own lives. The people around him may become symbols of his disappointment. And an act that began as a personal means to a goal, transforms into a violent vindication, punishing all those that may possess what he believes he deserves. Although only one imagined scenario out of an innumerable number of recorded armed robberies that occur annually around the world, by tracing the roots of the aggressor's violence in this scenario, one finds that the motivation neither ends with his violence nor a propensity towards violence, but the aggressor's act eventually amounts to an unmet expectation. Thus, violence could now be defined as the possible result of unmet expectations. Yet, the search cannot end at this point. For, just as humanity has decided upon a moral code, so it seems individual cultures create standards of life, coined humanity.

Unfortunately, expectations within a society do not flawlessly translate from the collective mind of society to the individual; otherwise, humanity may experience something like Utopia. However, in this miscommunication, misapplication, misunderstanding or misgiving, conflict arises within the individual through the disunity of her belief of entitlement and the realization of her status. Yet, many resolve to reassess their situation and redefine their expectations, leading to positive growth. Investigation must turn to those whom the disappointment overcomes. Defeat in the face of disappointment open the discussion to an incalculable number of possibilities. At this point, culture, biological, socioeconomic, and genetic factors contribute to how the individual reconciles this emotion. Not being a psychologist, scientist, sociologist, economist, nor genealogist, further hypothesizing would be in vain. Yet, in the recognition of such divergence, the observer finds that all avenues of study reconnect with the human--for man can only know what man can experience. Thus, the point of consideration available to each man remains within man. The practice of philosophy would lead the observer to return to the purpose or causation of expectations.

Interestingly, etymology would link expectation to experience, for man cannot expect what he has not experienced in some measure. At base, man survives. Survival suggests a need. Each compulsion of man drives propulsion, whether action or inaction. And each compulsion represents an attempt to resolve a need. Need, in this sense, does not suggest common understandings of physical necessity, but physiological internalizations of significance within the human psyche. With this understanding, expectations reflect some need. To contemplate need, one may ask, what need does a person have to purchase a BMW? Would not a Ford Focus meet the same assumed need for transportation? Perhaps this person seeks personal validation, social validation, or even self-fulfillment. In any case, these needs point to a universal need of significance or purpose, goals uniquely tied to giving and receiving love. The person may not rob a bank to meet this need, but would he put his financial stability or responsibility at risk? Such an outcome has similar undesired results as violence. And when he is unable to afford his purchase, suppose the man seeks other options to support his purchase. Perhaps he begins only selling drugs. Eventually, a client may become dissatisfied with their purchase. When they demand their money back, what option does this leave the man with the car, assuming he has already allocated this money for himself? Perhaps now violence becomes an option for him. Without spending too much time on the philosophic discourse of these needs, another example may elucidate this phenomenon, beginning with the need. A woman finds herself questioning her self-worth. She has never been in love and does not feel lovable, nor does she see any purpose for her life. She meets a boy that she believes likes her. She offers him herself as his lover. Nine months later she has a newborn, but she is excited because now her life is for her baby. But, the boy she loved is not ready to have a family or settle down. She is heartbroken, but she loves her child and decides to make a life for herself. She works two jobs and comes home to be with her baby. The baby's father is not keeping up with child support, so finances are becoming a stress. She takes on more hours and picks up other peoples' shifts. She comes home tired to her baby. Her baby won't stop crying. Working two part time jobs--neither which offer insurance--and a baby that needs to see a doctor, her plight is becoming overwhelming. One evening, she arrives home exhausted. More tired than she could ever imagine her body being. She sits in her chair and begins to cry. She no longer feels the same fulfillment she once remembered. The baby beings to cry. The baby is screaming. She cannot do anything. She doesn't know what to do. She picks the baby up from the crib as her cries and whaling begin to match the babies. She holds the baby in the air and all she can see is the man that left her and her insufficient paychecks. All she can feel is heartbreak, loneliness and exhaustion. Well, one can imagine the various tragedies that could result from such a state of destitution. Yet, even with such unlikely origins, imagination can nonetheless render a picture of the potential violence.

Ultimately, humanity may not be at a point to universally address violence at the very core, and such an a attempt may not even be possible, in the practical sense. However, there are many areas of education, evaluation, and evolution that help address and understand the nature of violence. Yet, such a cosmic force as violence will not be absolved until applied in this same macro-context. To sincerely reach the core of violence, humanity must be willing to investigate the core of the individual and realize the eternal needs of purpose and love.

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