The Reality of Violence

“Non-violence” by Swedish sculptor Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd U.N. Visitor’s Plaza, New York, New York A gift from Luxembourg.

“Non-violence” by Swedish sculptor Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd
U.N. Visitor’s Plaza, New York, New York
A gift from Luxembourg.

By GENE HOWINGTON

There are patterns in the world and this is illustrative of one of them. There is a tragedy, some horrid even where a lot of people have died senseless deaths and often for doing nothing more egregious than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The media grabs the story. There is sensation reporting. There are third-parties who use the coverage to promote their own pet causes. In the end, when the coverage fades and the cameras turn to the next “big thing”, you are left with the essence you started with: tragedy. Somewhere, somebody is missing someone taken from their lives by violence or accident. The public memory fades, but the private pain lingers on longer.

Take for example the coverage concerning the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado. If you possess even a minimal level of empathy for your fellow human beings, twelve dead and fifty-eight wounded when their only crime was wanting to see a movie can only be properly described as tragic. Among the dead are a man who had been celebrating his twenty-seventh birthday (Alex Sullivan), a member of our Navy (Petty Officer Third Class John Larimer), a twenty-four year old aspiring sports journalist (Jessica Ghawi), and a six year-old girl (Veronica Moser Sullivan).

As the aftermath unfolded, people with various political agendas trying to monopolize on this shooting to promote their pet causes came forward, some in a most heinous manner. During a radio interview on The Heritage Foundation’s “Istook Live!” show, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said that the shootings were a result of “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs” . . . and questioned why nobody else in the theater had a gun to take down the shooter. Gohmert in one fell swoop illustrated that not only is he a base political opportunist, but that he apparently doesn’t understand the 1st or 2nd Amendments very well – a common affliction among Texas pols. Others pols used this tragedy as a way to promote their anti-gun agendas, their pro-gun agendas and the Twitter-verse filled with statements from “our leaders” about this tragic event and all of them in some way self-serving. And what are we left with now that the media has moved on to fresher “product”? Somewhere, somebody is still missing someone taken from their lives. The private pain lingers. After the media heat, the cost is still the same for those touched personally. The facts are important. The human cost is important. The memory is important. The media and political spectacle? Not really. Putting aside the hangers on and the sensationalism, what underlies these kind of senseless acts of violence? Madness, certainly. Even madness has root causations even if it doesn’t always posses logic.

The accused gunman at Aurora had dyed his hair red and told the police he “was the Joker”. The gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary had a fixation with violent video games. A young Missouri teen who killed one of her young friends did so because she “wanted to see what it felt like”. A detachment from reality is often present in dealing with violent psychopaths and sociopaths. However, violence is a part of our entertainment culture and it has been since the first stories were made up and retold around a fire on the African veldt. There is the fantasy of violence. There is the reality of violence. They could not be more different in outcome. This kinds of episodes this where the line between fantasy and reality have clearly been crossed in some meaningful manner causes one to question how does the fictional impact the real. Does this problem distinguishing between fantasy and reality exist in the individual or in society itself? The answer might be “a little of both”.

Jon Blunk and Jansen Young

Jon Blunk and Jansen Young

Consider this: one of the elements of drama is that the hero (or something or someone the hero holds dear) must be in peril. It creates tension, it moves the story. You cannot have drama without an element of danger or risk and very often that danger or risk is portrayed in the form of physical violence. As a species, we are wired to find this entertaining.  There is nothing wrong with a bit of wish fulfillment in seeing the hero overcome adversity as entertaining.

The reality is starkly different. Witness real heroes like Jon Blunk who was killed defending his girlfriend Jansen Young during this rampage. Witness Jarell Brooks, a 19-year-old from Aurora, who put himself at risk to help Patricia Legarreta and her two young children escape, but not before he and Legarreta were wounded. Witness Eric Hunter, a 23-year-old from Aurora, who found two wounded girls and dragged them to safety in an adjoining theater before blocking the door to Theater 8 and preventing the alleged gunman from spreading his gunfire in to a new room of innocent theater goers.

All three possible outcomes. Death, wounding, escape from physical harm. All three equally heroic in that other lives were saved, some of them strangers with nothing in common but a love of the same kind of cinema and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a funny thing about heroism though. As F. Scott Fitzgerald famously quipped, “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” In real life, the tragedies and the heroics are real and have real consequences. The hero does not always win the day as they are prone to do in fiction.

Does our propensity for dramatic entertainment, let alone dramas involving violence, feed a propensity for violence? This is a question as old as drama itself. On one side of the argument is the catharsis argument put forth by Aristotle in Poetics; that in viewing tragic events, the audience’s negative feelings like fear and pity are purged. This line of reasoning was later supported by psychologists and psychiatrists such as Sigmund Freud and A.A. Brill. On the other side are modern researchers who have found correlations between watching violence and the rate of violence in society, but causal connections between the two in the general population have been difficult to pin down. What is clear is that “exposure to media violence does not produce violent criminals out of all viewers, just as cigarette smoking does not produce lung cancer victims out of all smokers. This lack of perfect correspondence between heavy media violence exposure and violent behavior simply means that media violence exposure is not a necessary and sufficient cause of violence.” (“Media Violence and the American Public” by Brad J. Bushman and Craig A. Anderson, Iowa State University, American Psychologist, June/July issue, p. 482, 2001.) That a small segment of society seems particularly susceptible to being prodded in to violence through the consumption of media violence though seems undeniable. To me, this seems to comport with the rate in society of people with mental problems revolving around empathy like sociopaths and psychopaths. People who lack empathy would naturally not connect the actuality of violence with the fantasy of violence as they don’t care about the impact of their actions on others to begin with. Correlation is not causation and the root causes of violence are more complex than just a person’s entertainment choices. There are also environmental, social, economic, and personal history to consider. Some people in certain situations are simply going to be more prone to violence. While causation in the general population has been found in desensitization toward violence and violent entertainment, causation of real life violence with fictional violence has been more elusive although desensitization in itself has been can “[increase] aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal and aggressive behaviors, and decreases helpful behaviors.”

As a society, do we have a duty to mitigate all factors that can induce violent behavior in individuals? Even if that susceptible segment of society is a very small percentage of society? With complex compound causation, this is a practically impossible task, and even if “perfect mitigation” of contributing factors was had there are a certain percentage of society that are going to be violent psychopaths no matter what their environment is like. Where to do we draw the line a social inputs that can encourage violence and personal responsibility for individual action? Consider this as well: do we have the same duty to mitigate when the violence perpetrated by sociopaths and psychopaths is economic (as in the banking industry shenanigans that birthed the OWS movement), is purely psychological (as seen in pathologically verbally abusive spouses) or is purely political (as in the religious far right attempting to trample history and the Constitution to institute theocratic laws if not outright theocracy)?

Perfection is not possible. Evil cannot be eliminated or mitigated in the world for without it we have no definition of good. The perfect removal of error from complex systems is a mathematical impossibility. Does that mean we should not try?

What do you think?

About Gene Howington

I write and do other stuff.
This entry was posted in Heroism, Law Enforcement, Media, Mental Health, Society, United States. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Reality of Violence

  1. Bob, Esq. says:

    “As a society, do we have a duty to mitigate all factors that can induce violent behavior in individuals?”

    Oh sure Gene; absolutely! Totalitarian governments are groovy!

  2. Gene H. says:

    I’m surprised at the depth of your sarcasm, sir! :mrgreen:

    Nah. I’m down with it, Bob. Really I think the best thing that can be done short of totalitarian solutions is to make sure kids are taught the skills to distinguish reality from fiction. Anything beyond that is either an undesirable political solution or an effort to “regulate teh crazee” (an effort inherently doomed to fail).

    It’s a question worth asking though.

  3. Oky1 says:

    Aurora, Colorado, Sandy Hook, etc., since there was no proper investigation into either I have every reason to suspect the Govt was likely involved in both cases for political & other reasons.

    The Aurora case has a special kind of stink about it considering who the shooter’s doc was.

    Strong evidence is the best way to resolve cases, not speculation & PR hype, but to each their own.

    Moving on to violence, consider a kid growing up in a ghetto & another kid growing up sheltered in the complete absence of violence.

    The ghetto kid grows accustom to living around violence & isn’t as shocked when they are around it & will likely react faster to protect their interests.

    The sheltered kid likely will not recognize the signs that something violent may be about to happen & thus much more likely become the victim of violence when it breaks out.

    The way society always was in the past there was bullying by kids against other kids & most kids figured out how to deal with it. Now in the day of “Time Outs” & other such, (my word) BS, kids end up lacking real world coping skills when confronting violence.

    There will not be an authority figure there every time someone is confront with a possibility of a violent confrontation.

    Currently political/big business leaders on all sides are promoting violence among their Gen Pops here & in Europe, because the last thing they can have happen is for the Gen Pop to come together as group & non-violently attack political/big business leaders on all sides for being the main cause of most of the problems of the Gen Pop.

    IE: The 10 Commandments on the OK State Capital grounds, it’s nothing but another in the long line of PR BS meant to be distraction from the Gen Pops real problems issues. …. Aurora, Colorado, Sandy Hook, etc.,

  4. Oky1 says:

    Feel Good Laws/Reg/Policies causes Violence, Wreck Families.

    Federal Reserve System: Causes Inflation Tax that hurts the poorest the most.

    Zero % Interest policies means Savers have no interest income to depend on/spend into the Economy.

    Liability Laws/Regs: Mandatory Auto Insurance pulls money out of local economies & decreases the amount of money to put more people to work.

    All Insurance does the same type things to the economy & cause risk, including the risk of violence to massively increased.

    Liability Laws scare people from hiring people to mow their yards, clean fences, flower beds. When considered in the context of what would be considered an employee by the govt, individuals & employers run from hiring anyone to do anything more then just the absolute bear minimum of people needed.

    Bear in mind I’m just saying there are better methods then the current govt laws/regs/polices, but most can’t think or won’t.

    I was pretty sick a couple of years ago. The girl had a car broke down so we got her another one & I let the one set.

    When I got to feeling better I fixed the used car to where it was salable. When I went to update the tags I seen the State had massively increased the cost of out of date tags in their never ending zest to raise taxes on citizens. Ya, I paid up.

    It got me thinking of all the economic damage the state had done by raising those car tags on older vehicles to support new car sales.

    Not everyone can be Lawyers, Doctors, Wallst traders, etc.
    85-90% of Americans are on the bottom of the income scale, way, way below those on top.

    Some people as a side line after work or in between jobs patch up used cars & the buy new/used autoparts & other services to fix them.

    With the profit margins likely already thin those new high tags cost are large enough to put a huge dent in that type biz activity.

    This is also the reason I was totally disgusted with OK’s new salvage law.

    People struggling without a job or an employee attempting to supplement their income scrapping after hours, or people engaged full time running a salvage biz I believe these new arbitrary, unconstitutional laws/regs will greatly damage that sub industry.

    The only thing I saw in the law I like was rules against burning scrap copper, but they even screwed that up. They could have just placed a 30% tax on the burnt copper & that would have been enough to cause the sellers to stop burning it as the only reason, most of the time, they burn it was to get a higher price for it.

    I know some disagree or do not understand, but little things like the used car biz, salvage biz, lawn mowing, house cleaning, etc. these were things people used to do to make ends meet “No Matter How Bad the Govt & the Do Gooders Phk;ed Up the Economy.”

    You boys just keep taking away all means of survival to those boys on the bottom & then the only thing left is for them to become Violent!

    For your information from someone I know that has worked on the inside of Ok’s welfare dept, there is no help for people there, it’s a dead end trap.

  5. Gene H. says:

    There is a difference between reality and fantasy. It’s important.
    But I think people should do the minimum to help bears. They’re wild animals and best left alone.
    However, I’m pretty sure nobody ever went out of business because of mandatory automobile insurance (if they did, they were doing something very wrong), you can still find scrap yards that make money (I can drive to two from my house), and liability laws have never discouraged the lawn care business. I can pick up my phone and call any one of several such services in my area and get my lawn tended tomorrow and to my specifications. In fact, the one I used last year was run by a college kid and his brother to help with school associated expenses. They do well enough at it that it is their only job besides going to school.

  6. Oky1 says:

    ** Bear in mind I’m just saying there are better methods then the current govt laws/regs/polices, but most can’t think or won’t. **

    The current structure causes funds to flow in a vertical manner into the hands of the multi-nationals.

    They then take a very small piece of those profits from over priced products to lobby congress/govt bureaucracies to ever tighter restrictions on everyone but them, thus further locking in the monopoly control.

    I can argue your same position, but then I would have to also admit to the sorry shape of the US/European economies and the absolute desperation many of the citizens are in.

    I see in the news this week US govt is also so concerned about the high cost of labor their contract slave labor from prisoners.

    I see today Obama went out & offered up to 5 groups special favors through more of some sort of economic zones.

    Maybe it’s always been that way, friends of those in power get the gravy & those that are not friends get the crumbs, but it doesn’t mean it’s a viable way to run this railroad. (Us economy)

    Ret CEO Bob Crandall of American Airlines was taken much the same position I am back in the mid 80’s when the nation was no where near this far down the rabbit hole.

  7. Charlton Stanley says:

    A friend of mine, child psychologist Dr. Ron Drabman, did a lot of research on the effect of media on violent behavior in kids. Dr. Drabman had groups of kids watch carefully selected television programs for a pre-set period of time, then allowed free play in the play therapy room. Some of the programs had no violence at all in them, either verbal or non-verbal. Other kids watched professional wrestling. The ones who watched the wrestling engaged in much more violent and aggressive behavior afterwards. This kind of behavior was not observed in those children who watched entertainment programs sans violence.

    These experiments were conducted before really violent video games were introduced. If watching WWE makes kids violent, I hate to think of the effect ‘Bulletstorm’, ‘Grand Theft Auto’, ‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Postal’ might have.

    There have been several studies which purport to show no causal relationship between violent acts and engagement with violence in media and gaming. The problem is a matter of numbers. Also, is it the game that triggers the violence, or the violent nature of the gamer who is attracted to these games? Millions of people view and interact with violent media without committing acts of violence. Just as millions of weapons owners never commit a violent act. The problem with epidemiological research is the rarity of the act proportional to the general populace.

  8. Oky1 says:

    I used to hear years back that you feed a dog gunpowder & that would make them as mean as a junkyard dog. I don’t know.

    But it causes me to also consider environmental pollutants as a potential cause to violence.

    One that I’ve heard brought up a few times was lead in paints & gasoline & I guess the FBI stats report violent crime dropping overall from about the time lead was removed from those products.

    I’m not sure how someone could confirm or refute whether removal of lead caused a meaningful change to the stats.

  9. Oky1 says:

    OS,

    I seen this interesting piece & saved it:

    Ignatius

    Securiphobia.

    DSM-5 is already out, but maybe you can get it in DSM-6.

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    Wed, 01/08/2014 – 00:12 | 4310620 Musashi Miyamoto
    Musashi Miyamoto’s picture

    Where to start?….

    http://www.healthnewsreview.org/2012/12/critic-calls-american-psychiatri

    Dr. Allen Frances writes that the American Psychiatric Association approval of the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual this past weekend marks “a sad day for psychiatry.“ Frances, psychiatry professor emeritus at Duke, chaired the DSM-4 task force.

    He lists the top ten changes that he says should be ignored:

    “I would suggest that clinicians not follow these at all (or, at the very least, use them with extreme caution and attention to their risks); that potential patients be deeply skeptical, especially if the proposed diagnosis is being used as a rationale for prescribing medication for you or for your child; and that payers question whether some of these are suitable for reimbursement. My goal is to minimize the harm that may otherwise be done by unnecessary obedience to unwise and arbitrary DSM 5 decisions.

    1) Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder: DSM 5 will turn temper tantrums into a mental disorder- a puzzling decision based on the work of only one research group. We have no idea whatever how this untested new diagnosis will play out in real life practice settings, but my fear is that it will exacerbate, not relieve, the already excessive and inappropriate use of medication in young children. During the past two decades, child psychiatry has already provoked three fads- a tripling of Attention Deficit Disorder, a more than twenty-times increase in Autistic Disorder, and a forty-times increase in childhood Bipolar Disorder. The field should have felt chastened by this sorry track record and should engage itself now in the crucial task of educating practitioners and the public about the difficulty of accurately diagnosing children and the risks of over- medicating them. DSM 5 should not be adding a new disorder likely to result in a new fad and even more inappropriate medication use in vulnerable children.

    2) Normal grief will become Major Depressive Disorder, thus medicalizing and trivializing our expectable and necessary emotional reactions to the loss of a loved one and substituting pills and superficial medical rituals for the deep consolations of family, friends, religion, and the resiliency that comes with time and the acceptance of the limitations of life.

    3) The everyday forgetting characteristic of old age will now be misdiagnosed as Minor Neurocognitive Disorder, creating a huge false positive population of people who are not at special risk for dementia. Since there is no effective treatment for this ‘condition’ (or for dementia), the label provides absolutely no benefit (while creating great anxiety) even for those at true risk for later developing dementia. It is a dead loss for the many who will be mislabeled.

    4) DSM 5 will likely trigger a fad of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder leading to widespread misuse of stimulant drugs for performance enhancement and recreation and contributing to the already large illegal secondary market in diverted prescription drugs.

    5) Excessive eating 12 times in 3 months is no longer just a manifestation of gluttony and the easy availability of really great tasting food. DSM 5 has instead turned it into a psychiatric illness called Binge Eating Disorder.

    6) The changes in the DSM 5 definition of Autism will result in lowered rates- 10% according to estimates by the DSM 5 work group, perhaps 50% according to outside research groups. This reduction can be seen as beneficial in the sense that the diagnosis of Autism will be more accurate and specific- but advocates understandably fear a disruption in needed school services. Here the DSM 5 problem is not so much a bad decision, but the misleading promises that it will have no impact on rates of disorder or of service delivery. School services should be tied more to educational need, less to a controversial psychiatric diagnosis created for clinical (not educational) purposes and whose rate is so sensitive to small changes in definition and assessment.

    7) First time substance abusers will be lumped in definitionally in with hard core addicts despite their very different treatment needs and prognosis and the stigma this will cause.

    8) DSM 5 has created a slippery slope by introducing the concept of Behavioral Addictions that eventually can spread to make a mental disorder of everything we like to do a lot. Watch out for careless overdiagnosis of internet and sex addiction and the development of lucrative treatment programs to exploit these new markets.

    9) DSM 5 obscures the already fuzzy boundary been Generalized Anxiety Disorder and the worries of everyday life. Small changes in definition can create millions of anxious new ‘patients’ and expand the already widespread practice of inappropriately prescribing addicting anti-anxiety medications.

    10) DSM 5 has opened the gate even further to the already existing problem of misdiagnosis of PTSD in forensic settings.”

  10. Gene H. says:

    Chuck,

    You point to some of my precise problems with the studies in question. That is in part why I framed this as a “reality” debate rather than violence in media per se. I honestly am not sure about the violence to violence correlation, but I am fairly certain about the reality versus fantasy connection when dealing with some extreme behaviors. I think the content of the confabulation isn’t as key as the confabulation itself in losing control/taking extreme actions. I may be wrong, but there it is.

  11. Oky1 says:

    I tended to watch these subjects for some time. I don’t know what I gained from it, but I watch because I’m interested in market stats & changing demographics.

    Some of you may have seen these next 2 I recently posted at JTs.

    This 1st one reminds me of the too many Goldfish in the fish bowl syndrome:

  12. Oky1 says:

    This one here in a large part has to due with UN/US govt planning of High Density housing & shopping & how it turns people hostile, aggressive & violent tendencies like road rage, fights in parking lots over a parking space, etc..

    On a funny note the best rage incident I’ve ever seen was over a guy cutting another off another at the gas pumps. Two big ole boys get out of their pickup headed over to kick the lil guy’s butt. The lil guy already had the gas pump in his hand & just as the anger guy was getting ready to hit him he opened up on the guy with the gasoline nozzle & hosed him down. 🙂

    Needless to say the fight was over before it hardly began.

    ** Oky1

    Thom,

    After many decades in the building biz I noticed areas I had worked around years earlier were becoming ghetto like.

    Some much so I could see the new areas we we building would be highly pron to become ghettos.

    In other areas much of the Mc Mansions being built across the US nothing more then fresh ghettos.

    High density pits of hell full of anger people ready to explode into a mental breakdown.

    Anyone can witness this phenomenon at the local Walmart, from the roads leading into it, the parking lot, to inside the store.

    Best viewing is just after the 1st of the month, but it’s basically year round.

    I mentioned this to a local architect friend & ask him to stop a take a look at the ghettos & ghost towns we were building.

    He took it to heart & drove most of the area & then flew over all of it.

    He was so taken he wrote an article about it here in a local paper.

    No doubt you’ve seen pictures of the bombed out Detroit & all along North to South Mississippi River basin.

    Take a glance at the back half of this video of what’s being built in Mumbai, India. This is already starting to happen in the USA, NY,NY, San Francisco, etc..

    It all seems to be part of that UN’s Agenda 21 crap.
    Save Rural America, (dot) com has some detail on that Agenda 21. **

  13. Tony C. says:

    I think we have to show at least some preponderance of evidence that people are being harmed in order to pass laws that would plausibly reduce that harm, with the caveat that the reduction in harm must also account for any increase in “collateral” harm by a reduction in Rights or freedoms.

    Some such laws are obvious, it is difficult to see how prohibiting theft would reduce somebody else’s Rights or freedom.

    But in this case the proof is far more difficult. It might not take much science to provide clear and convincing evidence that fictional violence increases real violence. But the collateral damage to freedom, which would be blanket censorship, seems far too high to me.

    I don’t know how Aurora or Sandy Hook might have been prevented, but I am inclined to think gun control and better security would be a better path than censorship. I know, making assault weapons illegal would mean only criminals own assault weapons. That is true. But that would still be a massive reduction in the availability of assault weapons, because vanishingly few of us would risk, say, six months in prison and a $25,000 fine in order to own one (and probably the loss of career, home, and everything else).

    Freedom and Liberty have a price measured in Responsibility and Risk. We have a responsibility to others to protect their freedom and liberty and to punish those that violate it (typically for us measured in taxes), and we have to assume the risk that others will abuse their freedom and liberty to harm others, including us. That they will is inevitable; as long as we are free people will be victims of rape, murder, robbery, theft and fraud.

    It is part of our responsibility to others to minimize the restraints on absolute freedom while maximizing the protection against those that would abuse it.

  14. Gene H. says:

    Tony,

    “I think we have to show at least some preponderance of evidence that people are being harmed in order to pass laws that would plausibly reduce that harm, with the caveat that the reduction in harm must also account for any increase in “collateral” harm by a reduction in Rights or freedoms.”

    That’s right at the heart of the balancing act. Sometimes that analysis reveals that even though there is a harm, that it is so minimal a social or individual impact that making a law and enforcing it simply isn’t cost effective. For example, Byron likes to complain about “regulating the color of margarine”. And he’s right to do so. It’s a stupid law, promoted by the dairy industry, that the enforcement of costs more than it is worth to society. So long as the food coloring used is safe? Who – besides the dairy industry – gives a damn what color margarine is? Necessity is a component in the good law/bad law analysis as well that is always lurking behind utility.

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