Are human naturally violent? Essay
Are human naturally violent?
We are surrounded by violence. Kids take it in with their first mouthful of cereals. They will see eighteen thousand (18,000) violent deaths on television by the time they graduate from high school. They will watch physical brutality in prime-time sports and learn that “bullets and bombs” make gridiron heroes. They will hear our respected political leaders tell us why we need to start a new war. They will be spanked by their parents and learn that violence and love go hand-in-hand. If it is not biologically innate, then violence must be something people teach (Kaufman, 2002).
Violence is basically an act of aggression. There are many definitions of violence, one of which is that violence is the use of strength – overt or hidden – with the objective of obtaining from an individual or a group something they do not want to consent to freely (Bandura, 1961). Further, it must be noted that there are different kinds of violence. One must distinguish between direct and indirect or structural violence: Direct violence equates to physical violence while indirect or structural violence involves poverty, exploitation, social injustice, no democracy, and the like.
In a situation of violence, the parties involved in the conflict see their economic and social rights being violated as well as their civil and political rights. The short-term and long-term consequences of a violent conflict in terms of human rights violations are devastating and leave deep scars in societies. (Baumesiter, et al. 2004). Many of ideas about society and how it should be organized are based on the idea that men are born with aggressive instincts; human nature is violent and that war is inevitable.
Much of our political, social, religious and scientific thinking starts with the premise that human beings are born-killers. So much a part of our consciousness has this idea that we rarely question it. In essence it has become a truth—conventional wisdom that carries with it no requirement to examine the facts with a critical eye (Baumesiter, et al. 2004). The opposing side of the debate asserts that aggressive tendencies are innate. Freud (e. g. , 1930) is one of the most famous proponents of this view, and he contended that the aggressive drive or “Todestrieb” is one of the two main foundations of all human motivation.
In his view, the drive to aggress is deeply rooted in the psyche and hence independent of circumstances. As a result, people have an innate and recurring need to inflict harm or damage, and this desire needs to be satisfied periodically, one way or another. He regarded self-control (as embodied in his concept of superego) as a form of aggression, insofar as one deprives oneself of other satisfactions by restraining oneself. To Freud, this was an effective but costly way to satisfy the aggressive drive, which otherwise would manifest itself by harming or killing others or smashing property.
There are several problems with Freud’s theory of innate aggression. First, of course, it does not disconfirm the importance of learning just as the findings about learned aggression do not disconfirm the hypothesis of innate tendencies. Second, there is no evidence that aggression is a need, in the sense that people who fail to act aggressively will routinely suffer impairments of health or well-being. In that sense, it is possible to accept the view of aggression as having some innate basis without agreeing that the need to aggress arises independently of circumstances.
Many people are convinced that human beings are naturally violent and that consequently we cannot avoid wars, conflicts and general violence in our lives and our societies. Other specialists in this field claim that we can avoid thinking, feeling and acting violently. The Seville Statement on Violence elaborated in 1986 by a group of scholars and scientists from many countries, North and South, East and West, confirms this by stating that: “scientifically incorrect when people say that war cannot be ended because it is part of human nature.
Arguments about human nature cannot prove anything because our human culture gives us the ability to shape and change our nature from one generation to another. It is true that the genes that are transmitted in egg and sperm from parents to children influence the way we act. But it is also true that we are influenced by the culture in which we grow up and that we can take responsibility for our own actions. ” It further includes another proposition stating that “It is scientifically incorrect when people say that war is caused by ‘instinct’.
Most scientists do not use the term ‘instinct’ anymore because none of our behavior is so determined that it cannot be changed by learning. Of course, we have emotions and motivations like fear, anger, sex, and hunger, but we are each responsible for the way we express them. In modern war, the decisions and actions of generals and soldiers are not usually emotional. Instead, they are doing their jobs the way they have been trained. When soldiers are trained for war and when people are trained to support a war, they are taught to hate and fear an enemy (UNESCO, 1986).
” Hence, “it is scientifically incorrect to say that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors. Warfare is a solely human phenomenon and does not occur in other animals…. ;” second, “there are cultures that have not engaged in war for centuries and there are cultures which have engaged in war frequently at some times and not at others…. ;” third, “it is scientifically incorrect to say that war or any other violent behavior is genetically programmed into our human nature….
;” and lastly, that “ it is scientifically incorrect to say that humans have a “violent brain”… how we act is shaped by how we have been conditioned and socialized… (UNESCO, 1986). ” Humans are condemned to violence not because of our biology or human nature. For if humans are naturally violent, we would expect to find the most extreme and frequent expressions of violence in the cultures that are least socialized, most “primitive”. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true — those cultures that are most “civilized” and have the most complex social systems are the most violent.
Further, while it is true that natural processes include death as well as life, it is very rare that one can find a case of what we could call real violence in any species other than human excluding involuntary biological reactions such as the need to eat, and cases of mothers protecting their young from harm, and you will find little remains other than occasional alpha male fights in wolves and primates. Therefore if humans are violent, it has less to do with nature than with nurture.
There is really no evidence that people have an innate need to be aggressive periodically, in the sense that the need is independent of context (Baumeister and Bushman, 2004). If, as Freud proposed, the aggressive instinct comes from within and demands to be satisfied in one way or another, then failing to satisfy this need should be harmful, in the way that failing to eat or breathe or form social bonds is harmful to the person. But there is no sign that people who fail to perform violent acts suffer adverse consequences.
Aggression is not a need, contrary to Freud, because a person could live a happy, healthy life without ever performing violent acts – provided, perhaps, that the person always got what he or she wanted. Aggression may likewise not even be a want. But it may be a response tendency. When one’s desire are thwarted, and other people stand in the way of one’s goal satisfactions, aggressive impulses arise as one way of trying to remove the thwarting and get what you want. ( Baumesiter & Bushman 2004) There are many strategies for influencing people, and these vary widely in how acceptable and how effective they are.
Aggression is one strategy that does sometimes succeed (e. g. , Tedeschi & Felson, 1994). Violent activity, or even the credible threat of violence, is one way to get other people to do what you want. Ultimately, people can use aggression to further their innate goals of survival and reproduction, along with a host of other goals such as maintaining a sense of superiority over others, getting money, and intimidating others who might interfere with your desires. (Giberson). Aggression may be a last or near-last resort for most. Culture allows people many pathways to get what they want from other people.
In today’s United States, the most favored way of getting what you want from other people is to pay them money. Cooperation, reciprocation, persuasion, even simple charm are often effective, and the culture approves of them much more than it approves of aggression. Still, when those fail and the person is faced with the prospect of not being able to satisfy his or her desires, aggression may present itself as a way of influencing others and obtaining satisfaction. Aggression thus helps the organism satisfy its biological needs, by way of operating on others. (Giberson).
Humans are not “hard-wired” like insects or hawks, where a given stimulus results in a fixed response. Unlike most animals, we have a large cerebral cortex that allows for reasoning, consideration, creativity and culture. The instinct-controlling part of our brain is relatively insignificant in comparison to the cortex, and can be superseded by will and thought. It is this “flexible response” capability that enabled humans to survive and rise above the rest of the animal kingdom. Many anthropologists feel it was our ability to cooperate, not our ability to fight or compete, that was our evolutionary survival trait.
Because of our ability to reflect and consciously choose the values we instill in our children, as a species we can be whatever we want to be. It can almost be said that there is no such thing as human nature, that almost all our traits and tendencies are culturally defined. This is not as obvious as it should be, because most of us are only exposed to one culture—a culture where everyone pretty much thinks and acts the same—and it is easy to get the impression that the way we are is the only way we can be.
It is not instinct that drives us to commit atrocities, but our culture. Culture is a human creation. Our culture was molded by men who crave power and the domination of others. ( Tedeschi, & Felson 1994). In conclusion, most humans are conditioned to react aggressively and violently by our environments. We learn to think, feel and act aggressively and in some cases violently. Wherever we live, we are submitted to a social and cultural pressure that conditions us to read about violence, watch violence, and hear about violence almost constantly.
Television programmes, advertisements, newspapers, video games and the movie and music industries contribute largely to this situation. Before reaching adolescence, a child has seen thousands of murders and violent acts just by watching television. If human nature is indeed violent and war is inevitable, then we need large strong states with central governments. We need powerful rulers with mighty armies and brutal security forces. We need repressive laws to protect us from each other. We need guidance from our churches on how to keep our destructive instincts under control.
Of course, when we are constantly told that we are born to be killers, we have an excuse to act like killers. Violence becomes part of our culture, so we act violently. The fallacy perpetrates itself, and the irony comes full circle: our belief in the inevitability of human aggression, sold to us by the ruling elites, creates a world that makes ruling elites necessary. A person’s behavior is largely determined by his social environment such as the influence of the media, weapon availability, human relations, poverty, and the like.
Individuals share the responsibility for their actions with the social forces around them. If a person is not exposed to negative social forces, he will not be prone to evil behavior. He “naturally” has “good” desires and therefore “good” behavior. To eliminate bad or evil behavior, one must focus on changing the social forces rather than on an individual’s actions.
References Bandura, A. , Ross, R. , & Ross, S. (1961). Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-582. Baumesiter, R. F.and Bushman, B. J. (2004) Human Nature and Aggressive Motivation: Why do Cultural Animals turn violent? RIPS / IRSP, 17 (2), 205-220, Presses Universitaires de Grenoble Baumeister, R. F. (1997).
Evil: Inside human violence and cruelty. New York: W. H. Freeman. de Waal, F. B. M. (2001). The Ape and the Sushi Master. New York: Basic Books. Eisler, Riane. (1988). The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. New York: Harper Collins. Giberson, K. Blessed Are the Peacemakers. Science and Spirit. Retrieved Nov. 10, 2006 http://www. science-spirit. org/matrix.html Kaufman, M. (2002) Men must abandon the notion they are violent by nature.
Retrieved Nov. 10, 2006 at: < http://www. michaelkaufman. com/articles/menmust. html> Slife, Brent (March 1996). Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Psychological Issues. William C. Brown, 9th edition, Tedeschi, J. T. , & Felson, R. B. (1994). Violence, aggression, and coercive actions. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. UNESCO. (1986) The Seville Statement on Violence. Spain. Retrieved Nov. 10, 2006 at: <www. unesco. org/human-rights/hrfv. htm>.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 21 April 2017
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