Violence is a tool. That’s it……..Thanks for reading……. OK, I’m just kidding.
Just as a gun, which is a tool, is praised and demonized for the results of its use; so goes the reputation of violence.
A mother hawk brings food to the nest to feed her young. “She is so beautiful and caring. How wonderful and inspiring it is to watch this” says the grandmother watching the Discovery Channel. If she had witnessed the killing of the mother rabbit (now being fed to the baby hawks) that was edited out of the show, I suspect she would have been rooting for the rabbit and felt animosity toward the “mean ole’ hawk”.
So let’s look at violence for what it is and save the opinions about it for later. The utility of violence is that it is a tool for gaining a desired result. If I need to eat and have no other means to secure food than to kill a rabbit to gain nourishment, I’m going to use violence to end the rabbits life so I can consume it. I used violence as a tool for personal gain. Likewise, a crack addict that needs to score another rock may decide to use violence to acquire the funding necessary to purchase said crack rock by threatening me with the use of violence or actually committing an act of violence to relieve me of my $300 watch. Crack-head uses violence as a tool for personal gain. What’s the difference? Justification? Ethics? Ideology? Distilled down, it comes to empathy. If you can empathize with the victim, the violence will be viewed as evil. If not, you can justify it.
This is where we humans get all cinched up in the use of violence. Some say it’s never OK to use it; others create a caveat for survival, self-defense or the defense of others. There are those who use it occasionally when they lose their temper for a bit, and then usually feel some sort of remorse for their actions. And then there are those who easily use it for personal gain with no remorse and quite often gain a sense of satisfaction or empowerment from its use. No matter how you view it from a moral standpoint; violence is here to stay. It has always been a foundational element in nature from the violence carried out on viruses by white blood cells to the crack-head taking a shot at you for your watch. As long as there are humans with a thirst for personal gain that outweighs their capacity to empathize with another human, there will be violence among humans.
Researchers like Jane Goodall and Richard Wrangham first chronicled non-survival violence among the great Apes in Africa in the 1960’s and 70’s. There are accounts of Silverback Gorillas killing off the infant offspring of other males to gain favor with the female. It works. The theory being that the female figures the best way to protect future offspring is to have them with the most dominant and ferocious male who will protect them from a similar fate with other males. Then there are the instances of chimps (who are classified as Apes) hunting monkeys and literally tearing them apart in feeding frenzies, even when there are plentiful means of nourishment easily available in the local environment.
There are accounts of raids on other clans of Chimps. The raiding party moves silently through the jungle (as opposed to the usual hooting and other loud verbal calls Chimps frequently employ when not raiding), ignoring the usual boundaries of their territory. When they find a member of an opposing clan they will attack in a frenzied torrent of violence that almost always results in a fatality, unless there are multiple members of the opposing clan. They stalk, reconnoiter, evaluate and attack. If there is unnecessary risk involved with the loss of numerical advantage, they retreat and try again another day. They even employ weapons by using tree limbs as clubs.
They are intelligent enough to calculate risk based on numerical advantage or the lack thereof. They carry out acts of vengeance and use violence to dominate and ensure the continuation of their bloodline through prodigy. But, they show no empathy towards others of their species, even those they had previously had close relationships with before a split of a clan into two separate groups or any other species when they set out to use violence for personal gain. They are neurologically incapable of violence interruptus via empathetic interdiction. Sorry, couldn’t resist……Once they start, they will not withdraw until finished or beaten by violent counter attack. No empathy…..remember that. Why? It’s the key to everything.
“Cold blooded killer”, “He was like an animal”, “It was like he just looked right through me”. These descriptors are some common ones that are indicators that the person in question either had no capacity for empathy that would preclude violent behavior or their empathetic inclinations were overruled by an emotional takeover. These are, if you understand what allows the violent behavior, very accurate descriptors of the neurological state of the person being described.
As I covered earlier, the Amygdala is responsible for many things such as the fight or flight response, secretion of the hormonal cocktails that play a major role in memory, emotion, protocol or lack thereof, etc. The Neocortex and Prefrontal lobes are responsible for reasoning, among many other things. Remember, we are excluding all other brain function responsibilities to keep this simple. So, let’s say you see something or somebody does something that initially makes you livid. You get all pumped up and are ready to rumble. Then your reasoning kicks in and you settle down.
A few months ago I was in my little 4cyl Ford Ranger with my 4yr old son. We had just taken off from a stoplight and the lane to our right was ending. Up comes this mini-van just as the lane was ending and forces me to slam on my brakes when he cut me off with oncoming traffic in the opposing lane. I was furious. He then slowed well below the speed limit and flipped me off because of my horn honking and fist waving. At the next intersection, he stopped short and that was it! Out I came. How dare he jeopardize the safety of my little boy who is now sitting in his car seat in the vehicle I am briskly walking away from and leaving alone in the middle of the street in a crime ridden town on a Saturday evening. Now I am envisioning my little guy possibly watching his father be killed in the street by a gun toting stink star with road rage and all the ball games I’ll miss and the deviant behavior I’ll not be able to dissuade through those tough adolescent years. My Amygdala told me to launch forth and beat this loser down. My reasoning said you’re a loser if you do this.
In those initial few seconds, my tripwire had been sprung. I was focused and enraged and just knew that inflicting a pain penalty on this loser would make it all better. Reasoning brought me back to civility. My neocortex and prefrontal lobes took a couple seconds and evaluated what was happening. They interpreted what my Amygdala was out to accomplish and then reconciled that with all my life experience, priorities, fears, opinions, successes, failures, etc. and said “Hey! Quit acting like an idiot. There are very negative consequences to what you are about to do.”
But, what if my reasoning had let me go? What if the reasoning from my life experience, priorities, etc. had attached no unacceptable consequences to my planned behavior? What if the consequences were familiar because of a lifetime of violent behavior and therefore were no deterrent? What if, through brain damage or congenital defect, I had no capacity for reasoning or the ability to feel empathy towards the suffering I was determined to cause in the driver or my son because of unintended collateral damage? What if a life of violence was so familiar to me that I felt uneasy and out of place in a peaceful confrontation or negotiation and could only be at ease when there was some level of violence at play? Then I would be like every animal on the planet that does not possess prefrontal lobes developed enough for reasoning.
1: Recently, on the Discovery Channel, I watched a woman who is a genius. She has developed, among many other accomplishments, a system that eases cattle in corrals by surrounding them with visually comforting decorations and paint schemes. When being penned up for transport, Vet inspection, milking, slaughter, etc., they experience a great level of anxiety that can lead to sickness or injury because of physical damage from stampede attempts in close quarters. Her system makes the experience more humane for them. This has human potential for many things such as low stress office environments, dentist visits, etc. But, the remarkable aspect of this show was the fact that this woman had a neurological defect. She could attach no emotional value to facial expressions in other humans. You give her a mean face, a sad face, a face of terror, excitement or whatever; she could not interpret the emotion you were trying to convey. She is incapable of empathizing with someone based on facial expression.
If someone like this were predisposed to violence, do you think they would get the stop signal through reasoning based on a facial expression of fear or terror? What impact would this have on situations similar to what LtCol. Grossman writes about where some may be saved because their potential murderer sees the terror they are causing in their victims eyes and relates to them as a person? Additionally, how do you stand a potential aggressor down with a very confident posture and expression, causing them to contemplate their own safety, when they can interpret nothing from the physical display? Even if they have genius level reasoning ability in all other areas, they may be un-empathetic and/or a sociopath.
2: Many times, as in the case of the raiding Chimps who aborted their attack because of the loss of numerical advantage, fear of injury or death will preempt an act of violence. Even when there is no capacity for empathy, self preservation may yield restraint.
Then you have the case of a woman referred to as “M”. Daniel Goleman wrote about a woman who knew no fear. She was not an overly aggressive type of person with something to prove. Nor did she have a violent life. She simply did not have the capacity to feel the emotion of fear. You could put a loaded gun to her head, cock it, take the slack out of the trigger and see no registration of fear in her actions or in her brain activity. As Goleman explained; “she knew she should fear the gun and that it could hurt her, but felt no feelings of fear”.
3: Alexithyism: A mental condition where someone is unable to express, recognize or interpret emotion. This is close to jumping off the deep end into more intricate discussion than what we need to cover here. There is a lot to absorb and yet more to be uncovered. But understand this; it has been my experience when dealing with people who have diminished capacity to express or communicate emotion, desire, hopes, dreams, whatever; there has been a marked tendency to resort to violence to get a satisfying result. Now to qualify my experience, my line of work usually placed me with those of violent or criminal disposition from the start. But, there was a definite distinction between those who used violence as a utility tool for it’s results, as a tactic, and those who used violence out of frustration because they were unable to connect and get results with any other tactic.
I was contracted to work a major labor dispute. The management and labor had no clear path ahead to a resolution and the tension was quickly becoming elevated. I was hired in an executive protection capacity and my team was assigned to the VP and his family. The union members were in no way Alexithymic. They were very vocal about their emotions. I had several chances to meet with the union leadership and discuss plans to prevent the situation from turning violent. In attendance were several of the union members who were laborers in the plant. Everyone at that point was firm, but polite. We talked several times and, although I had a hard time getting them to understand that I was not on anyone’s side and just there to ensure personal safety, I had a decent rapport with them and understood their frustrations and goals through their competent expression.
The talks broke down and many of the striking members began using violence out of frustration. It even got to the point of locking in the management and having to use helicopters to bring in supplies and personnel. There were overturned cars, Malatovs, etc. But, because of the interaction with them early on, we were able to determine who was more prone to temper flare-ups (inability to control their Amygdala’s response), we made personal files on each opposing member to track their behavior, we planted people into the picket lines to gather info. There was a definite build up of frustration and as the volume of their expression started to dwindle, we knew they were running out of options. All attempts at negotiation were proving fruitless and when the violence began, we were not surprised and had already planned to deal with it. We knew it would come. But, as long as they were able to feel as though expressing themselves and negotiating was making progress, we knew they were not yet ready to be violent.
The flip side of this is Andrew. Andrew is an ex-convict I hired as a general laborer in my small business. There were many indicators that he was predisposed to violence. He was from a broken home and had been raised by his mother who was an aggressive and belligerent woman. His friends were from much the same background. Two of them had hands reconstructed from fights. Andrew himself had hardware installed to hold his jaw together from bouts in prison. I once had a conversation with them about fighting. We were somewhat of a novelty to each other since they were from the exact polar opposite side of the criminal justice system. They were wolves who had come to work for a sheepdog for a bit and it allowed me to look into their heads. They were boasting a little about how many fights they had been in. They made mention of how the county fair was where you went to find out who had the best “crew”. This meant that little groups of local “thuglets”, as I like to call them, would get together for a rumble at the fair and see who could whip who.
As this went on I began to try to get them to explain the necessity of the crew competition and what it would do for them when they were 40 or 50 or 60 years old. They laughed at it as though it were something of fantasy and that they would be some kind of supreme ruler of the neighborhood by then and would have younger followers fight for them when they no longer could. So the working relationship dragged on.
As time passed I could tell Andrew was incapable of expressing anything but aggressiveness. Whenever something positive would happen, he would puff up and gesture as though the experience made him more powerful as a knuckle dragger and added to his ability to dominate. Any confrontation or disagreement in the workplace got an immediate angry and aggressive response from him. When he screwed up, he lashed out angrily in verbal tirades. It was clear that he was going to have to be removed from my place of business, though I was learning a lot from his behavior. The finishing blow was when he slapped his girlfriend in my presence for wanting to leave a work party before he was ready to go. This all ended with police involvement and a warning to him that if I seen him around me or my family I would assume there was about to be a lethal situation and react accordingly. I’ll miss Andrew and his little Swastika tattoo on his neck. I have pages of notes on his behavior.
The point is this. As a nearly proportional inversion from the behavior of the union members in the labor dispute who could easily express their wants and needs, Andrew was unable to reason through the simplest of social situations. Nobody could read him because of his inability to communicate and since he was understood by no one, he could not accomplish anything. Every attempt at normalcy was torpedoed by his inept and violent upbringing. Since he could get no satisfaction from applying his missing intellect, he attempted the Silverback method of domination through violence. You see this many times when women are drawn to the “Badboy”. He’s an emotional and social idiot, though he may be intelligent. She feels protected by his no BS personality and roughness and figures it’s a safe place to be. He’s bad enough to protect her from the plethora of predators out there, but is just misunderstood and so she will tame him. Problem is, he won’t be able to make her understand because of his inability to communicate his emotions and it will get violent because that’s what he knows. Couple that with a deficiency in the empathy department and you get today’s murder, rape and abuse rate for women when their attacker is a husband or boyfriend.