Home | Contents | Photos | News | Reviews | Store | Forum | ICI | Educators | Fans | Contests | Help | FAQ | Info

Is Violence Endemic to Humans?

[M]an is the one animal that is capable of getting enjoyment out of the torture and death of members of its own species. We venture to assert that seven-eighths of every lynching party is composed of pure, sporting mob, which goes...just as it goes to a cockfight or prize-fight, for the gratification of the lowest and most degraded instincts of humanity.

G.L. Godkin, The Nation, 1893


Is everyone equally violent?
Americans are violent...part of a warrior society. We all know that. But what about people elsewhere? Isn't everyone the same under the skin?

Well, yes, but what's under the skin doesn't determine one's cultural values. People are taught what to think by external sources: their parents, schools, churches, workplaces, and other institutions. That's why different cultures have different worldviews...and thus different attitudes toward violence.

Back in '99 I discussed the matter with a correspondent:

>> It's endemic to being human. We Americans just like to blow everything out of proportion... (G!) <<

There's a difference between being endemic to a society and being endemic to people in general. It's a matter of how often it happens and what's considered normal or acceptable.

>> Hmmm- no Ghengis Khan, no blacks who fought with (and sometimes _ate_) each other in Africa, no Indian tribal wars that went on long before the white man arrived? I'd say you're a bit biased and blinded. <<

Nope. I'm well aware of these instances. I've read a book on Genghis Khan and several on pre-Columbian Indians, for example—not to mention my extensive reading on post-Columbian Indians.

As James Loewen has said (see Savage Indians), tribal warfare didn't compare to European warfare. Native people indulged mainly in raids and skirmishes, not all-out wars. And their fighting was marked by practices such as counting coup, where touching someone was considered a sufficient victory.

As for the Mesoamericans, I just finished the bestselling novel Aztec. There was much ritualized warfare and human sacrifice, of course. At the same time, the penalty for what we consider minor affronts (e.g., adultery) was death. As in Saudi Arabia today, random crime and violence were absolutely not tolerated. (As I recall, ol' Genghis was pretty strict about those matters too.)

The price for a violence-free culture is often strict social control—autocracy rather than democracy. We aren't willing to pay that price and I'm not arguing we should. But that's a cultural choice we consciously make. We choose to exalt individuals and thus tolerate their shortcomings.

>> Violence is endemic to HUMANS, not just western civilization. <<

But some societies tolerate it more than others. Some societies permit guns, hockey fights, boxing matches, violent movies, televised car chases, exploitative talk shows, political mud-slinging, demagogic evangelists, street demonstrations, strike-busting, dehumanizing jobs, ruthless layoffs, spousal and child abuse, date rape (until very recently), a "war" on drugs, police brutality, three-strikes laws, capital punishment, and so forth and so on. Others don't. Those that don't tend to have less violence.

They also tend to have less freedom, but that isn't the issue. I'd probably take more violence and more freedom over less violence and less freedom. But I'd take more freedom and less violence most of all. That ideal is readily available in places like Britain, Scandinavia, and Japan.

Related links
America the warrior society
Violence in America
America's cultural mindset

* More opinions *
  Join our Native/pop culture blog and comment
  Sign up to receive our FREE newsletter via e-mail
  See the latest Native American stereotypes in the media
  Political and social developments ripped from the headlines

. . .

Home | Contents | Photos | News | Reviews | Store | Forum | ICI | Educators | Fans | Contests | Help | FAQ | Info

All material © copyright its original owners, except where noted.
Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

Copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act,
which allows copying for nonprofit educational uses including criticism and commentary.

Comments sent to the publisher become the property of Blue Corn Comics
and may be used in other postings without permission.