Why are we attracted to violence?

By Natasha Josefowitz, Ph.D.

Natasha Josefowitz

LA JOLLA, California –Humans have always been attracted to acts of graphic violence. In Roman times, the Coliseum was filled with people ready to be entertained by gladiators fighting to the death or Christians being eaten by hungry lions. A few centuries later, public beheadings were a popular entertainment—Marie Antoinette and the guillotine. Later on, people gathered to witness the burning of witches in Salem. Aztec priests cut open the chest of a live person to remove a still-beating heart. Public stoning is still occurring in some Arab countries as well as public floggings. Even children’s fairy tales have fearsome giants, ogres, dragons, evil step-mothers, or a grandmother-eating wolf.

What about our own scary, adult fairy tales? When I saw Rogue One, the latest Star Wars movie with its epic on-going battle, every one of the coming attractions was filled with burning cars crashing into each other, collapsing buildings, people ambushing and killing each other with knives, guns, lasers, bombs, and other yet-to-be-invented weapons of destruction.

“Barbarians at our gates” have always been part of our history, from Hannibal Barca, Attila the Hun, and Genghis Khan to ISIS today. We have had displaced people throughout the centuries. Rapes have always been and continue to be used as the fruits of conquests. In the 12th century, during his march through Russia, Genghis Khan and his armies killed and raped local inhabitants. Legend has it that he had five thousand children.

There is something known as the Asian Syndrome. Some Asians cannot drink alcohol without feeling flushed and feeling ill as a result. My mother experienced this and so do I.  Could it possibly be the result of a rape perpetuated on of one my ancestors some nine centuries ago?!

My DNA shows that I am four percent Asian, one of my Russian ancestors might have been raped by either Genghis Khan or one of his soldiers. I prefer to think it was Genghis Khan himself that I am related to. Who knows the repercussions on our population of all the rapes perpetuated throughout history? In many of us, our DNA’s also show remnants of a Neanderthal past; mine shows two percent.

And so I wondered what is the fascination of seeing mayhem or reading about it. Here are three possible reasons:  One is the relief of being on the safe side of the screen. It is not happening to me. The second is identifying with the hero or heroine—Jack and the beanstalk, Goldilocks—or being on the winning team, country, or even planet. The third, and I believe most important, is the adrenaline rush we get from the tension—Will he/she get killed? Will they win? Will our world be destroyed? Personally, I get too anxious; it is not a pleasant feeling so I avoid all scary movies. Even as a child, I would get feverish reading detective stories so my mother took them away from me.

Today our newspapers and TV stations depict the horrors of war on a daily basis. We are privy to it all more than ever due to the internet and 24-hour media coverage; we are able to witness—sometimes even in real time—whole populations decimated by bombs or drowning trying to reach a safe haven.

Is there any hope for our species to become less territorial, less set on wanting others to share our beliefs? If they do not, we resort to violence. Our politics are faith-based, and so we fight in the same manner as we do for our religions, insisting that ours is the only way. Civilization is the veneer we have placed on ourselves to cover the racism, sexism, and intolerance that still are too close to the surface for too many of us. This veneer is too easily removed, which can possibly result in disenfranchising a large number of the population.

I believe that if every child were loved and cared for from birth on and taught to be compassionate, tolerant and respectful of other belief systems, we would have a very different world. How to make that happen is the work we should all be engaged in.

© Natasha Josefowitz. This article appeared initially in the La Jolla Village News. You may comment to [email protected]

 

 

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