By Youssef El Kaidi
By Youssef El Kaidi
Morocco World News
Fez, January 24, 2013
Throughout human history, there were always violent and aggressive acts perpetrated hither and thither by people against each other- or against the self- in form of physical or psychological abuses such as murders, injuries, humiliations, intimidations, wars, etc. The brutality of what happens every day in Syria and in many other parts of the world shakes our beliefs and convictions towards good and evil and pushes us to ponder the nature of man! I have seen horrific videos of violence committed in Syria; a man buried alive, another had his genitals cut before his eyes, a woman raped by ferocious soldiers, a baby shot in the chest…Why all this atrocity?! The World Health Organization (WHO) defines violence as:
“The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.”
Philosophers, psychologists and social scientists have differed in determining the factors instigating human violence. Thus, some say that violence is an innate human trait which has nothing to do with external factors. That is to say, man is born to harm. However, the advocates of the counter-argument affirm that violence is the result of external motives and stimuli related to the socio-economic environmental settings. In other words, the former argument attributes violence to nature while the latter ascribes it to culture.
The two contrasting arguments are deeply rooted in the long hot debate about human nature, and the nature and nurture of violence. Thomas Hobbes in his bulky book Leviathan argues that human nature is innately evil and inclined to destruction and harm and hence comes the need for deterrent and preventive laws under what he terms the ‘Commonwealth’ to maintain social order and peace. He affirms that men are in “that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man” due to the three principal instinctual causes of quarrel that man embodies: “First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory. The first makes man invade for gain; the second for safety; and the third for reputation.”The natural readiness of man to fight, subdue and dominate other men is an imposition of nature, and only the fear of death and desire for pleasure make men willing for peace. Hobbes argues that “[t]he passions that incline men to peace are: fear of death; desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a hope by their industry to obtain them.”
This pessimistic view of Hobbes’ is also intelligible in Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. In Civilization and its Discontents Freud inquires whether man is instinctively evil or benign to conclude that evil tendencies and drives are part and parcel of the human anatomy. “In all that follows, I will adopt the standpoint, therefore, that the inclination to aggression is an original, self-subsisting instinctual disposition in man.” Civilization, to Freud, is the result of the long conflict, rather collision between “Eros” and “Thanatos”; that is, the life drive and the death drive. The latter, always according to Freud:
“…would serve as a biological justification for all the ugly and dangerous impulses against which we are struggling. It must be admitted that they stand nearer to Nature than does our resistance to them for which an explanation also needs to be found… there is no use in trying to get rid of men’s aggressive inclinations.”
In this context he affirms that:
“Men are not gentle or kind creatures seeking love…Instead, they are characterized by instinctual tendencies most of which are marked by intense aggressiveness.”
Aggression and violence, according to Freud, are internalized in the human psyche and as such find their source in the death drive. The aggressive, destructive and violent tendencies in man need to be satisfied periodically, one way or another. As a result, they can be directed either externally in form of sadistic brutality against people, or internally in form of masochistic self-abuse – suicide in the extreme- unless the superego intervenes to redirect these tendencies into socially and ethically acceptable behaviors.
Contrary to this argument is the belief that human beings are born benign to acquire and learn violence later in the course of their lives and according to the varying conditions and circumstances they are exposed to, the fact which justifies why some people are less/more violent than others. Among the pioneer proponents of this attitude is the French philosopher Jean Jacque Rousseau who optimistically spoke about the noble savage who is “naturally benign, happy and good […] but the restrictions imposed by society lead to aggression and corrupt behaviour.”
Attributing violence to biological factors and disregarding situational factors was considered a big blunder by Miller, Dolland, Doob, Mower, and Sears who developed the frustration-aggression hypothesis. According to Miller et al. the individual’s failure to attain his/her goals in life precipitates him/her into a state of anxiety and frustration which stimulates aggressive reactions to be inflicted upon the self or upon the other. Miller affirms that “the occurrence of aggression always presupposes the existence of frustration and, contrariwise, that the existence of frustration always leads to some form of aggression.”
Undoubtedly, both arguments would seem to be lame if considered independently. Violence is neither a purely biological and natural characteristic of man nor a purely cultural one; man is naturally apt to engender and use violence but according to the varying and constantly-changing circumstances one undergoes. It appears, thus, that both nature and culture combine to imbue man with aggressive thoughts, or more precisely, cultural and social contexts revive the natural aggressive tendencies in man, which on reality, take different forms and manifestations.
Etienne G. Krug et al., eds. World Report on Violence and Health, Vol 1 (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2002), p. 5.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan or the Matter Form and Power of Common Wealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil (London: Printed for Andrew Crooke, 1651), p. 62.
 Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, Trnas. James Strachey (New York: W.W.Norton & Company. ING, 1961), p. 69.
 Quoted in: Nancy Billias, Territories if Evil (Amsterdam: Rodopi P. V., 2008), p. 235.
 Quoted in: Barbara Whitemer, The Violence Mythos (New York: State University of New York Press, 1997 ), p. 119.
Quoted in: Ronald Gottesman and Richard Maxwell Brown, eds. Violence in America. Vol III. (New York: 1999), p. 322.
 Quoted in: Alan Tidwell, Conflict Resolved?: A Critical Assessment of Conflict Resolution (London: Continuum, 1998), p. 51.
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