thoughts on aversion to violence

from All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

I was watching something on television in which men were shooting at each other. My 3 year old daughter came into the room and instantly started crying, “Turn it off! Turn it off! Turn it off!” Though we try to shield our daughter from violent entertainment, especially of the adult blood-and-guts variety, it really becomes apparent how pervasive violence is in American popular culture when you have an attentive and loudmouthed 3 year old around. My daughter’s relationship to violence has gotten me thinking about human nature when it comes to violence- do human beings have a natural (that is genetic and inborn) aversion to violence?

(Subtopics for later: 1. how American consumers become acquainted with violence through entertainment, 2. the pervasiveness of violence in entertainment squarely aimed at consumption by pre-school children, and 3. how watching violence is disturbing for children, yet they engage in violence as a form of self-expression. )

Back to the main idea- are humans naturally averse to violence? I read an interesting book in college, “On Killing” by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a military psychologist. His main thesis was that the fundamental resistance of humans to kill fellow humans must be overcome in order for industrial powers to wage war. He writes much about the methods used to subvert this resistance to killing (physical separation from the actual target as a factor in reducing resistance to killing, changes in training of military personnell, etc.) But the most interesting part of the book for me were the anectdotal reports of the soldiers who actually killed another person. Many of these men report that they cried (reverting to their infantile selves) when they “had to” kill, many reporting that “it went against everything (they) had been taught since childhood.” Grossman posits that this aversion to killing is learned behavior, just as overcoming this resistance could be taught.

Perhaps it’s a reach to say this aversion is innate. Perhaps my daughter has learned a normative standard that violence is unacceptable from her parents. Is it because she lives in a house full of love in which she does not witness Mommy and Daddy fighting, kicking, and punching one another as a way of solving conflict? Is violence a neutral subject about which she has already taken on information from the world around her, deciding that violence is not the norm and is therefore undesirable? This seems counter-intuitive as much of the entertainment geared toward pre-schoolers suggests physical “action” or violence are acceptable modes of expression. Does this suggest that children do not learn behavorial norms from television, etc. to the extent that they learn these norms from caretakers? Has this aversion to violence been learned because of her environment in which healthier modes of conflict resolution are employed?

I have become much more averse to violence since becoming a father. I once enjoyed the most macabre and over-the-top violent entertainment possible, which I now find now find physically repulsive and morally repugnant. Perhaps having a deep connection to a new life has made me value life in general more? Perhaps I just have so little time for entertainment consumption that I simply prefer lighter, less stressful fare now?

So, basically, this is a call to you to suggest books, articles, etc on this topic.

Author and subject. Subject is wearing excessive amounts of cotton candy lip gloss.


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