Violence -One More Time

In a recent blog I leaped with both feet into a confusing and confused (heated?) discussion of the possible relationship between such video games as “Active Shooter” and violence in this country. As I say, the issue is complex because it involves establishing a causal relationship between two rather different entities — in this case violence in electronic games, television, and the movies and, on the other hand, the undeniable fact of excessive violence in this country. I suggested in a previous blog that there is a concurrence that comes very close to a causal relationship. But there are different points of view, several of which were expressed in comments on that post.

Being a daring sort of person, I want to visit the topic again with the help of John Stuart Mill who, in his  A System of Logic, sought to show how causal relationships can be established. He set forth five “canons,” the final one of which was what he called the “method of concomitant variations,” which is the surest way to determine whether we are dealing with a causal relationship. In his precise way he stated the principle as follows:

Whatever phenomenon varies in any manner whenever another phenomenon varies in some particular manner, is either a cause or an effect of that phenomenon, or is connected with it through some fact of causation.

— John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Vol. 1. 1843. p. 470.
In the case of violence, we might list the growing incidence of violence in this country in recent years, including such things as road rage, bullying, child abuse, domestic violence, rape, suicide, gun deaths, and, of course, mass killings by presumably deranged individuals which garner the major headlines and were the focus of much of the discussion in my recent post. Couple this with the rise in the sales and use of electronic toys and the staggering number of hours the young spend playing electronic games and watching television and we might indeed be able to show a concomitant variation between the increase in this society in the above instances of violence and the increasing number of people-hours spent watching violence on television and game-playing.
To make certain of the relationship, of course, we would have to reduce the instances of viewing violent programs and playing violent games to see if there is a drop in violence in our society. This would be nearly impossible to carry off, however, since there is no reason to believe that those who play the games and watch the violent movies and television programs want to cut back — though parents could intervene if they were motivated to do so. One might go so far as to say they should, in fact, be doing precisely that.
As I suggested to one of the commentators to my recent post, much depends on the degree of immersion of the young in those violent activities. If increased immersion in those violent activities does, in fact, correspond to increased instances of violence in its many forms, then we are warranted in concluding that there is a causal relationship between the two. My sense is that there is such a correspondence, or at the very least a “connection through some fact of causation.”
Please note that the argument does not focus on  violent games, such as “Active Shooter” which was the subject of the recent post on this topic. Nor do I insist that we look exclusively at mass shootings, since violence takes so many forms. I am asking that we consider the whole scope of violence in this country, coupled with our history of using violence to eradicate indigenous people and generally to solve our problems. “Make My Day!”  I ask also if there is a direct correlation between those incidences and the involvement of increasing numbers of people in the viewing of violent programs and  playing of violent games.
As I say, I suspect strongly that there is a concomitant variation between the two and tentatively conclude that there is a causal relationship. But I would add, as I did in my previous discussion of this topic, that the acquisition of a strong “reality principle,” to use Freud’s term, would lessen the correlation somewhat. A great many people play the games and watch violent programs and movies and are yet not prone to violent actions, because they realize that games are not reality. But I do contend that, in a more permissive society where electronic toys have become commonplace and the reality principle is weaker, the ability of many to distinguish carefully between the games they play and the real world is correspondingly weakened, thus increasing the likelihood of violence.
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15 thoughts on “Violence -One More Time

  1. Pingback: Sivalali

  2. Thanks for the informative discussion of an important topic, Hugh. Too many people talk about having a “conversation,” but never do so. It’s important to keep this thing front and center, especially when the media fades away after each mass shooting.

    One thing I don’t think you discussed is a comparison with other Western nations. (And funny how the gun lobby NEVER wants to discuss this.) It’s unrelated to video games, but here’s a good article about Australia’s ban on assault-style weapons, and how not only mass murders, but gun-related suicides and homicides in Australia took a nose dive:

    • I read the same thing about Australia. They took the bull by the horns. . The problem you raise is the one that Michael; Moore stumbled over: why the US and not other countries where the video games are played (for example)? The answer I would give lies in the tradition (if you will allow) of violent response to challenges in this country — taming the wild, ridding the country of indigenous people, settling disputes with violence rather than dialogue, and the like, coupled with the fact that parents in this country are extremely permissive (sociologist have described the country as “child-centered”) and children grow into adults with a weak reality principle — to use Freud’s words. But you raise a a very good question.

      • “Violent response to challenges in this country” is so true. It’s in our DNA. A book could be written about all this (and there probably already have been a few). But we can’t overlook the reality of poverty and gun availability being linked to gun violence. Other countries have poverty, but not the guns, and don’t come close to the violent crime in the U.S.

      • Gun availability to be sure. Poverty not so much. Other countries that are far less violent have many more very, very poor people.

  3. A noble effort in explaining some of the causes of uncontrolled violence in the US of A. The real problem, I’d venture to opine, is that “violence” or the resort to violence in problem solving is endemic to the Earthian creature. The US, like Muslim countries under Sharia law have simply created a situation where violence is considered justifiable under a growing set of circumstances, social, political and legal – I guess that’s one way to put it – so it stands out more. It is understandable that Americans who deplore the violence in their country would see it as worse than in many other places, but it’s more a question of the type of violence expressed rather than the degree. For example, Nordic countries are not known for gun violence, but the violence against women resulting in rape and murder is very high and often the police are in on it. But if it isn’t spoken of, then it doesn’t exist, right?

    What is violence? I define it as thoughts, words and acts that cause pain, loss, death, to any other out of some selfish desire to do exactly that. US gun violence is but the tip of the iceberg of endemic global violence.

    Would we end violence? Then we must find a way to change Earthian human nature. All other talk about violence, or efforts against violence, is a waste of time. What is controlled over here will fester, boil and erupt somewhere else. The writings of the wise teach this. History teaches this. We know this.

    When I decided to end violence in the world, I ended violence in my thoughts, acts and deeds. Violence no longer holds any legitimacy in my life. I can’t do more than that because it is a personal choice that 7 plus billion Earth humans must make and no one else can help them make that choice, nor live by it.

    So what do we replace it with, since “nature abhors a vacuum”? We have within ourselves a power that anyone, at anytime, can activate and I call it compassion. Live by, for, with, compassion and violence will be no more. It’s not rocket science and anyone, from the child to the old one waiting for death can do this.

    • Excellent comments! And I do think you for the broader perspective. It always helps. We need to find a way to lower the testosterone levels of all male humans!

  4. The ‘tradition of violent response’. That one struck a chord … how many of us played “cowboys and Indians” or “cops and robbers” as kids? But yet, the vast majority of us don’t go around killing, raping, or abusing our children/spouse. That said, I do think there is a relationship between playing violent games, watching violent television shows, and the tendency toward violence. BUT … I think that if parents are doing their job, it should offset the vast majority of the negative effect of the electronic violence. By ‘doing their job’, certainly I mean teaching compassion, kindness and respect by example as well as word.
    But I also mean that parents need to understand that even children experience frustration sometimes and it is up to parents to help their children find acceptable outlets for those frustrations. When mom and dad are too wrapped up in their own lives, in working long hours to acquire material possessions, pay for that BMW, and keep up with the Joneses, then who helps the kids figure out how to deal with the trials and tribulations of life?

    Now, I have grown into a non-violent person, though I started out being quite a scrapper (got kicked out of kindergarten for beating the heck out of a boy who called me a ‘four-eyed Jew girl 🙂 ). But a few days ago, my angst got the better of me and I threatened to “wipe the pavement” with somebody’s face. I wouldn’t have done it, but the fact that I thought it, I said it, disturbs me greatly. I do not like that part of me, and I know the cause, as you probably do too. There is definitely a causal relationship between the horrors I read about every day, the destruction I see a certain person-who-shall-remain-nameless wreaking, and my thoughts of what would have been a violent action had I followed through. And I’m old enough and presumably smart enough to know better! We are seeing an uptick in all forms of violence, including suicides in the past two years. Is it any wonder?

    So yes, I see a connection between exposure to violence, whether on television or video games, but I also see a connection to life’s frustrations.

    • Indeed. Hanna Arendt sees the core of violence in the very frustration of which you speak. Couple that with our natural aggression — which living in a civil society with good parenting is supposed to help us curb — and you have a formula for violent behavior. Then mix in the ready access of military weapons for the common man or woman (of child) and you have a truly volatile mix. But I thought Sha’Tara’s comment above was spot on! No question: it is a complex problem.

  5. Taking a break from painting (while offline) I read both ‘violence’ posts – now for the third time. . My vantage point is slightly different, since I spend most of my time in Latin America, where it’s very normal for mixed classes of people of all ages use buses. On most long-distance trips, it’s customary for a two-hour movie to be shown once we’re in transit. Sometimes there are comedy movies, but most of the time they’re extremely violent. Surely more than half watch the movies, and many of those are young children; everyone sits with mouth agape in the violent parts… There’s no doubt that most of these passengers eventually become desensitized to the violence.

    I think the difference between ‘here’ and the USA is that many many people in the USA are under extreme stress. If there’s no outlet for the stress (tennis, anyone?!! -perhaps a 5K jog?) – or if there’s no healthy way to deal with it, it keeps building until something triggers an outburst.

    The ‘manana’ attitude is strong here – people don’t appear to be under extreme stress; basic needs are met, and there are few wants. Children attend school, but they’re not pushed to be the best or to measure up to children in other countries. The children appear to have more time out of the classrooms than inside. There might be poverty in each community, but there’s not much misery (unless an earthquake or volcano or flooding turns their world upside down.) Unless one lives in a concrete high rise, there’s no need for cooling, or if they live in the Andes they definitely need extra blankets or sweaters at night – or use wood in the fireplaces, but utility bills are very low; food costs are rising, but things are still affordable. When I took care of my friends’ property in the cloud forest, they owned two nice houses on almost 250 acres of land, and their taxes were less than 500 dollars a year.

    Switch countries, and wow, one has to work hard to pay mortgage, house insurance, life insurance, health insurance, auto insurance, liability insurance – then there are taxes and taxes and more taxes – heating/cooling/water, etc… cable/phone/television – doctors, pharmacies and many sundry out-of-pocket costs …. clothing and school and supplies and food — it scared me last time I went out with a small group and payed the tab – at an average restaurant.. I don’t know how anyone has any quality time – as everyone works to make ends meet and then are exhausted when there is time for leisure. There’s also competition to be the best – have the prettiest yard, stylish clothes, attend events, endure snubs or unkind remarks – yes, we’ve advanced with amazing technologies, but we’re losing core values.

    Bottom line from this vantage point? It’s a combo: Being desensitized about violence and then enduring cumulative stress equals a recipe for a future explosion – or implosion.. some go inward and others go outward… Like a simmering volcano – sometimes there are warnings and sometimes not…

    • Very well said. Yours is a most interesting perspective. “Quality time.” That’s so true: we simply don’t make time to let go and relax — most of us, any way. Much of the stress we experience may be the result of trying to “keep up” with the Joneses. The violence may then stem from the frustration of not being able to keep up! Ironic, if true. Thanks so much.

      • for three weeks, a neighbor has been destroying a section of ‘forest’ straight across a little inlet from my house.. i work into the wee hours of the night b/c it’s so quiet, and yesterday morning – like on the past three weekends, the sound of a chain saw awakened me… from 8 until past 2 pm, they worked nonstop – every so often i’d hear a tree fall – yowch… finally i walked over there and was really nice, explained that i was the neighbor |(no houses there) and the saw sounded as if it were in my house.. i explained that i worked at night and was sleeping — how many more days will you be cutting? i asked… just one more, they said. ‘tomorrow?’ i asked.. no – monday,” he said.. so tomorrow/father’s day/you’re not working|?; no, they smiled… ‘ok,’ i smiled back.. ‘where is your house|? i’ll go outside your window and crank a saw!’ – they burst out laughing….

        actually, i was at my limit of tolerance, and i thought about the ‘rage’ epidemic in the usa…. my approach released all of the tension, and i even found compassion for this dirt-poor family who had so little, including a mouth full of rotten teeth – how can they not cut some of their giant bamboo and a few ‘fast-growing trees’ —- even if they disturb the habitat of my beloved birds?

        thanks for listening, dear hugh!

  6. Interesting post Hugh. I think I agree with Sha’Tara on the possible solution here, but to do that requires dictating and censorship about what people should be viewing on Media. Not everyone would be comfortable about loss of ‘freedoms.’

    But something must change. Violence is not unique to the US.

    A recent TV program here did a bit of an analysis on the effects of porn. This is on late night TV (for the viewer who wishes to pay) and even more available on the Internet. Youngsters are particularly vulnerable to some of the extremes that can be viewed, and parental controls are easily hacked by smart, savvy, kids. One instance was a twenty something man who said porn had ruined his sex life. The stuff that aroused him, so extreme that no woman could measure up in excitement. He was, he said, now impotent when he most wanted a relationship. Another, even more disturbing example was when a police officer found a teenage boy trying to strangle his girlfriend in a car, while effectively raping her. Under questioning, this young man said he was only recreating what he saw on porn. He thought that’s what girls wanted.
    At some point, censorship has to step in. We cannot encourage a society that is going off the rails in such a debased and destructive manner.

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