Saturday, March 24, 2007

On violence

I missed a day, but I had a good reason: they put those funky dilating eye drops in at my eye doctor's, so I had to do things besides look at a computer screen. Weird. Anyway, a frequent reader asks:

Austin, why do people hurt each other? Are human beings naturally violent, or is it something that movies and video games have taught us?

I think that the empirical evidence shows that human beings are naturally violent, but that society plays a large role in determining how violently people will behave. As this wikipedia article discusses, culture, economic factors, and the media can all affect rates of violent behavior in human beings. To focus on the media issue, I think the empirical results thus far demonstrate that our society's violent films and music increase the amount of violence present among us. But what does this mean for policy-makers, lovers of pop culture, and parents?
Not a whole lot, methinks. Parents should continue to raise their kids and teach them non-violence by example. Policy-makers should remember that the Constitution constrains their actions, but also that attempts at social engineering of this sort can do more harm than good by convincing people that they are not responsible for their own actions. Growing up around a lot of violence should be an opportunity to learn how costly it is to the individuals that perpetrate it, its victims, and the surrounding community, not an excuse to continue a harmful cycle. Creators of films and music should continue to create art that depicts their understanding of the world. I think many critics of violence in film, books and so forth don't realize that such depictions are themselves often subtly critical of the violence we see all around us. The campaign against American Psycho comes to mind: anyone who reads this book or watches the movie should see that it is not glorifying the disgusting protagonist that it portrays but showing how sick and meaningless his life is.


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