Now one of the assumptions that is made about violence is that it is always exclusively directed at some figure: a person, an animal, or even an inanimate object. How many times have we seen or heard about a person taking out his anger by throwing a glass or a dish against the wall or the floor? Our notion of causality assumes that people always act on other discrete figures. However, sometimes it is the whole living environment itself that can bring on violent reactions, but because it is hard to act out against an environment, another figure - a person or animal or thing - becomes the object of anger. Anger against the environment can be an element in a violent reaction against an organism, and predispose a person who has a conflict or an annoyance with an organism, to act violent with it.
The key is that different kinds of environments bring out different kinds of violence. In traditional organic environments, the danger to the person is that of undifferentiating, of losing his self-definition, as the person tends to be enveloped by all the organic stimuli around him. I said in a previous article that animals strengthen their sense of self through intensely focused attacks on other animals. But the danger, the enemy, is not simply the other animal. It is also aspects of the total organic environment. The animal or the person is also fighting the perishability in the natural environment that leads to undifferentiation of the self. He does that through hardening the sense of self by focusing on an enemy and aiming aggression towards that enemy. This is what can be called goal-oriented violence.
In modern technological environments, a different kind of violence arises. In this case the environmental danger comes from the numbness created by the vacuum living environments that people live and work in. Vacuum environments create situations of entropy which refers to the random distribution of atoms in a vacuum. Psychologically, it refers to how people break apart in a vacuum and lose their feeling. People fight to hold themselves together, to maintain their self-coherence, by striking out in any direction to stimulate themselves to life. This is where you get all the random acts of violence in modern society, like from the people who go to public places and start shooting whoever is around. This is what can be called process-oriented violence. A person strikes out violently simply to feel alive and hold himself together.
People can also lose their feeling and become sensorily disrupted by the tension pockets of overstimulating static that float in the vacuum environment today: the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the honking horns, the belching smoke, the clusters of tall buildings that don’t fit together, the blaring modern music, the crowding from people. Again, people have to fight to hold themselves together and prevent themselves from crumbling apart through process-oriented aggression.
There are people who seem to feel threatened by both a loss of self-definition and a loss of self-coherence. These are people who go to public places and shoot both a specific enemy and the random people around them. This should not be confused with acts of war where an enemy is bombed from the air and innocent people who are close by to the military target get injured or killed as well. That is called collateral damage. The principal purpose of traditional military violence is still to target a specific enemy who randomly ends up being surrounded by innocent people or who purposely surrounds himself by innocent people in order not to be hurt.
People thought that, in building modern technological societies, they would create more civilized societies in which violence was eliminated or, at least, significantly diminished. The idea was that, in separating themselves from the natural environments of wild animals, people would lose their violent tendencies. We all see now that this isn’t happening. Violence is simply taking a different form in order to defend a person against the relatively newer dangers of entropy and numbness.
Look at all the cyberaggression that is occurring today. Hackers try to destroy computers, steal personal identities and reveal secret documents. These people need to hurt others to feel alive and to prevent themselves from crumbling apart.
And look at cyberthreats and cyberteasing that occur among students today. One can do horrendous things to a student through a few well-placed comments on Facebook. Cyberviolence can take the form of embarrassing and inappropriate photos placed on social media.
So violence does not go away just because we separate ourselves from the natural environments of wild animals. And it is highly doubtful that it will ever disappear entirely, because it seems to be a psychologically useful process to jolt a person to life when his sense of self is threatened by elements in his external environment. In organic environments, the threat is that of being blended back into an undifferentiating organic grounding. In modern technological environments, it is crumbling apart from the numbing influences of the vacuum aspects of modern living environments and, alternately, the overstimulating jading influences of the free-floating static stimuli in the tension pocket aspects of modern living environments.
And if we want to diminish the appearance of unwanted violence in our living environments, we have to formulate strategies today, just as people used traditional religion to diminish and channel violence in more organic living environments. Religion developed rituals that helped put people in transcendental states to stand apart from the wild flow of nature, and it created moral rules to help people stand apart from the violence in nature and the potential for violence in themselves. These rituals and rules became strong psychological figures in people’s minds. With them, people could stand apart from living environments with enveloping grounding that tended to undifferentiate and swallow them up.
Today, however, we have a different set of threats. We need more blending ground stimulation, not less, to help people feel coherent and, therefore, less in need of process-oriented violence. We need nature, organic art and handicrafts, community, all kinds of primary experience. We need human bonding, parties, celebrations, adventures, doing things with one’s hands. We need face-to-face contact between people. We need opportunities for people to make imprints and hold themselves together without violence.
Humans have created a transcendental technological environment to escape the savagery in nature and have put themselves in a new kind of field of experience that brings out robotic violence. These complex technological entities that surround us and that are supposed to make our lives easier and open up new worlds, these entities are not always doing things in our best interest. We must use them with moderation and caution. And we must keep a certain distance from them, so that they do not influence our behavior too much, and cause us to descend into robotic process-oriented violence.
c 2012 Laurence Mesirow