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Why Don't We Try to Understand and End Human Violence?

Why Don't We Try to Understand and End Human Violence?

by Robert J. Burrowes
November 26, 2013

The pre-eminent problem confronting humankind is human violence. It is our own violence, in its various guises, including the ongoing possibility of nuclear war and the ongoing devastation of the natural environment, that threaten to consign us to the fossil record within decades, if not sooner. And yet we devote virtually no effort to trying to understand human violence and to developing strategies to end it. Why?

The short and highly unpalatable answer is this: because most of us want to use violence when it suits us and to 'get away with it' when we do. This is why most of us find ways to inflict our violence in socially legitimized ways or we do it in relative secrecy. Apart from inflicting violence on our own children and the natural environment, society has created whole sectors of activity in which 'legitimized violence' can be inflicted.

The most obvious example of socially endorsed violence is that allowed during military service but another sector that absorbs many perpetrators of violence is the police, legal and prison system. Many police, judges, magistrates, prosecutors and prison officers use their socially legitimized role to inflict their violence (whether directly in the form of assaults or institutional in the form of imprisonment and capital punishment) on those individuals snared in the legal system. There is no evidence that violence (even when labeled 'punishment') and the fear that it causes can restore functionality. However, modern societies have devoted vast quantities of resources to the military, police, legal and prison systems rather than financing research efforts to understand why human beings are violent and then developing comprehensive strategies to eliminate this violence based on an understanding of its cause.

This failure to understand violence means that a vast and ever-increasing quantity of resources must be devoted to maintaining both military forces that are sent to kill all over the world and an endlessly expanding system of highly dysfunctional 'law enforcement' in which individuals are no longer considered important once they are defined as 'criminal'.

Why do governments devote resources to the military, police, legal and prison systems? In brief, this occurs because members of governments want to perpetuate violence in the delusional belief that it gives them 'control' and one socially endorsed way of participating in this violence is to perpetuate an institutional framework that defines 'enemies' and 'criminals' as legitimized victims. This happens because people who feel powerless to control what is important (particularly the violence they suffered at the hands of their own parents) seek control of other people and things (including trivia) to avoid the feeling of powerlessness.

The social investment in violence at all levels is staggering: if it was not, as noted above, there would be substantial research funds devoted to understanding the origins of violence so that it could be reduced and eventually eliminated. But there is no budget allocation anywhere to fund research to understand this most pervasive and phenomenally destructive problem, although humans spend approximately $2billion each day on military violence and a staggering, but unknown to me, amount on the world's police, legal and prison systems. Who benefits? It includes individuals working in government and the military forces, those corporations that make the weapons and build the military and prison infrastructure, and those individuals (including police, lawyers and judges) who gain employment within legal institutions.

However, the victims of military violence, 'criminals' and particularly 'the public' (that is, the vast majority of the world's population) do not benefit because violence is perpetuated rather than progressively cut back. How do governments, legal institutions, corporations and the individuals who work within them actually benefit? At the superficial level it is about things like status and money: taxes, profits, income from jobs. But the deeper, psychological reason is that it helps these individuals to suppress awareness of the terror, self-hatred and powerlessness that has destroyed their Self-hood and that drives their use of violence in the delusional belief that they will regain 'control'.

So what can we do? Despite the lack of social effort to understand human violence, there is a comprehensive explanation available. According to this research, all violence is an outcome of the visible, 'invisible' and 'utterly invisible' violence inflicted by adults on children. (See 'Why Violence?') Once the child has been damaged, it will inflict violence on itself, the people around it, as well as non-human species and the natural environment; it will also play a part in maintaining structures of violence and exploitation, such as the education and legal systems.

If you wish to join the worldwide movement to end all violence, you can sign online 'The People's Charter to Create a Nonviolent World'

Human beings will end violence or
Violence will end human beings


Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of 'Why Violence?' His website is at

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