Sunday, June 27, 1999
THE cold blooded murder of Jessica Lal and the gory carnage in a Columbian high school bring us face to face with the fact that man is an animal after all. The question is whether man is inherently violent or is the socialisation process faulty somewhere down the line?
Anger is typical of all living species and its expression is regulated by social norms, but how long can social norms withstand instinctive anger in man? Jessica Lal refused a drink to an already drunk man, and he shot her in retaliation to a perceived insult. There are other non-violent ways of getting even. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, while forwarding the instinct theory of aggression says that a person cannot escape hostile impulses present in him or her. The innate death instinct (Thanatos), if not released periodically in the form of small outbursts, soon reaches high levels and leads to dangerous acts of violence. Ethnologist Konarad Lorenz says that man shares the fighting instinct with other species.
Social psychologists, however, reject this view. Studies have shown that in Norway murder is very rare and fewer than 1 person per 100,000 is a victim of homicide each year. In US, the figure is more than 8 times higher and in parts of New Guinea, it almost eight hundred times higher. This suggests that aggression is strongly influenced by social and cultural factors.
Social psychologists have emphasised the influence of two determinants of violence. The first is the learned social behaviour and the second is exposure to violence in the media.
One learns to overtly express violence depending on the reinforcement one gets from society. A child learns to fight in self defence, on the basis of encouragement by parents but curbs the desire to hit his pet, when angry, for the fear of reprimand by his parents. If at the same time, his caring behaviour towards others is reinforced by praise, the child will learn to be violent only in certain situations.
But do the parents have the time to teach children? Nuclear families, smaller living spaces and highly stressed urban lives leave the children with the most easily available source of recreation the television. The biggest danger of watching violent programmes on TV is that the reinforcement is continuous. Everyday, the hero in the movie gets away with acts of violence. The defendants of the idiot box say that children learn that the hero is fighting for good causes. That may be true but greater consequence is that violent behaviour becomes more and more accepted in our conscious would. It weakens the inhibitions against engaging in such behaviour. The gun becomes a toy and other people the puppets.
Media violence also gives a source of identification to children. A group called the Trenchcoats gunned down innocent children to mark the birth anniversary of their idol, Hitler. Three boys, all below five year of age, who stoned a small girl to death in a village of Haryana, said that they had watched it happening on TV. The impressionable minds of children cannot be left at the mercy of violent, blood thirsty film heroes and villains.
There are some who say that those who react to provocation with a gun are no different from normal people. The only difference is in the possession of a weapon. Lab experiments done on, Does the finger pull the trigger or the trigger pull the finger, reveal that the mere presence of weapons results in a higher probability of violent behaviour. The mere presence of guns makes the act of pulling the trigger look like a fait accompli.
These are differences between men and women where expression of violence is concerned. Men have a tendency towards direct or physical aggression while women are said to be more prone to indirect aggression i.e. manipulation, gossiping etc. This difference is attributed, apart from biological factors, to contrasting socialisation experiences. Indirect aggression can sometimes have fatal consequences and can also lead to direct aggression on the part of the other person.
However the important question is how to decrease, if not end the violence in our lives? An 18th century French philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, in LEmile ou de leducation, suggests an extreme solution whereby every child must be socialised through all ages, under the sharp eye of his or her teacher, to protect him from dangerous influences of the society. BF Skinner, a behavioural psychologist suggests that to produce a generation of conscientious citizens, children must be taught right behaviour at each step, using positive reinforcement and other principles of conditioning.
But would it be right to bind down the diverse and dynamic human nature which also gave to our society a Mother Teresa and an Alfred Nobel. Probably not. Following a middle path based on scientific studies, out of many possible solutions to the problem of violence, social psychologists lay stress on two methods for its control and prevention- exposure to non-aggressive models and training in social skills. Where the former deals with providing peace loving idols for identification to the youngsters, the latter lays stress on learning how to respond to provocations from others in a way that soothes rather than aggravates the situation.
Intercultural studies have shown that cultural differences in learning reactions to frustrations also contribute to expressions of violence. Japanese mothers discourage expression of anger, in their children, while Israeli mothers encourage an overt expression.
Even though the
sociological and psychological causes leading to
aggression, are many, we can narrow our focus to media
exposure and proper socialisation of children. If we
dont , the future society would consist of
alienated, isolated and frustrated individuals who would
have no qualms in pulling the trigger at someone.
| Interview | Bollywood Bhelpuri | Sugar 'n' Spice | Nature | Garden Life | Fitness |
| Travel | Your Option | Time off | A Soldier's Diary | Fauji Beat |
| Feedback | Laugh lines | Wide Angle | Caption Contest |