Monday, December 3, 2007

Origins of Evil & Violence

Several weeks ago I was on an on-line forum about religion in politics and friends of mine asked penetrating questions about the origins of evil and violence. I thought about this and responded.

Male Aggression

My own musings on this issue have to do with male experience and roles. I wonder if aggression served men well through hundreds of thousands of years as they set off on “the hunt” to secure meat, skins, and other animal parts. Through thousands of years the male brain prepared itself for battle and conquest, sometimes in life and death situations. The male brain began to assume that there is danger in the world and one must fight in order to survive. Thus males, having evolved a culture that no longer requires the hunt in order to meet basic needs for survival, still live with the unconscious assumption that a threat lurks on the horizon. In our American context that threat in the last hundred years has been communism and now terrorism. Much of the developing world and the Muslim world sees the threat as European colonialism and American imperialism. The male mind creates a threatening enemy to confirm its unconscious assumptions about the world. It is a self-fulfilling prophesy. George W. Bush said that Al Qaeda was active in Iraq, when in actuality it was not there at all. But now, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Al Qaeda is there. The prophesy has been fulfilled.

I think the myth of the rivalry between Cain and Able has to do with the male transition from being a hunter to being a farmer of domesticated plants and animals. Cain tilled the soil and his son Enoch built the “first” city. Thus the domesticated male, has had this internal anger, unleashed as lethal against his “brother.” Males in America are still on “the hunt,” whether it is gang violence in inner cities, police and detective work, professional football, militias in Michigan, the KKK in Indiana, or plowing through the deserts of Iraq.

My understanding of Muhammad, Buddha, and Jesus is that they all came to bring restraint to male violence. The Karen Armstrong biographies of Muhammad and Buddha work on this theme.


Kathryn, you make the important observation the Martin Luther King held that “nonviolent resistance dos not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.” Here too we have the presence of rivalry, which King sought to channel into nonviolent confrontation and eventually to friendship. Rene Girard has another concept here that might be useful: “scapegoat.” When individuals or a community are not able to acknowledge and deal with the aggression within their midst, they often project that aggression and threat onto a “scapegoat.” In ancient culture this was actually a goat that was ritually sacrificed. I wonder if white racism against blacks is a denial on the part of whites of our own submerged transgressions and then the project of these denied transgressions onto the “scapegoat” – most often the black male. We certainly lock up black men in shocking numbers. Michael Moore, in his film, “Bowling for Columbine,” concludes that white fear of black men is one of the forces that animates the white American psyche.

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