Re: The Violence Problem

Anders Sandberg (
23 Dec 1997 14:22:05 +0100 (David A Musick) writes:

> The problem is when people believe that harming or destroying others
> is an appropriate and effective way of accomplishing what they want
> in the world.

Note the similarities to other dysfunctional but widespread social
strategies (such as inventing excuses for coming late; nobody believes
them, but we still invent them). There are plenty of bad strategies
around, but since they are tenacious and self-reinforcing they are
hard to get rid off. I have a feeling we need to develop cognitive
psychology and memetics more in order to really do something about
this general problem. Violence is more specific (and immediately
dangerous), so it is worth focussing on it.

> Now, the problem is that many people learn, mostly through observation of
> others, that violence and threats of violence are somewhat effective ways
> of getting others to do what they want them to. This strategy works, to
> some extent, so it is reinforced. It also tends to cause the adrenal
> glands to secrete adrenelin, which can be quite pleasant, so the behavior
> is reinforced further.

To make things worse, adrenalin also is a memory enhancer. And let's
not forget the dominance-submission behaviors which we mammals are so
fond of.

> However, the violence strategy is flawed in some
> major ways. The most obvious flaw is that it places the attacker in
> significant danger to their own life and well-being, which conflicts with
> their own internal drive for safety. It also tends to encourage others
> to avoid them, thus conflicting with their drive for social acceptance.
> The violence strategy also makes it difficult for the user to bond
> emotionally with others since they tend to use violence most frequently
> against those they live with or are around most often.

Note the self-reinforcing effect here too, since this isolation can be
broken by more violence, or by associating with other violent
individuals in a group situation.

> I believe violence is a learned behavior and the idea that violence is a
> good solution is a common and powerful meme. What we need are some very
> good counter-memes. People need to realize that violence is not a good
> long-term solution. And they need to teach their children that, and to
> teach them much more effective ways of getting what they want, so that
> violence will seem like a ridiculous alternative.

A good idea. I think we should introduce children to the logic of the
prisoners dilemma as early and possible, showing them *why and how*
cooperation in general is better than defection (instead of the
traditional way that just says cooperation is "good" and defection
"evil"). I have no doubt that it is possible to raise kids into
balanced, rational people, but it may be hard to do it in
general. That is what we need memetics for.

> Since so many people are violent, how do the rest of us effectively
> protect ourselves from them? I think that part of the basic training of
> humans, along with communication skills, problem solving skills and other
> such basic skills should include highly effective self-defence skills and
> strategies. People should be trained to use their bodies effectively in
> situations which require close, unarmed combat, and they should be
> trained to effectively use weapons of all sorts, especially how to use
> ordinary objects as weapons. With everyone well-trained, violence would
> no longer be a good solution, even in the short-term, since there would
> be few potential victims, and the risk of trying violence would be very
> great, especially since any bystanders would be quite capable of
> apprehending you.

In principle I agree with you. I train ninjutsu myself, and have found
that the training has benefits on many levels ranging from fitness to
an improved ability to deal with people and situations I wouldm
formerly have found threatening. If people in general could get the
same benefits, it would be great and likely reduce violence
significantly. Unfortunately it is not easy to implement this, both
practically and given the fact that a significant number of people
tend to be too passive (not to mention effects such as diffusion of
social responsibility). But I think it is worth looking into.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
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