A Violent Fascination – by Melissa Berg

violentdelightsquoteThese words, first written by Shakespeare, now used by the Hosts of the new HBO series Westworld, point out one basic truth:

Humans crave violence.

For centuries we have tried to suppress it, but like trying to hold a beach ball underwater, it just pops up again somewhere else, making it almost impossible. The show Westworld is taking a more philosophical look into the morality of this craving and where, if not controlled, it could lead us. While recently, science has gone deeper into the why. We want a peaceful society, but as history has taught us suppression just leads to oppression, and it is here where the uprisings begin. Try to name one instance where this isn’t so…

Instead of trying to suppress it I think we need to look at it a different way. We need to accept our human nature and find its true Balance, as with all things.

In order to accept it, we first need to understand it. Violence is a part of our human nature. Science has been able to point out the biological reasons as to why we enjoy violence—check out this article http://www.livescience.com/2231-humans-crave-violence-sex.html

Right… So that explains the ‘how it works’… but it doesn’t explain why it feels good. What purpose would craving violence serve?

I, like many of you, love a good action movie. I love a good first-person shooter game too. I also like the screaming intensity and anger emoted at a live Nine Inch Nails concert… Science tells me that I like it because of that good ‘ole hormone called dopamine, a hormone released in the brain’s reward system. But why are we rewarded for such ‘bad behavior’? The answer lies in our more primitive selves, the one that used to hunt and gather and mate to preserve our existence. We used to think that violence only triggered adrenaline, the fight or flight hormone. But if you’ve ever felt that sudden shaky onslaught that rushes through your legs after almost hitting your neighbor’s dog when he ran in front of your car, then you know that is not the same feeling you get while watching Deadpool’s barrel rolling leap as he fires a single slow-mo shot into the skull of a bad guy.deadpool

Is this because we know it’s not real? Maybe, but more likely it is something else. Adrenaline is what helps us to react to a sudden and surprising situation. Think of a herd of gazelle happily grazing when a lion suddenly pounces. The entire herd reacts in an instant, just as you did to spare your neighbor’s dog. Your brain reacts before you even consciously realize it. The difference here is the intent of the two animals.

lionhungLet’s take a closer look at the lion… Is she reacting to a sudden adrenaline rush? No, she is acting on a basic need, using instinct and honed skill to stalk and then pounce. Adrenaline may be a side effect, but it is not the driving force in her case. It starts with the basic need caused by hunger and the want to feed her cubs. If it didn’t feel good—the thrill of the chase—then there would be no drive to accomplish it. Basic hunger is one thing, but there are other ways to find and forage for food.

Our more primitive ancestors needed this drive as much as any animal did, because it was dangerous, and they would have had to put themselves in the middle of dangerous situations on purpose in order to achieve their goal. And to say that hunting, chasing down, and killing an animal for food isn’t a violent act is a delusion, no matter how much of a necessity it was.

watershipdownquoteBack then, we were a part of the cycle. We were part of that delicate Balance of life. It all changed when we learned to control fire and started to cook our food. Our stomachs got smaller, and our brains got larger, and we realized how hard hunting really was. We wanted life to be easier, so we figured out how to farm and domesticate our food before we killed and ate it. While that drive to go out and have fun in the bonding yet violent action of killing for food or protecting our family never went away. We suppressed it. And suppression may work for a time, but eventually we become bored.


Frustration can lead to anger, resentment, aggression… and this took the place of our need to survive. This urge to ‘do something aggressive’ took the form of segregation, separating ourselves from those groups that were different. We turned our ‘gotta fight something’ instinct into an us-against-them falsehood that justified our actions by recreating the innate drive to protect what is ours from the evil that lurks out there. Just having the basic staples of life easy to acquire was not enough, we had to take and take and take some more to be sated, though, more can never be enough. The value of objects has replaced the drive for hunger and shelter and turned it into greed. After all, if you already have food and a safe home, what else will that instinctual drive strive for?

To say we are more violent now than we were hundreds of years ago is just another delusion created by those seeking to suppress and control. We still have war, but often it is instigated by those who cannot hinder their own drive for more, which is really just their undisciplined and unenlightened ideals creating an inability to control their own greed. While those who do not question it, and instead are easily swayed and led—like the gazelle who follow the first one’s instinctive reaction (the mob mentality, which is another issue in its own right)—create the means to the Greedy Leader’s end. Except, there really is no end, there never can be for people like that. Whether by government leadership or religion, violence has always been suppressed… until it was needed most. History has taught us this again and again.

How can we find Balance with our primitive selves?

Now, in the societies where we have everything we need along with the means to acquire it, we really are less violent because we don’t try to suppress it, not completely. We have found other peaceful ways to express this drive, which has proven to need its own reward as much as being hungry, thirsty, or tired. We play sports, we watch violent movies, we express our anger and frustration through music and art, and those of us less athletic even get to participate by playing violent video games. Just because TV/film and games have become more violent, doesn’t mean that we as a society have become more violent, it means we are becoming more Balanced. We understand that when a need is not being met, we act out, usually in a negative way. Truly enlightened individuals who abhor the thought of actually hurting another person, yet enjoy expressing their anger at a colleague by mowing down zombies with their virtual reality car, do, in fact, feel better about the things that upset them. That drive to protect ourselves from the evils out there is still being met, even if it is just pretend. It’s a form of play acting, similar to your dog playing a game of tug or your cat hiding before he pounces. In either case, they are not about to eat you, they don’t even want to hurt you. They are just exercising the natural skills and drives they were born with, and they do it not because of adrenaline or hunger, but because it is fun and it feels good—it is rewarding.

In my series The Shifting Balance, a large part of the philosophy is the idea of the Shifts—a reworking of the seven deadly sins. They are: Greed/Gluttony, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Apathy, Sadism, and Hate. I explain how one can lead to another, and if not kept in check, any of these can Shift a soul toward darkness. But I will get into this particular philosophy more at a later date. The basic concept is that we are born with these primitive aspects of our nature. They are not necessarily evil, they are just part of who we are, and it is up to us to keep them along the line of Balance. If we don’t, then that Balance will shift until we get the chance to correct it, if not, we fall.

How do we keep this need for violence in check? One way to start is in how we teach and talk to our kids about violent acts, both real and pretend. Suppressing it altogether doesn’t work, as usually around adolescence the urge to rebel against everything that has been hidden from us causes frustration, anger, and withdrawal, and the teenage curiosity takes over, creating the scenario for something far worse and less easily rectified.

First, a line needs to be drawn between right and wrong, real and pretend. An enlightened and stable mind will understand the difference. Problems ensue when those who have been neglected or have never been taught the difference, lose sight of that line and it becomes blurred…walkingdeadflowers

A very disturbing question and point brought up in several episodes of The Walking Dead.

If your kids watched a violent movie or even one with a lot of action (super hero movies don’t have the blood and gore, but there is plenty of violence) show them how the movie was made, that the blood is fake, and the actors are fine, they are just pretending. Don’t just tell them, actually show them the behind-the-scenes extras of the movies you buy. Show them how the make-up is put on, and the mat the ‘bad guy’ lands on. How she is trained to do stunts, and that they don’t actually hit each other, it is just the camera angles creating the illusion that a real hit is connecting, along with a good sound effect. Now, I’m not condoning the idea that you should take your kids to see Deadpool or even Saving Private Ryan. Obviously stick to age-appropriate titles, and shelter them from real violence as much as you can. When you can’t, and they see something on the news, this is the time to have a conversation about the events, along with the people experiencing those events. The difference is that those people have real families, feel real fear and anger and sadness, and their injuries are real, not make-up. By teaching these differences at an age when kids are able to understand it, then you instill the basic empathic judgment you will build on later—for me personally, my son happens to be more easy going than most, and not easily frightened; we started having these discussions when he was around four or five-years-old. Every child is different, so use your own good judgment as well; teachable moments come up all the time, use them.

My son is eight-years-old now, and the usual September 11th documentaries came on. I watched with him, and we talked about it. I wanted to make sure he understood the difference between a building being blown up and collapsing in a movie, to the real life event, and the way we all felt watching it happen. Which brings me to two other aspects involving our fascination with violence:

The gawker phenomenon and the movie depiction of real historical events.

Why can’t we turn away and ignore the sight of that mangled car on the side of the road? Why do we feel the need to watch the footage of those planes hitting the World Trade Center again and again? Is this truly part of our craving for violence? Or is it something that goes deeper? I try to analyze my own need to watch all the documentaries, even though I’ve seen them several times. I think it is in part related to our almost neurotic habit of reflecting on events in our own memories. For instance, I remember very clearly the moment when the blur of a white car, veering out of control on a congested three lane highway, slammed into the vehicle directly behind me. We were in the third lane next to the guardrail. I saw it all in my rearview mirror, yet at the same time I was so stunned that it happened, that I just kept driving, while everyone behind me had to stop, semi trucks and all, including some of the cars in the oncoming lanes because the two vehicles had hit the rail. I remember the type of car that was behind me. I remember seeing the driver because we had been at a crawl moments before. I remember the smell, the sound of the traffic, the heat of that day, even the feeling of sitting in my little ‘87 Chevy Nova. I remember seeing the two cars hit the guardrail as though in slow motion and the smoke that followed. And I remember the empty space on the road as the distance between me and the rest of the traffic grew. I remember my dog, just a puppy then, was fast asleep in the back seat. Later I found that the trunk of my car had been covered with the green sheen of anti-freeze, because though we were going 45 mph at the time, the congestion had caused us to be only feet apart and we hadn’t spread out yet. Why do I remember all of this so clearly? And why do I occasionally think about this and other events, reliving them like a news clip showing something over and over in my mind? Because once the moment of shock wears off, we seek to understand the event. We watch events unfold again and again on the news in order to understand them, not just the how and the why, but what it was like to be there, how it must have felt, along with the amazing stories of bravery and human endurance that at times are nearly unbelievable. We stare at the car wreck because we want to know everything. We recreate history in movies to make those events come alive, like Saving Private Ryan or Shindler’s List, as a study and a promise to never forget. We create our own fictional stories of pain, suffering, and redemption because we want to teach others what we have learned about the true power of the human spirit. While stories like Westworld examine even further the definition of human consciousness and if, even in play, the line of Balance can be crossed.

Yet, as events in the world unfold, another question is raised: Is having too much of a good thing, fake or play violence, causing us to become complacent when real action is needed? Whether a fight for our rights as individuals in a free democratic society, or sensing the danger in a darkened parking lot soon enough to stand up and take action. Are we hobbling ourselves to the point that everything we see or even get angry over has been downplayed into a simple illusion, so that once we are alerted to the reality our base instinct to react has been impeded? Again, the Balance is Shifting, and we need to be ready to correct it, no matter which direction it teeters. The real challenge is how can we do this while keeping to our nature within a peaceful and enlightened society?

westworldThe emotionless aspect of violence in sports, movies, and video games may sate that primitive drive that only needs action in order to win, but the stories that surround the violence, the people involved, their struggles, their overwhelming courage, whether real or imagined, cater to our human soul. They give us hope that we can overcome the darkness, and this we need even more than baseless, pointless violence that serves no purpose. We want to feel it, and we want to understand, because maybe in the knowing, we will find enlightenment in our own human existence. We crave the violence that has meaning because maybe we will see something that we didn’t see before. Maybe, if we really pay attention, we will find the real and obtainable answer to saving ourselves.

What are your thoughts and theories? Is there a way we can truly be at peace with violence?

Note: I am not a psychologist, and I don’t claim that my thoughts on such ideas are complete and factual. I have always had a fascination with human nature, and I like to examine the world from all sides, while using my personal experience and observances of others to round out a personal philosophy on life and what makes us who we are. I have created this website to share my theories and what I have observed, and I invite you to share your own ideas or expand on mine.

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