What is it with the world we live in that we can turn on the news every morning and without fail see the latest strings of violence perpetrated against fellow human beings? What is it with the species to which we belong that deep inside us, there is a part of us – though we wish it were a part from us – that cries, hungers for blood and strife? Since the dawn of man our kind has warred and hunted one another to sate with blood those deep and inexplicable wants.
“Oh what is wrong with the human race?” we sigh and we cry and otherwise analyze problems with the world around us, as if they originate from the outside to begin with. The problem, of course, is much deeper. It lies inside us all.
To all who disagree, I challenge you to visit a daycare and observe for a day. Or perhaps an hour will do. Many of us only have to recollect some of our childhood memories – the ones we smile and laugh at: “Remember how selfish we were?” I laugh at the fact that most of us consider those memories so distant and view the evil scheming children as someone wholly other than ourselves, wholly different. But are they really that different? Are we really that different? Have we truly changed or are we simply better at masking and suppressing those desires that society has deemed uncivilized? Have we just stuffed them deeper and deeper from where they’ve come?
In some cultures, this propensity towards violence is never weeded out. It becomes a way of life. Consider the natives of Papua New Guinea: until Europeans arrived, cannibalism was a standard way of life, a standard cultivated, in part, because of a lack of protein from the local vegetation.
I can only imagine bringing one of these “savages” to the West, inculcating, by slow degrees, the need to preserve and protect human life. In their lifestyle, an offense or insult can end in murder, often escalating to a feud. This is simply barbarism to us. Why? Our societies place a much higher emphasis on the value of coexistence. From the cradle those beasts within us are tamed and caged in the dark recesses of our murky souls, never truly gone.
Anger is a constant presence, always threatening to break out of those bars we spend our lives constructing. The first layer of defense is broken as anger poisons our thoughts and fantasies; the second as those thoughts take on verbal flesh; the third as they manifest in action, in violence. There is something so satisfying about the physical manifestations of anger and frustration that it scares us, and we push it down deeper once we’ve regained “our heads.”
A lot of us are in denial. Denial that anger isn’t a part of us, that violence isn’t inevitable. A lot of us forget that as humans we are, as a rule, part animal. The animal kingdom, I’m afraid, is rife with acts of angered violence. I’ve yet to meet an individual crueler or more callous than Mother Nature. But no, it is certainly not violence that makes us human. It is its antithesis. It is love, forgiveness, empathy, sympathy and sacrifice that separates us from the mercilessness of the species. Of course this or that study shows the altruism of this or that monkey, but no other life form shows it on a regular basis. No other life form lives and thrives and dwells in the asylum of expected nonviolence.
Realistically, there is no reason to expect us to all forsake that animal part that isstill inside us. There will always be those who keep the newspapers in circulation. I think it is valuable to understand the war within us and keep primed our weapons. Continuing to wage that war is what keeps us human. It is ironic, though, that to suppress the primordial cause of war we must fight another.
Jonathan Warkentine is a College freshman from Almaty, Kazakhstan