Why Human Beings are Prone to Violence?

Our progress from non-human primate to Homo sapience rests in our capacity to
understand others’ subjective experience, what my colleagues and I called
“mentalization”, the assumption that others have minds enables us to work
together… The natural urge to control the behavior of less powerful members of
our group through the threat of violence becomes maladaptive. The threat of
physical violence directly interferes with mentalization… It was free exploration
of the other’s mind that ensured survival.
Peter Fonagy*

A dagger and a coin are the two edges of violence. A coin is simultaneously a dagger and the thing that attempts to prevent violence. It is a civilized (liberal?) dagger. A coin is care that controls and manipulates. A coin can be a strike with deferred effects, like a bullet that sleeps for a time inside the body before it releases in full its destructive energy.

While dagger can be dangerous to lick, coin is the licker’s delight. The admirers of money’s metal power not only like to lick coins. They also adore sucking them. They put dollar-coins into the mouth, and you may be surprised at how much of the sweetest saliva will burst out to greet money – streams, brooks, rivers, waterfalls. Licking and sucking coins is the surrealist essence of being hooked on accumulating money that, like accumulating weapons and military technology is, ultimately, a delirious attempt to protect ourselves from our human mortality. Oh, the path to life after death is paved by daggers and coins. Weapon and money are autistic objects with over-protective (and, for this reason, destructive) psychological function.

Weapon and money are the twin forms of aggression. “The frequency children are likely to resort to physical aggression…decreases with age. Physical aggression peaks at perhaps around the second year of life… Social experience is there to tame destructiveness inherent in humanity… Self-control is developed through the efficient exercise of attentional mechanisms and symbolization… Individuals whose aggression is high in early childhood, and continues into adolescence and early adulthood, have had attachment experiences that failed to establish a sense of other as psychological entity… the common path to violence is the momentary inhibition of the capacity for communication or for interpretation… Threats to self-esteem trigger violence in individuals whose self-appraisal is on shaky ground – they exaggerate their self-worth (narcissism) and are unable to see behind the threats to what is in the mind of the person threatening them.” (Peter Fonagy) When children are not provided with positive and intelligent relationships with parental figures early on in their lives they develop aggressive reactions as maladaptive strategies to handle deprivations in their development (the inability to interact with others through empathic effort and cognitive mapping).

The extra-protective (psychotic) reactions of self-aggrandizement and aggression are needed to reinforce the ego depleted of self-respect and self-confidence (which can only come about as a result of the experience of having been satisfied inside a caring, secure and mentally stimulating relationships during infancy and childhood). A child has a right to have parental figures that can react on its needs in a generous and intelligent way. Instead what we get are adults who are traumatized by their own childhood deprivations and stresses of the adulthood that makes them over-react on their child’s natural psychological needs with indifference or frustration. As a result we are psychologically abandoning the area of human attachment as not friendly, and we are trying to become extra-powerful or extra-rich and are prone to be sentimental.

We dream about power or wealth when we are deprived of “banal” human togetherness. Super-human pretensions come as a result of emotional shortages. Being on God’s side, dreaming about Eternity and Immortality, having Messianic Agendas like Communism, Nazism, Bushmerican “freedom-democracy” patter are just various symptoms we unconsciously invoke to compensate ourselves for the basic psychological lack that keeps injuring us – the absence of benevolent psychological contact with the primary figures of our life.

Then, are the basic human emotional satisfactions – sharing love, care, empathy, thinking and understanding, the limit of the human existential experience? Is being human an end to all our expectations, aspirations and dreams? No, it is a prerequisite for acquiring the ability to transcend human limitations, only by not moving into super-human area – but to the advanced areas of human development. The intra-existential development doesn’t need belief in super-human agencies. It relies on human (albeit the enlightened) logic and reason. It is exactly the lack of psychological development (of intra-existential spirituality) what makes us hungry for super-human support.

*Peter Fonagy is a specialist in psychological etiology of violence and many other issues relevant for the understanding of human problems today.