Like no other living thing, human beings have the capacity to think, reason and intellectualize, develop highly civilized and educated societies, recreate and shape the world around them and create wondrous works. We can be friendly and cordial and establish civil rules, which are orderly and respectful of the collective fellowship. At the same time, we can also be aggressive, destructive and violent. We oppress our fellow human beings and subject them to unspeakable torture and suffering, including extermination without pity.
Civility and violence seem to go together throughout our history and they are part of our lives, inside and out, every day. We see them in the most intimate and casual relationships, as well as in formal, social, political and even religious ones. Recorded history shows a series of incredible accomplishments and conquests achieved under cover of violence, control and the extermination of others. Major civilizations have extended their power thanks to the mastery of the means of destruction, and today this is truer than ever. War and peace have always existed, even under well-established rules, and it would appear that one cannot exist without the other.
The past century saw a high degree of development and scientific, technological and social progress, along with terribly destructive wars, oppressive and dictatorial regimes and social conquest without precedent. Civil liberties and rights, and the recognition of universal human equality and dignity regardless of race, gender, origin, sexual orientation and other discriminatory differences, are increasing, along with the rights of non-human living beings and the conservation of the environment. All this, in spite of a capitalistic social and economic system imposed on the world that on one hand advanced and built a better quality of life and on the other prevented the majority of people from achieving it, and in so doing preserved a poverty and inequality ever more extreme while systematically destroying the environment.
Now we are on the threshold of a new era, with technological changes inconceivable only a few years ago, an increased concern with human rights for all and a hopeful outlook for our general wellbeing. Anyone can find anything, or be heard by anyone in an instant. But the economic, social and religious disparities between groups of all kinds and origins continue to grow, creating numerous demonstrations of disagreement and violence.
This capitalist culture of disparities, with its growing technology and communication, is generating new kinds of violence, such as we see among the disadvantaged urban groups whose children join gangs that battle for territory and sell illegal drugs and other things. This violence reaches schools and juvenile life in general, and exacerbates the use of drugs, alcohol and other substances and fuels impersonal sex and the objectification of people, especially women, in all aspects of daily life. The marketing and promotion industry reflects this trend, with music, film, television, digital media and Internet devices, YouTube, texts, Facebook and others that reproduce and exalt violence without control.
Violence, abuse and bullying are widespread at every socioeconomic level and in every geographic area. The movies, television and the Internet glorify and expand it, not only with ever more daring tabloid and reality shows, but with news programs that often influence and inform social breakdown driven by economic inequality and the concentration of wealth. Then there are those other subtle forms of psychological violence: unemployment and political and government corruption.
The socialist struggles driven by the Soviet Union and the dictatorships and counterinsurgencies sponsored by the United States in Central and South America and other parts of the world during the Cold War promoted a violence that continues to this day. Now the traffickers and suppliers of drugs, of which the United States and other developed countries are the major consumers, are using former soldiers, police and mercenaries trained by those countries as their paramilitary forces. These groups commit violence of an unlimited intensity and are expanding their activities to other illicit businesses. The so-called war against drugs of Mexican ex-president Felipe Calderón only served to increase that violence and brought military and police human rights abuses to hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
The senseless violence of gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha in Central America and other regions originated in the streets of Los Angeles in the battle for control of drugs provided by the C.I.A. in the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration. The deported gang members have now created a virtual state of siege in large areas of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and parts of southern Mexico. This is a major reason for the tremendous influx of children from those areas that has produced the present immigration crisis.
The violence promoted and exalted by the media has become commonplace, surprising only those who are lucky enough to live in places and under conditions that allow them to see it on television or other devices from a comfortable armchair, with the luxury of ignoring it altogether and the lack of awareness that they may be among its enablers.
Victor Reyes is a translator, teacher, writer and native of Puebla, Mexico with decades-old ties to the Light.