Insensitivity to world violence

05/16/2013

It is difficult to explain how humans can be both violent and peaceful. We have the capacity to be loving, sensitive, easy going, reasonable, generous and compassionate, but we can be simultaneously aggressive, intolerant, vengeful, controlling, destructive and cruel. In today’s world, where understanding, democracy, justice and equality drive civilization, along with laws to promote the collective good in peaceful and tolerant coexistence, we frequently find just the opposite occurring.

Thus, despite the best intentions and social advances, we face this contradiction almost casually. A brief review of history reveals that humanity has suffered through centuries, even millennia, of violent events. In their development, the grand civilizations have achieved expansion, control and domination through wars, weapons, oppression and other expressions of violence. History shows a range of wars and exterminations fueled by a desire for power and control. Progress and violence have gone hand in hand.

As we have moved toward a more civilized, developed and sophisticated world, we have used violence in all its many expressions. In order to assert local, regional or global control, the great powers have used armies with powerful and sophisticated arms to control weaker entities or to confront their competitors for that control, as in the World Wars and Cold War.

To further their own interests, governments often impose strict ideas or harsh regimens on their citizens without apparent reason. This can lead to violence that feeds on itself, creating yet more violence. This violence is said to be “justifiable,” and we see an endless list of violent movements in defense of country, honor, independence or some other lofty reason. This occurs among diverse groups, especially religious ones, with their respective heroes and myths, and established democracies coexist comfortably with dictatorships that base their domination on every kind of violence and oppression.

Violence is justified as being necessary to ensure the establishment’s ability to control things, an ability that must be respected for the greater good. Every country has one or more groups specially trained to exercise institutional and “legitimate” violence: armies, navies, air forces, various police agencies, secret services, et cetera. But in this unequal and imperfect world these groups often commit abuses or are used by authorities or other interests for their own benefit. This occurs between countries and within them. It is important to note that neither the United States’ wars and constant invasions nor other countries’ interventions—like the “war on drugs” of the previous Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, which left some 60,000 dead and thousands missing—have produced the desired results.

Poverty, inequality and injustice are sources of violence. In the 80s and 90s, with economic crises in Mexico and Latin America, along with corrupt governments, societal inequality, unemployment and monetary devaluations, we saw new expressions of violence in the big cities: robberies, kidnappings, assaults and youth gangs whose pride of membership was based on irrational violence. These groups expanded from north to south, together with drug use and arms sales. The sale of drugs and immigration has moved in the opposite direction, from south to north.

In the globalized and highly interconnected world of today, the promotion of violence has multiplied. It is casually presented as entertainment in video games, films, television, the Internet, YouTube and smart phones. People, primarily those who are young, increasingly accept it as the norm. Bullying, street fights, beatings, robberies, rape and sexual abuse, excessive drug use, pornography and child pornography are considered everyday things, and prostitution and human-trafficking is a big business controlled by international mafias tolerated by authorities.

These new and increasingly sophisticated expressions of violence invade the world of children and young people by new means to which their parents don’t have equal access. Highly technological media enable immediate connection and are “globalized.” Thus a teenager in Nicaragua can view a beating on YouTube filmed in Seattle or a sexual assault by riotous American “spring breakers” on the beach in Mexico; he can then share it, reinterpret it and perhaps imitate it with his friends.

There is almost no big city in the world that does not have walls covered with graffiti, that territorial expression of gang violence initiated in the United States that is not treated the same way in all countries. The closer innocent people are to violence, the less sensitive they are to it. This is the case in countries subject to wars and killings like Mexico, where the appearance of savagely tortured and dismembered bodies is no longer news. Fifteen years ago this would have been unacceptable. Violence, in simple and extreme forms, is part and parcel of today’s world.