Violence. There’s a lot of it about. Way too much, by orders of magnitude, if you ask me. You only have to open a web browser and login to a social media site to read all about wars, destruction, brutality, control, surveillance and child abuse – in fact, every variety of unspeakable violence imaginable. Why? What’s wrong with us, as a people, that we cannot curb our appetites for violence in even the most mundane aspects of life? Why is violence so prevalent and out of control? Why is it getting worse? Why are we so broken? What can artists do about it, anyway?
These are very important questions. The first step toward changing dysfunctional behaviours is to work out what the root causes of them are. There can be little doubt that our collective lust for power, command, control, order, domination, hierarchy and self justification has caused untold damage to the planet and its inhabitants. We have the means for this accelerating downward spiral to lead us to extinction. How do we stop this utterly irrational madness? Why are artists a potentially large part of the solution? What is the use and purpose of art, in a world dominated by people hurting each other? Isn’t it all rather futile?
Regular readers will be aware that I have grappled with this subject matter for some time. I personally have a strong and relentless need to know why the world I live in is so apparently and obviously dysfunctional, to the point of possible (if not probable) extinction, as well as trying to understand what can be done about it and whether or not art, the practice of art and living the life of an artist hold at least some of the answers. Wanting to understand why and how something is broken and working out how to fix it is the curse of a life in engineering. It’s the engineer’s perspective. I’ve written before about the creeping psychopathology of the human species and indicated that there are those that are biologically incapable of empathy and a much larger group of people for whom a suppression of empathy is a learned behaviour.
The biologically insensate are wired that way and all you can do is avoid them and minimise the scope of their influence, until they are hopefully bred out of the species by natural (de)selection. We’ve some way to go, however, before psychopaths are generally perceived to be poor mates. Our culture still deifies them. On the other hand, the merciless that acquire that characteristic as a learned behaviour, which are by far more numerous, are possibly redeemable. This is where the best hope lies for our future.
I stumbled across a paper that provided an illuminating explanation for the root causes of violence and how this tendency permeates into all aspects of our economy, society, corporate lives, schooling, legal system, surveillance and intelligence community, warfare and other more or less semi-permanent features of the infrastructure of “civilisation”. It shone a light onto what’s behind the heartlessness. The paper is the result of a forty five year enquiry and research into the root causes of violence, with the aim of affecting change by non-violent means. As a life’s work, it is peerless. What a worthy field of enquiry and how courageous to have pursued it for so long and with such relentless focus on finding the truth.
I doubt I can do justice to the work by paraphrasing it, so I urge readers to read the document in its entirety. It is a very worthwhile use of your time and attention. Here it is: http://dkeenan.com/RJB-WhyViolence.pdf
It’s not comfortable reading material, it has to be said. The terribly challenging thing about reading this exposé is that you very quickly realise that it applies to you, your parents and your children. You can read the litany of mistakes we all make in this paper and realise that each and every one of us is guilty of perpetuating violence, in all its forms. In other words, the world is violent because we all are. This conclusion is well supported by examples, in the paper. The paper also suggests that this is not inevitable.
We all feel fear (except the biologically psychopathic, who don’t). As young children, we fear abandonment, punishment and the disapproval of our parents. We want to please them, but often we are presented with contradictions and conditions that, with a child’s mind, we cannot resolve. We feel afraid, but we are made to suppress and ignore our feelings. We are taught that it is wrong to show emotion.
The teaching of emotional suppression and of ignoring your feelings is through subtle and not so subtle parental violence. In saying violence, the paper includes obvious, visible violence, invisible violence and utterly invisible violence. There is a long litany of examples of each point on the spectrum of violence, in the paper. Reading that list makes you realise we all both fear the violent actions inflicted upon us and in turn, perpetrate violence on those less powerful than us, particularly on children.
We are taught to feel insignificant, that our organic, bodily, human needs are unimportant or wrong and that we must modify our behaviours, through a variety of dysfunctional, learned tactics, in an attempt to avoid further violence (punishment). Our true nature, or “true Self”, is gradually dismantled, under the barrage of different varieties of violence, until the tractable, docile, obedient, compliant “no Self” emerges – a creature that presents no challenge or threat to people more powerful than us, primarily our parents. This dismantling of the integrity of our organic, natural state, as a human organism, is generally complete long before we reach ten years of age. We become terrorised slaves to people more powerful than us in our childhood.
It is fear that makes us submit to violence, but it is also fear that makes us inflict violence. It is fear, too, that makes us believe that it is impossible to end violence, yet our consciences, remnants of our “true self” that are sometimes not quite completely obliterated, tell us that we must end the violence.
To quote from the paper, “Every time that a child is terrorised into surrendering control of its own mind in order to act on the will of another, its unconscious fear, self-hatred, powerlessness and inclination to use violence increase. Thus, the child is taught to be violent towards itself, others and the Earth through an unending sequence of parental and adult behaviours (entailing acts of commission and omission) that, individually, might easily be overlooked or even dismissed as insignificant. In brief, the child’s natural, true Self suffers death by a thousand ‘invisible’ cuts.”
The paper goes on to say, “Under this brutal, terrifying and unrelenting onslaught of ‘invisible’ violence at the hands of its parents, teachers and other adults who are supposed to love and care for it, coupled with the equally brutal, terrifying and unrelenting onslaught of ‘utterly invisible’ violence (denial of the safe time and space necessary to feel the phenomenal fear, pain, anger, sadness and other feelings that this reign of terror and violence is causing), the child is increasingly dysfunctionalised in the direction of ‘socially desirable behaviour’ (that is, in industrialised societies, obedient and hard-working student, reliable and pliant employee, and submissive law-abiding citizen). Moreover, as its dysfunctionalities deepen and its fear of resisting this violence is consolidated more deeply in its unconscious (where it is no longer readily accessible and thus felt), the child increasingly learns to ‘like’ its dysfunctionalities, given the parental and social approval these routinely attract. Even worse, the child takes over responsibility for maintaining its own dysfunctionalities. Unable to get away from the pain, the child stops listening to the pain (that is, the child increasingly suppresses its awareness of the pain) as an indicator that something is wrong and that it should do something different. The warning signs are increasingly ignored because parents, teachers and other adults teach the child that there is no way out. The child eventually stops looking and trying.”
To summarise, the author asks: “So what, exactly, does it mean when I say ‘destroy the Self?’ It means that invisible and utterly invisible violence destroys the components of Self-hood of the child, including its Self-awareness, Self-will, Self-power, Self-memory, Self-approval, Self-worth, Self-respect, Self-judgment, Self-authority, Self-governance, Self-defence, Self-reliance, Self-belief, Self-trust, Self-faith, Self-consciousness and, most importantly, Self-love, thus thwarting the realisation of its True Self. The individual that is left, having been stripped of its Self, is now (unconsciously) terrified, self-hating, powerless and violent (particularly towards itself but also towards others and the Earth) and is readily manipulated into becoming a passively obedient student, worker/soldier and consumer.”
These are profound insights. It shows how each one of us is relentlessly ground down by our elders to become increasingly damaged, degraded, disintegrated, dysfunctional and dangerous to younger members of society. It shows how we lose our ability to feel, to empathise and to act with kindness and benevolence, because it is systematically and perhaps even inadvertently beaten out of us, with no remission, by older members of society and the institutions of society that have been created in their image. Our consequent violence is an explosive expression of pressure relief, which builds up because of the terror, fear, sadness, self-loathing, impotence, loss and pain we feel deep inside, at what has been done to us, but which we are not permitted to express publicly or acknowledge.
Putting the question to parents, the author of the paper argues, “If you want a child who is truthful, compassionate, considerate, patient, thoughtful, respectful, generous, loving of itself and others, trustworthy, honest, dignified, determined, courageous and powerful, then the child must be treated with and experience truth, compassion, consideration, patience, thoughtfulness, respect, generosity, love, trust, honesty, dignity, determination, courage and power. What sort of child will you get if you treat it otherwise? Do you really think that you can smash it into the precise shape that you want, for example, mindlessly obedient, without also getting the corresponding range of emotional, intellectual, physical and behavioural dysfunctionalities that go with mindless obedience?”
Our leaders in our society are increasingly smashing us into the precise shape that the elite in our society want. We are confronted, daily, with new and persistent attempts to bludgeon us into mindless obedience. Dissent is being squashed out of us. It’s getting worse, because more sectors of society, especially those that run things, are feeling increasingly fearful and insignificant.
Why do parents and leaders in our society keep doing this? Why are they trying to stifle dissent, to spin doctor the message, to distrust diversity and to enact an agenda that is antithetical to life? The paper offers this explanation: “Why do adults terrorise the child into suppressing expression of its feelings, and into behaving in accordance with a very narrow range of ‘acceptable’ behaviours? Adults do this because they are unconsciously terrified of their own feelings being ‘triggered’ by the feelings or behaviours of the child. In brief, denied the opportunity to naturally express its feelings, the child suppresses its awareness of its feelings (because the feelings themselves cannot be eliminated through suppression). The child grows into an adult and the cycle is repeated.” In other words, our parents and our leaders are doing these terrible things because they are terrified of feeling their own inner feelings, suppressed but not eliminated, that have resulted from their submission to childhood violence.
To put it another way, once adults gain some measure of influence over the world and events, they assert their will, because their own will has been suppressed for so long. They act without feeling, because their own feelings have been suppressed. Their awareness of their feelings has also been suppressed. Feeling is looked upon as an aberration. In the cycle of violence we have all experienced, we learn to suppress our feelings and to become unaware of our feelings, as children, as a means of self protection against the violence of our elders. The visible, invisible and utterly invisible violence is ambient.
Some of the dysfunctionalities that arise are that we become eager to be obedient, rather than questioning of authority. We believe in the delusion of control, whenever we use violence to achieve our ends. We feel powerless to change things we actually have the ability to change. We exert a perverted form of power through the application of violent means. As substitutes for love and attention, we may turn our attention to futile, insatiable conquests, such as wealth accumulation, the accumulation of power and influence, environmental destruction or the pursuit of fame. There can be no limit to these destructive conquests, because the objects of our conquests cannot actually replace love and attention (especially parental love and attention). It’s impossible.
What can we conclude? We can see that we’re all terrified and that the people that have the most effect on how society runs are probably the most terrified of all. Consider the recent revelations about blanket surveillance. What would lead an individual, or group of individuals, to want to so control and constrain free thought and expression that they would develop the means to spy on everybody, all the time and store the data so gathered forever? It’s a pretty extreme action and also quite a violent one. It asserts control in such a totalitarian and authoritarian way that you must be dealing with very fearful and terrified people. What are they so scared of? What is the violence they fear?
I conjecture that the elite are terrified of losing control and of having their legitimacy to rule exposed as fraudulent. This provides a reasonable and plausible explanation as to why there has been a recent escalation of control. It tells us why wealth is being concentrated like never before, through unashamed and undisguised greed, why child sex abuse scandals are coming to light (throwing the lesser elites to the dogs, to protect and distract from the crimes of the higher ranking), why our governments are passing more Draconian laws which favour the elite at the expense of the general population and vulnerable groups in society, why we have seen a stripping away of civil and human rights, why there has been a marked militarisation and arming of the police and why our news media is filled with items about terror. We are all being violently terrorised, as never before, because those in charge are more fearful than ever that their privilege, rule and influence will soon be at an end. They fear the jig is up. These are the last-gasp, violent acts of terrified, fearful people.
I further suggest that the undercurrent of stories about the Illuminati is just more disinformation, designed to pretend to us that there is a secret, exclusive society of very powerful people, that possess esoteric knowledge and unheard of technologies, based around a Masonic thirty-third degree brotherhood, dedicated to protecting sacred blood lines. It’s hogwash. Yes, they meet and collude, but it is vanishingly unlikely that they possess secret destructive technologies. They already have nuclear weapons and corporations dedicated to environmental destruction and to rendering life not worth living. Why would they need mystical powers? To state that there is a brotherhood dedicated to maintaining order is to rely on a loyalty which will never be repaid and these collaborators will soon learn that. As for sacred blood lines, there is no evidence, genetic or otherwise, that the elite possess extra intelligence, insight, honour, creativity or merit (some would argue that they exhibit demonstrably less). They’re just fearful, terrified, terrorised apes, who experienced violent childhoods, like the rest of us.
In fact, their distinguishing characteristic may be nothing more than the fact that they experienced unparalleled levels of parental and institutional violence, compared to the general population. They may have less capacity to feel and to empathise than the rest of us. Disguised attempts to propagate stories about occult practices, satanic rituals and black magic is more about attempting to manufacture legitimacy for their authority to rule, than it is about the actual power of these ceremonies. That’s not to say they don’t engage in such practices, or fervently believe in the efficacy of them. They may well do. However, the actual power of these so called esoteric, occult, mystical powers is baseless and largely fictional. The blood sacrifices don’t work (except to terrorise people, make people fear the practitioners and propagate violence).
An interesting aside is that if we accept we are being spied upon wholesale by dysfunctional people terrified of losing their grip on power and of having their authority delegitimized, it is ironic to note the excuse they use for introducing the means of spying on us into our everyday lives. We’re told that it’s worth surrendering our privacy to the likes of Google, facebook and twitter, for example, so that it will enable corporations to provide us with enhanced consumer experiences (targeting personalised product advertising relevant to us, for instance). If we realise that consumerism is, itself, a surrogate quest for attention and love that can never be satisfied, then we’re being asked to give up our privacy so that we can perpetuate an absence of real love and attention in our lives. It seems like a very bad deal, when put that way. The violence of losing our privacy is justified so that we can perpetuate the violence of substituting buying stuff for our real, deeper, organic needs for love and attention. Crazy!
How can you recognise and understand the inner thought processes of perpetrators of violence? What are the roots of the cycle of violence that perpetuates? Try this list of characteristics, which emotionally profile perpetrators of violence. It is interesting to test our beloved leaders and corporate heads, against this list (abstracted from the paper I cited earlier):
- Archetype perpetrators are terrified (despite the air of bravado and invincibility they might project)
- Archetype perpetrators are too terrified to consciously identify to themselves their own perpetrator (denial of who they are genuinely terrified of)
- They are unable to defend themselves against their own perpetrator (as a result of refusal to identify their own perpetrator)
- They have a deep sense of powerlessness(even though they may have control over the levers of power)
- They have a deep sense of self-hatred (often disguised behind overt narcissism)
- This negates any sense of personal self-worth, leaving them with an extremely negative conception of themselves as ‘bad’
- Archetype perpetrators unconsciously believe that they deserved the violence (‘punishment’) inflicted on them as a child when they were ‘bad’ (rationalising what was actually nothing they had any control over whatsoever)
- Archetype perpetrators thus end up believing that the individual Self is inherently evil (‘Everyone is a bastard’) and deserves to be ‘punished’ (which is why they believe a little more harshness and legislation will correct everything)
- The feelings of love, compassion, empathy and sympathy, as well as the mental function of conscience, are prevented from developing (the key step in learned psychopathy)
- Archetype perpetrators of violence have been taught (that is, terrorised into believing) that it is wrong to love (it is seen as a weakness)
- Archetype perpetrators of violence have a compulsion to be violent (to explosively release suppressed feelings of fear, terror, pain, anger and powerlessness)
- Archetype perpetrators of violence have a delusional belief in the effectiveness and morality of violence (“I was beaten senselessly as a child and it did me no harm”)
- Archetype perpetrators unconsciously delude themselves about the identity of their own perpetrator (some other people or group made their perpetrator do it, for example)
- Archetype perpetrators project that their (unconsciously chosen) victim is now ‘attacking’ them and this ‘attack’ justifies their own violence against their victim(illegal immigrants, students, the disabled and the unemployed are the current favourites)
- Archetype perpetrators unconsciously project their self-hatred, one outcome of their own victimhood, as hatred for their victim
- Their terror (which they are too terrified to feel) compels them to project itself onto something that is ‘controllable’ (because their original perpetrators never were) and on which they can ‘justifiably’ and safely take revenge
- Archetype perpetrators of violence are terrifiedly incapable of listening to feedback about the harm their violence is causing
- Archetype perpetrators have an intense fear of knowing the truth about their victims, their violence and its consequential harm. (The architects of wars, for example, will defend their decisions forever, despite the evidence. Weapons of Mass Destruction, anyone?)
- This intense fear of the truth that makes archetype perpetrators of violence both bigoted and self-righteous
- They will manipulate the perceptions of others to obscure the truth – they will lie prodigiously in defence of their delusion
- Archetype perpetrators invariably fear those victims who resist their violence, usually perceive resistance to their violence as ‘morally wrong’ and perceive any resistance to their violence (including justifiably expressed anger and/or explicitly nonviolent resistance) as ‘violent’
- Archetype perpetrators of violence lack the courage to heal
- Archetype perpetrators will usually deny that they are violent (perhaps simply by refusing to acknowledge it in any way or by minimising it if this is not possible), they will endeavour to suppress awareness of the truth about their violence in the public domain, and/or they will maliciously attack any person who challenges their violence
Sounds very familiar, doesn’t it?
Of course, the perpetrators of violence are aided and abetted by another group of individuals, who can be thought of as collaborators and traitors. While they may not perpetrate violence themselves (at least not as violently as archetypical perpetrators of violence), they propagate, amplify, continue and perpetuate the violence of perpetrators, through their actions and attitudes. The characteristics and emotional profile of collaborators and traitors (again, abstracted from the paper cited) are given below:
- Collaborators are terrified (of the perpetrators of violence toward them)
- Collaborators are unable to defend themselves against the original perpetrator(s) but also, as a result, they are unable to defend themselves against other perpetrators that attack them later in life
- Collaborators have a deep sense of powerlessness
- Some traitorous victims will try to placate the perpetrator
- Collaborators will have empathy and sympathy for the perpetrators of violence (rather than the perpetrator’s victims)
- Collaborators have a deep, unconscious sense of self-hatred (precisely because the collaborator/traitor cannot defend themselves and now betrays others)
- Self-hatred at betraying others negates any remaining sense of personal self-worth
- If challenged, collaborators will offer a self-righteous justification for their collaboration/betrayal
- Collaborators unconsciously project their fear and self-hatred, as outcomes of their own victimhood, as fear of and hatred for, the perpetrator’s victims
- Collaborators harbour the delusion that they are ‘in control’; that is, they are no longer (and never were) the victim of violence themselves
I suggest that this list of characteristic describes a great many people in the media, in law enforcement, in the legal profession, in schools, in positions of bureaucratic authority and others. See if you agree.
We can see, then, that fear and terror are used as very effective techniques of mind and behaviour control. Having experienced it as children and been unable and powerless to stop it, we are susceptible to it in adult life, too. The purpose of fear is to suppress awareness of the truth. You can run from, hide from and deny the truth, but you cannot destroy the truth. The truth is that the perpetrators of violence, the people “in charge” and “in control” are nothing more than terrified people, fearful of having further violence inflicted upon themselves. That’s it.
To summarise, the most damaged and terrified are in charge and we must submit to their leadership and obey their commands. We must follow their plans and agenda. Could there be a more poorly qualified group of people to lead others?
The problem of having an entire population terrorised into obedience is that we begin to fear changing our dysfunctional behaviours, even if we become aware that our behaviours are dysfunctional. For example, we can see that the end game of our actions is extinction, yet we are too afraid to take steps to end the dysfunctional behaviours leading to extinction, for fear of violent punishment for trying. This is the reason why so many people are not interested in discussing threats to our existence, why they doggedly insist on remaining positive in outlook and ignoring the problem, rather than taking effective, truly positive, functional steps to address it, why we think that somebody else needs to solve it and why we think there is always time to defer the solution until later, why we believe our own efforts to change the world must be futile and pointless and why we think that art is worthless and has no role in changing anything. We’re too afraid to try. We fear the violence (punishment) that might (and probably will) arise from taking on all the other violent people and telling them that change is necessary, in a way that has genuine effect and traction. It’s why we’re so afraid of upsetting apple carts.
To quote from the paper once more, “One central problem of terrorising individuals into obedience of conventions, commands, rules and the law is that once the individual has been so terrorised, it is virtually impossible for them to change their behaviour simply because they are now terrified of doing so. If the obedient behaviours were functional in the circumstances then, apart from the obviously enormous damage suffered by the individual, there would be no other adverse social or environmental consequences. Unfortunately, when all humans have been terrorised into behaving dysfunctionally on a routine basis (for example, in the Western context, by engaging in over-consumption) then changing their behaviour, even in the direction of functionality, is now unconsciously associated with the fear of violence (in the form of punishment) and so desirable behavioural change (in the direction of reduced consumption, for example) is much more difficult. To reiterate: if all individuals are terrorised into obedience of conventions, commands, rules and laws, then even when a convention, command, rule or law is utterly dysfunctional, few individuals will have the capacity to identify, let alone to resist, the dysfunctionality, precisely because the fear of being subjected to violence (punishment) obliterates both of these capacities.
The fear associated with behavioural change is a key reason why it will be difficult to eliminate human violence and to prevent human extinction. We are, to a large extent, terrifiedly locked into the behaviours that both drive violence and the rush to extinction.”
What can save us? Fortunately, there is hope. Fearlessness is simply the knowledge that the person who is threatening you is terrified. OK, they might have a gun, a taser, pepper spray or a truncheon, but they are trembling inside. They can be faced down, non-violently, eventually. Certainly those issuing their orders are more susceptible of being called out on their fear.
Fearlessness is an important step in becoming self-aware. To quote from the paper again, “Self-awareness is the capacity to pay conscious attention to all aspects of yourself: to use sensory capacities such as sight, hearing and touch to provide accurate information about the external world; to use feelings such as thirst, hunger, nausea, dizziness and physical pain to provide accurate information about the state of your body and what it needs; to use memory to store and provide access to information from past experience; to use your ‘truth register’ to detect lies and other misinformation; to use intuition to ‘listen’ to and remain in touch with ‘the big picture’ of life as a whole; to use conscience to enable you to make and act on those difficult moral choices that, for example, might ultimately require you to act against social conventions or laws; to use feelings such as fear, happiness, emotional pain, joy, anger, satisfaction, sadness, sexuality and a vast variety of others to tell you what is happening for you in any given situation and to give you the power to behave appropriately in this context when the time is right; and to use intellect to acquire, interpret, analyse and evaluate information from these and other sources, such as written material. Self-awareness is the capacity to synthesise all of the input from these and other sources in order to crystallise the appropriately precise behavioural option in any given circumstance.” In other words, self-awareness is the key to recognising dysfunctional behaviours and your real needs and acting upon the attention signal that emotional pain provides, so that functional behaviours replace dysfunctional ones.
Of course, it needs to be said that perpetrators of violence and their collaborators fear self awareness in themselves and in other people. They fear the power of integrated, awake, aware individuals. To them, it feels like a dangerous loss of control. However, control is an illusion. For all their violence, they never really had control. The sooner they become self-aware of this delusional train of thought, the better.
The role of art (and hence artists) is in fostering self-awareness and in dispelling fear. Through art, we can help people learn to feel again, unlocking long suppressed feelings of love, joy, anger, kindness, empathy, frustration and so on. Art is nothing, if not powerfully emotionally affective, at its best. Artists are past masters at producing work that exercises the emotions and causes emotional responses. They are “aesthetic engineers”, in the words of my colleague and friend Laurie Spiegel – people that can create emotional responses and cause us to feel.
Art can deliver the message that it’s ok to love and to express emotion publicly. We, as artists, can help people recognise their inner self and its deeper needs (for love and attention, for example). We can help people recognise and face their own propensities to violence, to realise that it’s a learned behaviour and provide other possibilities. We can, through our art, provide clarity of thought, analysis and action, provide hope and act as a counterbalance to the terror dealt out to us in the media and everywhere in the infrastructure of our violence-obsessed society. Art can expose the fearful and make us fearless of them. Art can end the terror, if we want it.
Still think art is a waste of time? I refer you to the sections above, which discuss powerlessness.
Living life as an artist, it is possible to feel and exercise self-awareness, self-will, self-power, self-memory, self-approval, self-worth, self-respect, self-judgment, self-authority, self-governance, self-defence, self-reliance, self-belief, self-trust, self-faith, self-consciousness and, most importantly, self-love. Living the dream is truly living.
In short, art can help us achieve a life of indomitable fearlessness.
Art can heal us emotionally and make our inner selves whole again, like we were when we were small children – our natural, human state. Through art, we can rediscover the joy of meaningful, purposeful, engaging, immersive play and the self-affirming powers of curiosity, agency, tenacity, ingenuity, dexterity and facility that play brings to us. Art can help us become aware of and attuned to our feelings, as we create aesthetic experiences, or take them in. Art is a means to celebrate emotion and to allow people to feel emotions intensely, in safety. It can provide the secure and nurturing environment needed to rekindle kindness and empathy.
The artist can be seen, in the context of all-pervasive, ambient violence, as a non-violent change agent. That’s a pretty worthwhile thing to be. It just might save us all.