Violence as a Cultural Continuum

From Domestic Violence to Nuclear War: Violence as a Cultural Continuum

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

-Henry David Thoreau

Political engagement entails pursuit of objectives associated with a cause. A key problem in the current political environment is the fragmentation of effort among reformers and progressives across a bewildering variety of causes and associated campaigns. An unavoidable consequence of this diversity of efforts is a dilution of effect. The argument presented here is that dozens of causes currently advocated by political reformers in thousands of organizations can be conceptually unified in a single framework: opposition to a deeply entrenched cultural continuum of aggressive violence.

Human aggressive violence is grounded in evolutionary biology. Like the creatures of the animal kingdom, Homo Sapiens has used violence to establish dominance over rivals, initially at the personal level, then at the clan, tribe, village, city, and national levels. Modern man is the inheritor of a legacy of belief in the practice of violence as the supreme arbiter of human affairs. This belief is perpetuated by families, institutions, and popular culture. In this century we face a unique situation: confronting the logical end of the violence continuum. Our weapons technology has “improved” to the point that the next recourse to superior violence by a nation state may destroy all of mankind.

Like other powerful cultural memes, aggressive violence has inertia, a property that causes it to persist through changing circumstances. The crucial change that nullifies the value of violence in the modern era is that it can no longer be decisive. For most of human history, the defeat of an enemy (personal, tribal, or national) would result in a redistribution of power and resources and the resumption of economic growth. Today, the application of large-scale violence is increasingly futile, as seen in the stalemated armed conflicts in which countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine, Yemen and Israel/Palestine have become mired. The customary recourse of escalation to a higher level of violence, nuclear war, is not a practical possibility because the resulting scale of destruction would outweigh any likely gain. Nonetheless, the world is full of talk of war and vast resources are squandered on largely useless military establishments.

The reality of the modern world is that aggressive violence has increasingly become gratuitous. This is true not only at the extreme end of the violence continuum, large-scale warfare, but at many other points. 42 countries have banned the corporal punishment of children. While this protection covers only 10% of the world’s population, it is the direction in which world opinion is moving. In the United States, there is growing sentiment against the unjustified application of lethal force by police. Spousal abuse is increasingly treated as a serious issue in advanced nations, with increasing protections enacted in law. Capital punishment is now banned in the majority of nations. These are all encouraging signs that the world may be awakening to the importance of resisting the cultural momentum of aggressive violence.

I believe that the Green Party has an opportunity to articulate its peace-oriented political goals within the framework of opposition to the continuum of violence. This would provide a clear and unified message attractive to many individuals and groups that have been active in opposing local manifestations of violence at various points of the continuum. Like a discredited medicine, once considered a healthy stimulant, aggressive violence should now be targeted as mechanism of disease. The best way to pursue the cause of our political health is to eliminate this disease.  

The same gravitational force that governs the motion of a baseball governs the movement of a planet. The theory of the continuum of violence asserts that the same cultural force that enables the beating a child permits the killing of a million people with a nuclear weapon. It is time to oppose that force directly.

Haig Hovaness

Pelham, NY