Robert J. Burrowes
For those of us committed to systematically reducing and, one day, ending human violence, it is vital to understand what is causing and driving it so that effective strategies can be developed for dealing with violence in its myriad contexts. For an understanding of the fundamental cause of violence, see ‘Why Violence?’
However, while we can tackle violence at its source by each of us making and implementing ‘My Promise to Children’, the widespread violence in our world is driven by just one factor: fear or, more accurately, terror. And I am not talking about jihadist terror or even the terror caused by US warmaking. Let me explain, starting from the beginning.
The person who is fearless has no use for violence and has no trouble achieving their goals, including their own defence, without it. But fearlessness is a state that few humans would claim. Hence violence is rampant.
Moreover, once someone is afraid, they will be less likely to perceive the truth behind the delusions with which they are presented. They will also be less able to access and rely on other mental functions, such as conscience and intelligence, to decide their course of action in any context. Worse still, the range of their possible responses to perceived threats will be extremely limited. And they will be more easily mobilised to support or even participate in violence, in the delusional belief that this will make them safe.
For reasons such as these, it is useful for political and corporate elites to keep us in a state of fear: social control is much easier in this context. But so is profit maximization. And the most profitable enterprise on the planet is violence. In essence then: more violence leads to more fear making it easier to gain greater social control to inflict more violence…. And starting early, by terrorizing children, is the most efficient way to initiate and maintain this cycle. See ‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’.
So, for example, if you think the massive number of police killings of innocent civilians in the United States – see ‘Killed by Police’ and ‘The Counted: People killed by police in the US’ – is a problem, you are not considering it from the perspective of maintaining elite social control and maximizing corporate profit. Police killings of innocent civilians is just one (necessary) part of the formula for maintaining control and maximising profit.
This is because if you want to make a lot of money in this world, then killing or exploiting fellow human beings and destroying the natural world are the three most lucrative business enterprises on the planet. And we are now very good at it, as the record shows, with the planetary death toll from violence and exploitation now well over 100,000 human beings each day, 200 species driven to extinction each day and ecological destruction so advanced that the end of all life (not just human life) on Earth is postulated to occur within decades, if not sooner, depending on the scenario. See, for example, ‘The End of Being: Abrupt Climate Change One of Many Ecological Crises Threatening to Collapse the Biosphere’.
So what forms does this violence take? Here is a daily accounting.
Corporate capitalist control of national economies, held in place by military violence, kills vast numbers of people (nearly one million each week) by starving them to death in Africa, Asia and Central/South America. This is because this ‘economic’ system is designed and managed to allocate resources for military weapons and corporate profits for the wealthy, instead of resources for living.
Wars kill, wound and incapacitate a substantial number of civilians, mostly women and children, as do genocidal assaults, on a daily basis, in countries all over the planet. Wars also kill some soldiers and mercenaries.
Apart from those people we kill every day, we sell many women and children into sexual slavery, we kidnap children to terrorise them into becoming child soldiers and force men, women and children to work as slave labourers, in horrific conditions, in fields and factories (and buy the cheap products of their exploited labour as our latest ‘bargain’).
We condemn millions of people to live in poverty, homelessness and misery, even in industrialized countries where the refugees of western-instigated wars and climate-destroying policies are often treated with contempt. We cause many children to be born with grotesque genetic deformities because we use horrific weapons, like those with depleted uranium, on their parents. We also inflict violence on women and children in many other forms, ranging from ‘ordinary’ domestic violence to genital mutilation.
We ensnare and imprison vast numbers of people in the police-legal-prison complex. See ‘The Rule of Law: Unjust and Violent’. We pay the pharmaceutical industry and its handmaiden, psychiatry, to destroy our minds with drugs and electro-shocking. See ‘Defeating the Violence of Psychiatry’. We imprison vast numbers of children in school in the delusional belief that this is good for them. See ‘Do We Want School or Education?’ And we kill or otherwise exploit animals, mostly for human consumption, in numbers so vast the death toll is probably beyond calculation.
We also engage in an endless assault on the Earth’s biosphere. Apart from the phenomenal damage done to the environment and climate by military violence: we emit gases and pollutants to heat and destroy the atmosphere and destroy its oxygen content. We cut down and burn rainforests. We cut down mangroves and woodlands and pave grasslands. We poison the soil with herbicides and pesticides. We pollute the waterways and oceans with everything from carbon and nitrogenous fertilizers to plastic, as well as the radioactive contamination from Fukushima. And delude ourselves that our token gestures to remedy this destruction constitutes ‘conservation’.
So if you are seeking work, whether as a recent graduate or long-term unemployed person, then the most readily available form of work, where you will undoubtedly be exploited as well, is a government bureaucracy or large corporation that inflicts violence on life itself. Whether it is the military, the police, legal or prison system, a weapons, fossil fuel, banking, pharmaceutical, media, mining, agricultural, logging, food or water corporation, a farm that exploits animals or even a retail outlet that sells poisonous, processed and often genetically-mutilated substances under the label ‘food’ – see ‘Defeating the Violence in Our Food and Medicine’ – you will have many options to help add to the profits of those corporations and government ‘services’ that exist to inflict violence on you, your family and every other living being that shares this biosphere.
Tragically, genuinely ethical employment is a rarity because most industries, even those that seem benign like the education, finance, information technology and electronics industries, usually end up providing skilled personnel, finance, services or components that are used to inflict violence. And other industries such as those in insurance and superannuation, like the corporate banks, usually invest in violence (such as the military and fossil fuel industries): it is the most profitable.
So while many government bureaucracies and corporate industries exist to inflict violence, in one form or another, they can only do so because we are too scared to insist on seeking out ethical employment. In the end, we will take a job as a teacher, corporate journalist or pharmaceutical drug pusher, serve junk food, work in a bank, join the police or military, work in the legal system, assemble a weapons component… rather than ask ourselves the frightening questions ‘Is this nonviolent? Is this ethical? Does it enhance life?’
And yes, I know about structural violence and the way it limits options and opportunities for those of particular classes, races, genders…. But if ordinary people like us don’t consider moral issues and make moral choices, why should governments and corporations?
Moral choices? you might ask in confusion. In this day and age? Well, it might seem old-fashioned but, in fact, while most of us have been drawn along by the events in our life to make choices based on such considerations as self-interest, personal gain and ‘financial security’, there is a deeper path. Remember Gandhi? ‘True morality consists not in following the beaten track, but in finding the true path for ourselves, and fearlessly following it.’
Strange words they no doubt sound in this world where our attention is endlessly taken by all of those high-tech devices. But Gandhi’s words remind us that there is something deeper in life that the violence we have suffered throughout our lives has taken from us. The courage to be ourselves and to seek our own unique destiny.
Do you have this courage? To be yourself, rather than a cog in someone else’s machine? To refuse to submit to the violence that surrounds and overwhelms us on a daily basis?
If you are inclined to ponder these questions, you might also consider making moral choices that work systematically to end the violence in our world: consider participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth’, signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’ and/or helping to develop and implement an effective strategy to resist one or the other of the many threats to our survival using the strategic framework explained in Nonviolent Campaign Strategy.
Of course, these choices aren’t for everyone. As Gandhi observed: ‘Cowards can never be moral.’
Robert J Burrowes, PhD
has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?‘