Learning violence

“We know that patterns of violent behaviour are learnt and transmitted, and that they can therefore be replaced by other behaviour, or never learned in the first place.” (p.9)

“What some call our ‘human nature’ has in fact been determined by human history, which has led us away from genetically defined behaviour patterns to become the species that learns. The process of achieving upright stature required physical adaptions in the foetus and in mother-child dependency in order to secure survival. The consequences of these physical changes are that each of us is born in such a state of neural incompleteness or foetal immaturity that we spend nearly a quarter to a third of our natural lifespan becoming mature. In this process, instinctive behavioural patterns have been lost and replaced by the generalised neural capacity to learn, to modify, and to adapt which continues throughout our lives.

Certain patterns of behaviour predominated because they are [-p.17] learned early and so block other patterns, and becaue they are massively reinforced by repeated messages from many different agencies in our lives. We are not violent because of television, or what our mothers or fathers did to us, or because we were taught to fear a punitive God, or are forced to live in an atmosphere of ‘dog eats dog’ (another myth, and most unfair to dogs!). Nor is it because our country calls us to fight in a foreign field, or because we are male or female. It is because all our cultural agencies repeat the same message – violence is the way we are. In the last analysis, we regard our own nature as violent and make this the excuse to tolerate violence in ourselves and in others. We are violent because we will not use our most human capacity – the capacity to change – to eliminate violent cultural patterns.” (pp.16-17)

“All of us know the personal cues, the stimuli which will bring our anger to flash-point. We may not know how to deal with those cues in non-violent ways. Simply to go through the exercise of listing all the annoying things that have occurred in the last twenty-four hours is helpful. Once we know that we are likely to be provoked by an action, person or situation, we can warn ourselves and others if we are unable to take evasive action by leaving the field.

Learning alternative response patterns may be difficult, but responses that strengthen control are more sane, more civilised, and more sensible, and are, therefore, more likely to meet with social rewards. Displaying angry reactions may also increase our vulnerability by giving others information about our points of provocation.

Anger and violence can be demonstrations that an individual is searching for power, not that they possess it. Such violence is, therefore, not a sign of strength, but a display of weakness. Violent acts are often a response to some threat or inadequacy, and always relate to power relationships. It is easy enough to see how a small, weak, inadequate person deprived of power might seek it, but, if this were the only explanation, women would be more violent and men less. The problem is to explain why the person who apparently has power seeks to exercise it, and to do so in ways which risk the scurity of dominating. For example, when a man beats his wife there is always a risk that she will walk out, but it is also likely that the act of wife-beating reinforces the soman’s powerlessness, making it less likely that she will leave.” (p.22)

Ref: Jane Ritchie and James Ritchie (1993) Violence in New Zealand. Huia Publishers and Daphne Brasell Associates: Wellington

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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