Today I was inspired to write by this article in The Guardian. Not sure I would agree with a whole lot that Jordan B Peterson thinks, but I do agree that we are (almost) all monsters, at least potentially.
It’s very easy for a UK citizen of the past half-century to convince themselves that they are not a monster. Most of us have never committed violence upon another living being, human or animal. We consider those who express themselves through physical violence as aberrant. Something has gone wrong with them. Through some sort of rehabilitation and re-education we like to think their violence can be solved or purged. But might nothing be less productive of peace and harmony than this attitude? We are all like addicts who refuse to admit that we have a problem, and, just like addicts, how can we even begin to address our issues unless we start from a position of honesty? Human beings rule this planet not only because we are clever, but because we are ruthlessly violent. The combination of social organisation, smarts and ruthlessness has proven unstoppable. It seems that only climate and geology can deal us significant blows.
There’s plenty of evidence to support our monstrous nature, and to indicate that horrors like the Holocaust and the Khmer Rouge genocide are not aberrations. For one thing, they keep happening, time and again, throughout our global history. Chile, Rwanda, Timor, the list goes on and on. Can we really explain the way in which neighbour can rise up and annihilate neighbour as an aberration? There are of course differences in scale, but see here for a little more information on the prehistory of violence. It’s a species-level phenomenon.
Violence is a part of our nature. We are all addicted to it – whether we play Call of Duty or watch Poirot, we are sating the same urges that the ancient Roman arena catered for. I am lucky, as a pacifist, that I am never called upon to deal with violence in my daily life. I’m doubly lucky that I grew up in a subculture that explored alternative and experimental therapies which considered the expression of violence (and indeed all human emotions) in a safe, protective environment, essential to personal growth and freedom. I loathe violence enacted upon other beings, but must admit I have greatly enjoyed smashing things up, beating cushions or mattresses, envisioning dancing in the blood and entrails of my enemies, and so on. I think we should have facilities for the safe expression of violence on every high street in the world.
We do very well to live in great cities/colonies and not fight or kill each other. It’s a strain. No wonder we are medicated up to the eyeballs. No wonder we love shoot-em-ups and psychopath dramas on Netflix and screaming our heads off in sports arenas. We need to address our own violence, and channel it healthily. Beat a cushion, get an axe and chop some wood, take up kickboxing. And let’s try not to commit the small acts of everyday ruthlessness – take a few minutes to talk to the homeless guy, treat him like a human. Try to live ethically and with minimal impact on your brothers and sisters (human and non-human). Accept that you hate, but accept that it’s biological, and not to be directed at others. Your anger may be entirely rational, but use your intelligence, too, and find out where it really needs to be directed.
Most of all, struggle against objectification. It’s when we turn people into things or categories that any kind of cruelty becomes possible.