We are sending you the study “Some clues for non-violence” by Philippe Moal, in the form of 12 chapters. The general table of contents is as follows:

1- Where are we going?
2- The difficult transition from violence to non-violence.
3- Prejudices which perpetuate violence.
4- Is there more or less violence than yesterday?
5- Spirals of violence
6- Disconnection, flight and hyper-connection (a) Disconnection.
7- Disconnection, flight and hyper-connection (b- Flight).
8- Disconnection, flight and hyper-connection (c- hyper-connection).
9- The different ways of rejecting violence.
10- The decisive role of consciousness.
11- Transformation or immobilisation.
12- Integrating and overcoming duality and Conclusion.

In the essay dated September 2021, the author expresses his thanks: : Thanks to their accurate vision of the subject, Martine Sicard, Jean-Luc Guérard, Maria del Carmen Gómez Moreno and Alicia Barrachina have given me precious help in the realisation of this work, both in the precision of terms and ideas, and I thank them warmly.

Here is the third chapter:

Prejudices that perpetuate violence

Many people mistakenly believe that violence is natural, that it is part of the human condition and therefore irremediable and sometimes even legitimate, which allows it to be justified and applied with a clear conscience.

Aggression and violence are often confused, but they are two very different manifestations; one is instinctive, the other is the result of conditioning; one is natural, the other is not.

Aggression is unleashed instinctively. It is an unpremeditated act that arises without a before or after. Usually, after an act of aggression, there is a silence, a void, and I feel either that I reacted to the aggression legitimately, to defend myself, or that I was unable to control myself, at the mercy of my own instincts. However, the images can overwhelm me and violence can take over from aggression. Violence is not a purely instinctive act, but an act associated with images armed in each of us in the form of beliefs, values, convictions, prejudices and so on. So when I produce an aggressive act, there is this particular moment when, if I am aware of it, I can decide not to unleash the images that will make me fall into violence.

A gene [1] that can become aggressive has been discovered in humans and also exists in animals, but despite some self-interested (not to say malicious) research, it is known that we are not endowed with a gene for violence when we are born.

However, the gene for aggression can be stimulated. Social science experts have highlighted many undesirable effects of the mediatisation of violence, showing the role of the image in certain acts and even in the existence of certain conflicts, and have proposed various explanations: it could contribute to the learning of aggressive thoughts, attitudes and behaviour, as well as to emotional desensitisation towards victims of aggression in the real world, in particular on the basis of the work done by Farzaneh Pahlavan [2].

Pseudoscientific commentary is rife with the idea that violence is natural to humans, although the arguments are not based on any serious foundation. Most of the time it is an idea that is thrown around as if it were self-evident. One might think that the need to label violence in this way responds to the anguish of not being able to prevent its rise; something that cannot be done as long as we look for the causes outside human beings and not in their conscience.

As early as 1981, the declarations of the universalist humanist school of thought, then those of UNESCO in 1989, during the Seville Meetings, and those of the WHO in 2002[3], confirmed that violence is not innate, but learned.

War and violence are not genetically programmed. Genes alone cannot determine behaviour. Human evolution has not favoured aggressive behaviour. There is no physiological compulsion to be violent. Even in the most difficult situations, we filter our behaviour according to our choices, our socialisation and our conditioning. War is not instinctive, but the result of cognitive choices [4].

The research findings of renowned geneticists, such as Axel Kahn, abound in this regard [5], as do those of neurobiologists such as Joachim Bauer, for whom “The real cause of violence in society is not in genes, but in inequality [6]”.

The vast majority of researchers from different disciplines also point in this direction. Marylène Patou-Mathis stated in 2015: “While some sociobiologists and psychologists continue to suggest that violent behaviour is genetically inscribed and hereditary, other researchers, particularly in the neurosciences, refute this thesis, because for them there is no natural violence in human beings. Human nature is neither good nor bad, with environmental factors (familial or social) being the cause of resorting to violence [7]”.

Among anthropologists, the two opposing tendencies put forward hypotheses that fuel an essentially ideological conflict. The interview between April M. Short of Local Peace Economy and the great specialist on the origins of war, Brian Ferguson, professor of anthropology and historian at Rutgers University (United States), affirms, as does Marylène Patou-Mathis, that “the first signs of war appeared around 10,000 BC. (…). War is not a reflection of human nature, but a reflection of circumstances and may well be the result of the way we are socialised in our societies”.

There is a widespread view in the anthropological community that war is an evolutionary and innate human tendency, but there is also a movement to reject this theory. There is a debate in favour of a human history that predates war and that, moreover, demonstrates that war is not innate to human nature, but is a social and cultural development that originates in certain parts of the globe [8].

Why do we want to show that war is an innate manifestation, if not to show that violence is natural to human beings… and vice versa? But to argue that violence is inherent to the human condition has serious consequences.

When we consult the different definitions of violence, with a few exceptions such as that of the writer Yves Michaud[9], or those of qualified organisations in the field such as AVIF[10], we realise that these definitions are limited to physical violence[11], which is clearly far from being the case, as the definition taken from the New Humanism dictionary makes clear: “When we speak of violence, we generally refer to physical violence, as this is the most obvious expression of bodily aggression. Other forms such as economic, racial, religious, sexual violence, etc., can sometimes act to conceal its character and ultimately lead to the subjugation of human intention and freedom. When these are manifest, they are also exercised by physical coercion. The correlate of all forms of violence is discrimination [12].

There are also preconceived ideas about non-violence: “it is a utopia, it is ineffective, it is useless or even serves the violent powers”. It would therefore be an illusion, a dream, a waste of time or, even worse, a collaboration with those who exercise violence.

The most knowledgeable agree that ahimsa [13], taken from the sacred texts of Jainism, which dates back two and a half thousand years, is the origin of the term non-violence, popularised by Gandhi around 1930. However, one has to go further back in time to see its earliest manifestations: “Non-violence comes from ancient times. It was formalised in ahimsa 2,500 years ago, but it goes back much further, perhaps 100,000 years. It is part of what the human being himself brings and which has not yet been able to take shape, perhaps even if it was something that was already far away, lodged in the consciousness of the hominid. Non-violence arises from the beginnings of the human being. It is related to the yes, and to the no, which are intertwined within each of us [14]”.

Prejudice has been ingrained in us since antiquity. The first signs of warlike violence appear, according to anthropologists, with the advent of metallurgy and long-distance trade. But interpersonal and psychological violence has certainly been with us since our origins, and presumably our ancestors also knew how to resist the temptation to violence in moments of discord, jealousy, lust, desire for possession, etc.

As for organised or social violence, psychologist Steve Taylor believes that it appeared in humans only six thousand years ago, through a change in collective psychology linked to social pathologies such as male domination, war and social inequality; a thesis he develops in his landmark book, The Fall [15].

A long socio-cultural transmission of traditions, customs, norms of life, values and beliefs perpetuates violence in all its forms. How can we deactivate these prejudices that value violence on the pretext that it is tradition or that it has always been so, or that it is our nature?

There are still many who think and say: “We are violent beings, it is our nature, it is a problem, but we can’t do anything about it, besides, violence is also a solution, we will never get rid of this issue”. In other words, trying to persuade people otherwise and to change this conditioning seen as a determinism is a titanic challenge, because in the end it means leaving one culture for another and changing the foundations of our civilisation to enter a new world, free of violence. There is work to be done!

Notes

  • [1] As early as the 1960s, researchers discovered that men with two Y chromosomes had a stronger predisposition to aggression than normal, suggesting that aggression was more likely to be male, but a variant gene called monoamine oxidase A was found on the X chromosome (specific to women), and carriers of this gene were more impulsive than others.
  • [2] Farzaneh Pahlavan, Professor at the Institute of Psychology, René Descartes University, Paris 5.
  • [3] First World Report on Violence and Health, World Health Organization, 2002: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/42545/9242545619_fre.pdf;jsessionid=AA4B7A8DBBF2A64CA5A897F7817E2993?sequence=1
  • [4] Seville Manifesto: http://demilitarisation.org/IMG/pdf/manifeste_de_seville_avec_resume.pdf, Unesco 1986
  • [5] L’homme, ce roseau pensant (Essay on the roots of human nature), Nil Éditions, 2007, p 66 and 170), Axel Kahn, French scientist, geneticist and essayist, director of research at INSERM (National Institute of Health and Medical Research).
  • [6] La violencia cotidiana y global, Plataforma Editorial, 2013, Joachim Bauer, German psychiatrist.
  • [7] Préhistoire de la violence et de la guerre (Prehistory of violence and war), Odile Jacob, 2018, p.133, Marylène Patou-Mathis, director of research at the CNRS and vice-president of the scientific council of the National Museum of Natural History.
  • [8] War is not inherent to humanity – a peaceful future is possible, interview 24 January 2021, published on the Pressenza news agency website: https://www.pressenza.com/fr/2021/02/la-guerre-nest-pas-inherente-a-lhumanite-un-futur-pacifique-est-possible-affirme-un-anthrOpologue-historien/, April M. Short, Media Institute.
  • [9] Violence and Politics, Ibérica de ediciones y publicaciones, 1980 (Violence et politique, Gallimard, Paris, 1978, p. 20), Yves Michaud, French philosopher, author of several works on violence. “There is violence when, in a situation of interaction, one or several actors act directly or indirectly, at the same time or progressively, harming one or several others to varying degrees, whether in their physical integrity, their moral integrity, their possessions or their symbolic and cultural participation.
  • [10] AVIF (Action on Violence and Family Intervention): an association that promotes a violence-free society through its actions with men and adolescents who engage in violent behaviour: https://avif.weebly.com/mission-et-approches.html
  • [11] WHO (World Health Organisation): Violence is the intentional use of physical force or threats against others or against oneself, a group or a community that results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in trauma, psychological harm, developmental problems or death. CNRTL: Force exerted by a person or group of persons to subdue, coerce or obtain something. Encyclopaedia Universalis Dictionary: In its most immediate sense, violence refers to physical behaviours and actions: it consists of the use of force against someone, with the harm that goes with it.
  • [12] Dictionary of New Humanism, Winged Lion, 1996, p. 265.
  • [13] Ahimsa: literally means non-violence and more generally respect for life or the action of not causing harm to any life. Fundamental practice of Jainism, an Indian religion dating back 2,500 to 3,000 years.
  • [14] Silo. El maestro de nuestro tiempo, Virtual Ediciones, Santiago de Chile, 2015, p. 141, Pía Figueroa, humanist researcher, co-director of the international news agency Pressenza.
  • [15] The Fall, Ediciones La Llave, 2008, Steve Taylor, author of numerous best-sellers on psychology and spirituality.