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Sunday, December 6, 2015

The History Of Violence–Why Does Human Nature Still Make The News?

America seems awash in gun-related violence unless one leafs through a few pages of history to find that it always has been.  Chicago in the days of Al Capone was a bullet-riddled place, disputes in the Old West were resolved by six-gun, and gang- and crime-related violence has been endemic in every major city for the last five decades. Violence is very American. 

Gunfight at OK Corral


Then again Honduras, El Salvador, and Brazil have shoot-outs every day.  Police ‘overreaction’ in the United States is nothing compared to the paramilitary death squad executions in the favelas of Rio.  The RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) was well-known for its neutralization of drug traffickers who ‘died in crossfire’ after encounters with Bangladesh’s own paramilitary unit.


Violent crime in Kinshasa, Nairobi, Abidjan, is epidemic.  White residents of Johannesburg live in fortified, gated communities and shop in mall fortresses.  Tourists are advised not to walk the streets of the capital, and the savvy traveller will take taxis from the airport to hotels not more than a few hundred yards from the terminal.

Acts of terrorism have occurred in France, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States; and there is every sign that it will increase.  Radical Islamists have committed themselves to the destruction of the liberal, non-sectarian West and to the establishment of a religious caliphate by any means necessary.

When one includes Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Northern Nigeria, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Eritrea – countries in open civil conflict – violence is not only common, it is endemic.

Europe was beset by wars, civil, and internecine conflict for centuries.  The Hundred Year War and the War of the Roses were but two of the more well known; but there were over 100 major world conflicts in the 16th century alone including among others the Portuguese-Mamluk, Friulian Muscovite-Lithuanian, Polish-Teutonic wars.   There were no fewer in the 18th century, and the Age of Enlightenment did nothing to prevent or deter violence. The 20th century had fewer wars but more devastating and comprehensive ones.


According to the accounts of early European travelers like Mungo Park and Rene de Chaillu, African tribes were at constant war, took slaves as booty to be used as currency for barter, and were as barbaric to captured prisoners as they were to the enemy on the battlefield.


Prehistoric skeletons show that skulls were crushed, bones broken, and body parts dismembered.

In other words, violence is a feature of the human condition; and given this 10,000 year history of murder, slaughter, and mayhem, we are unlikely to change.

It is not surprising that violence is featured in the news.  Everyone is upset about 9/11, ISIS, Boko Haram, and the uptick in violent crime in the inner city.  Nor is it surprising that politicians on the Left and the Right are quick to stake out their positions on how to stop it. 

However, given the innate, genetically-determined predisposition to violence (i.e. all societies in human history have been violent), gun control, the right to bear arms, foreign aid, international negotiations, surgical strikes, sanctions, boycotts, and diplomatic arm-twisting will never reduce violence.  Only if there is a completely level socio-economic playing field, and all factions, interest groups, and communities are satisfied with the distribution of resources and that their cut of the pie is exactly equal to that of everyone else ,will our human nature be tamed. 

Given other familiar human traits – self-interest, self-protection, territorialism, and expansionism – social harmony will always be only a pipe dream.

In other words violence is not news.  There should be no surprise at ISIS beheadings, repeated Columbines, chemical weapons in Syria, Mara Salvatrucha, or drive-by shootings in Anacostia. 


History teaches only one lesson - engaging the enemy and defeating him is the only way to settle disputes.  One side in any conflict will always capitulate.  Someone will win, although victory may not last; and neutralizing an enemy is one sure way of reestablishing order.   ISIS may not disappear after a wholesale scorched earth military campaign, but Western dominance will be restored.  Wm. Tecumseh Sherman understood this when he deliberately sought not only to defeat the South but to humiliate  it and destroy its will.  Support for military strongmen against a common enemy and financing their military machinery is a necessary means of asserting power and assuring stability and geopolitical favors for the West.


In other words, meet violence with violence.  Nothing new there.

Domestic violence is no different.  Dysfunctional, antisocial, violent behavior should be met with force.  Governments have always put down local insurrections, and the United States, trapped in a cocoon of  moral exceptionalism and tangled interpretations of ‘democracy’ and civil rights, is the only country which refuses to do so.

The world has changed.  Not only is Western-style liberal democracy under attack, it is its own worst enemy. 

To be sure, authoritarianism is always replaced by populist regimes; but history is a pendulum which swings between the two; and there is no precedent for simply sitting by in the palace and letting anarchy reign.


The difference between conservatives and liberals is not simply one of approach.  It is one of political philosophy.  The Left, despite the weight of history, insists that man is perfectible and with enough political commitment, moral fortitude, and unimpeachable belief, the future can be a better place.

The Right, more realistic in its assessment of human nature and behavior, counters that progress is a fiction.  History is circular, predictable, and repetitive.  Human societies have always vied for power, resources, territory and influence, and stability can be achieved only when countervailing forces are relatively equal.   Human nature – ineluctable and as permanent as ever – demands vigorous defense of one’s own interests and the  equally vigorous promotion of them.  Countries which ignore history and human nature will always fail.

America, although militarily strong, is morally weak.  Through the cracked, useless, and discredited lens of multiculturalism, the current Administration refuses to name its enemy.  Because of its overweening,  misplaced faith in liberal democracy, it refuses to act decisively.   The means are as important as the ends, the Administration claims, insisting on winning hearts and minds, avoiding civilian casualties and American deaths.  Against an implacable enemy for whom victory is the only goal, these muddled and wooly policies will inevitably lead to defeat.

France, country of liberté, égalité, fraternité, champion of the people, the nation where no one is a foreigner once he accepts French citizenship is now at the forefront of an anti-liberal war on radical Islam.  Civil liberties have been suspended, mosques have been closed, imams deported, and arbitrary search-and-seizures common.   It has begun to bomb ISIS positions in Syria with a vengeance, and has taken a no-holds-barred against the enemy.


The United States only sits by and watches, worried that its drone strikes and bombings will result in no civilian casualties, that ISIS will come to its senses and to the bargaining table. 

France and Israel now have a common bond.  They both have identified the enemy and set out to destroy him while America dithers. 

No political philosopher could have been more wrong than Francis Fukuyama when he wrote The End of History published shortly after the fall of the Soviet UnionN0w that Communism had been defeated, liberal democracy would spread quickly and easily throughout the world.  With the threat of nuclear war removed and the contentious Cold War antagonisms in Asia and Africa removed, the world was ready for peace, conciliation, and progress.

Not only does history have no end; it never will.  As long as human nature remains intact, wars, violence, and civil conflict will continue to be the rule. 

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