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Social Issues: Violence

Causes of Violence

Recent tragedies have raised our consciousness of violence in American society and produced great pressure to "do something about it." It has long been assumed by liberal thinkers that poverty is the chief cause. Yet, down through history and across geography, economics does not correlate. The depression era was characterized by very little crime. The African American community in the 1950's, despite suffering oppression, was not plagued by the kind of violence seen today.

Other media versions of blame are curiously skewed. Conservative talk show hosts may be considered likely culprits while violent entertainment is often brushed off as inconsequential or protected by the constitution. Unproven or even disproven theories, like "spanking makes kids violent," get the headlines while the established and plausible are ignored.

A "big picture" view would make it clear that the rise of violence in America does not correlate with an sharp increase in the use of spanking. In addition, violent people do not often come from a background of firm discipline, but rather, from an environment of little or no discipline. Breakdown of the family and exponential increase in gratuitous media violence both find themselves holding a "smoking gun."

It is not a bash of single mothers (often doing the best they can) to say this, but the data show the most common antecedent of criminal behavior to be fatherlessness. This is the clear implication of a study by the Heritage Foundation which found that about 60% of rapists and 72% of adolescent murderers grew up in fatherless homes. Economic status, race and neighborhood all failed to be such a powerful predictor of violence.

A review of the effect of TV on behavior caused the American Academy of Pediatrics to state, "Sufficient data have accumulated to warrant the conclusion that protracted television viewing is one cause of violent or aggressive behavior." And, of course, movies and video games are not any better.

We must educate the public on the effects of violent viewing. Desensitized parents often do not realize what they are showing their kids. We could even try to make the entertainment industry responsible for the effects of their business. To be sure it will be even harder than nailing the tobacco industry, but the parallels are significant. Both claim they are just providing what the public wants; both produce damaging results.

We need to reverse the war on marriage and the family. Over the past generations there is an increasing tax burden on families with children, forcing couples to need two incomes. There has also been a devaluation of motherhood and the implication that day care is an adequate alternative. Finally, the government has pretended that all a father provides is a paycheck and that AFDC can substitute, thus providing a perverse incentive to single motherhood.

In addition, let me present several other plausible reasons for violence, though they are perhaps not yet proven in a strict scientific sense. Firstly, we have been teaching kids, at least since the 1960's, that they can decide for themselves what is right and wrong. They choose a value, prize it and act on it so that it becomes "true" for them. Unexpectedly, at least to the utopian thinkers who anticipate only good behavior to flow from the human heart, some of them choose violence. Corollary to this, when wrong is done, is the failure to assess personal responsibility by saying instead, "Oh you poor victim, of course it isn't your fault."

In the area of domestic abuse and battering of women, it makes good theoretical sense that promiscuity and the impermanence of relationships may lead to an increase in violence. Why so, you ask? There is a type of bonding that takes place in a sexual relationship. This is well known to all but those who extinguish it for personal advantage. The sexual relationship is intended to be permanent. Women bond with an abuser because they expect him to cherish them. Men feel jealous if they suspect or imagine "cheating." They may even be angry that they were "emotionally entrapped" in a way that does not fit the macho model.

The feminist orthodoxy of the 1970's proclaimed that marriage was the cause of domestic abuse. Yet data show that for every married woman injured by her husband, there are four single women, whether divorced or never married, who are attacked by their present or former lovers. In addition, it is most likely to happen when they are pregnant, the very time when bonding and protection are most needed and normally the strongest. David Blankenhorn, author of Fatherless in America, found that not only does a fatherless childhood predispose to violence, the breaking of the fatherhood/commitment bond in adult men is an explosively dangerous development.

This all flows, however, out of one philosophical wrong turn made by the intellectual elite of late 20th Century American culture. That is rejection of God. For if we are not created, and all reality is just a series of random evolutionary accidents, then there essentially are no absolutes. (Except that violence and irresponsible procreation may have survival value for the selfish genes of the perpetrator.) As Jeffrey Dahmer said after he became a Christian in prison, "If you are not accountable to God, there is no motivation to change your behavior."

Violence can not be eliminated by cosmetic societal changes or by Quixotic campaigns. The only hope is in a radical change of heart by the individuals who make up this nation.

Ross S. Olson MD

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