A Violent Society

The most awful news broke last weekend of a massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  I sat, stunned, along with everyone else.  What in the world do you say? Why on Earth would someone do that? These questions are being asked elsewhere, I certainly have no ready answers.  My belief is that we seem to live in society that promotes violence.  This is something I’d like to mull over today.

I think it’s fair to say that we’re immersed by depictions of violence, we can be a violent society. I mean, how often does the hero in a film, book or game use violent means? Let’s look at the films currently in the cinema and the computer game top 10.  At the time of writing at least half of the current top 10 movies are primarily violent.  Almost half of the video game chart are violent, though I worry their impact is higher due to the more immersive nature of the format.  I would also like to point out that there is now evidence that prolonged exposure to violent games leads to greater aggression in children.  Exploring further, of the top 5 most wished for games on Amazon.co.uk, 4 of 5 primarily have violence as the content. For the curious, they are: “Halo 4”, “Call of Duty Black Ops 2”, “Far Cry 3” and “Assassin’s Creed 3”.  The only exception being “Just Dance 4”.  The exact content of these charts is variable over time, so I encourage you to look for yourself.

There’s an old saying that “you are what you eat”.  Fair enough, but I’d like to point out that this fully includes the realm of the mind, as well as that of the body.  This is why you have to take care what you allow into your consciousness. This beings to lead us towards Mindfulness and Karma, but I’ll wander that road another time.

Personally, I take the view that the problem runs much deeper.  The games and films are a symptom of the problem, not a cause.  Pointing the finger at them is easy, it neatly excuses us from examining ourselves.  Yes, we are the cause. Consider that Amazon wishlist, there is clearly a deeply held desire for violent content. This demand for violent content starts within us and it can only be stopped within through mindfulness and education.  I do agree that guns should be more tightly controlled, after all, who needs a military assault rifle for home defence?

We also need to honestly examine the conditions that produce a society that demands the violent content. Without this most important step, any and all controls that could be enacted are simply buying time.  This sounds negative, but I feel it’s important to turn this round.  In fact, this is the same turn around as Buddhism has.  The third and fourth Noble Truths.  The first two of the four Noble Truths describe suffering and the cause of suffering.  If Buddhism ended there, then as Alan Watts so wonderfully put it “the game wouldn’t be worth the candle”.  It’s the same here.

What makes Buddhism such a positive force is the Buddha’s point that we do have a cure and there is most definitely something we can do.  Here also, we are not helpless. In reality, the power to make a difference is within each of us.  We need, as individuals, to start to make even a small but consistent effort at mindfulness and nonviolence.  It’s something I’ve been working on since before the blog reboot.  I do intend to return to that subject, again, using the Minecraft game as my canvas.  But without this individual effort at awareness, all the external measures; the laws, will ultimately be for nothing.


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