Getting a grip on violence

There is hardly a destructive act human imagination could think of that has not been acted out again and again. -- Erich Fromm, "The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness"...


There is hardly a destructive act human imagination could think of that has not been acted out again and again. - Erich Fromm, "The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness"

I have been struck by the amount and diversity of violent acts that have made the news recently. The "Islamic State" in Iraq and Syria has now beheaded three Westerners. Reports are that beheadings and crucifixions have been a part of their strategy. Our country and others are contemplating violence in order to stop such maddening actions.

On a more individual scale, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has been released by his team and suspended indefinitely from the NFL after a video surfaced of him knocking his then-partner, now wife, unconscious in an elevator. Closer to home, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been indicted in Texas for reckless or negligent injury to a child. Details remain to be filled in, but apparently Peterson disciplined his son with a "switch."

Another more local story about violence arises out of a recently released report about juvenile sex trafficking in the Twin Cities. I would assume that similar dynamics apply to sex trafficking in Duluth. The story appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Sept. 11. The report noted how systematic, strategic and organized the use of violence is in sex trafficking. Violence is a "structured business strategy." Girls are threatened with violence or their children and families are threatened with violence if they fail to participate in the sex trade. Rape and gang rape are used to prepare girls for their work and as a method of control.

Violence. Is it ever justified? We ask ourselves that every time we go to war. The tradition in ethics of "just war theory" asks when the resort to war is morally justifiable. We need to be asking ourselves such questions now as we seek to respond to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Adrian Peterson will be arguing in court, no doubt, that his actions were appropriate parental discipline. We will see how well those arguments stand up in a court of law and in public opinion.


Some violence in certain circumstances may be justifiable. What kind of violence, under what controls and what circumstances, needs to be discussed and debated. Violence as a structured business strategy in the sex trade, violence as a means to control a population through sheer fear and intimidation, violence as a response to an argument with a life partner - these, we would agree, are beyond moral justification. Violence that tries to control people in these ways is a warped way to organize "business" or a "state" or negotiate a relationship. Such violence warps those who exercise it.

But the pervasiveness of violence in our world should cause us to consider the roots of violence that may be found in all of us, even if we would never use violence to intimidate or control. I am not saying we all have terrorists or pimps or abusers inside of us. I am saying that the roots of violence may be found deep in human existence, and if we are ever to limit the violence in the world, we need to look deep into our own hearts and address frustrations, hurts, anxieties and anger in ways that are healthy.

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