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2012 Winter Issue 8 (March 2, 2012)

Are we learning? Evolving forms of violence

March 2, 2012
By Maddy Crowell

We are living at the same time, breathing the same air, and sharing the same space with billions of other humans right this minute.

On Tuesday morning, in a tiny town in northeastern Ohio, a “bullied outcast” brought a gun to school and shot students, killing one and injuring five others. The following day, two of the injured students died in the hospital.

That same day in northwestern Pakistan, gunmen ambushed a bus killing 18 people and injuring several more. In eastern Afghanistan, a suicide attack killed 9 people. In Sudan, rebels seized hold of an army post, capturing many and killing several. In Syria, rebels were killed in a revolt against the government.

The aforementioned deaths are just a tiny slice of the number of deaths that actually occurred throughout the world on Tuesday morning. Some of these deaths may have been natural, unexpected, anticipated, many unreported, but how many of them were due to injustice? How many of them could have been prevented?

Reading the news each day, I can’t help but wonder, are we really making progress? All of these events occur so frequently that I feel no attachment to them, just a repeated expectation that terrible things continue to transpire. The frequency of these occurrences, the repetition of death after death, anonymous name after anonymous name, fosters a strong feeling of disconnect in me. Perhaps this disconnect arises because my ‘here and now’ is so radically different, so irrelevant to the ‘here and now’ of Chardon, Ohio, of Pakistan, of Afghanistan, of Sudan, of Syria. Or perhaps it’s more of a loss of faith in humans.

Steven Pinker, a linguist examining where we stand today as humans, argues that war and violence are declining for the human race, that we are currently in the most peaceful state our race has ever reached. He attributes this to a certain conscious awareness we have as a race. We remember the Holocaust; it is part of a collective guilty conscience presumably so we will not allow it to happen again. We remember World Wars I and II, the Black Plague, Atlantic Slave Trade, Stalinism, Russian Communism, Ameri-Indian genocide. The list goes on since the birth of humanity.

Pinker has a point. In general, most of the world used to be in a much more volatile, unstable, and terribly violent state. War used to break out between city-states over wounded pride, resentment, even boredom. We seem to have reached a point where we are more cautious, as a race, to go to war. But what if these terrible events slowly slip from our memory?

New violence continues to emerge. It’s not always in the form of some large-scale war, but shows itself in different forms; high school shootings, gang-attacks, muggings, rapes. Are we incapable of ever living peacefully together as a race? What is it going to take?

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