|Knife – PublicDomainPictures by Pixabay|
Why is this act so inconceivable to me, to you, to us? Is it that we were brought up right, that we are so anchored down by empathy, ethics and morality to feel so alien when pushed up against this barbaric idea? Or have we not yet been confronted with the possibility? Even if we ever were, I still think we would emerge from the trial the greater person, victoriously hoisting our righter choice: to save.
So if the problem, then, is not “us”, it has to be “them”. The irony is that the “them” is a conjoined part of our larger “us”. They breathe the same air as you and me, and occupy the same physical spaces on this one finite Earth. Yet between us and them dwells difference. Why?
Politicians become killers, their hands sticky with blood, when they bless wars. Soldiers turn killers when they jog into the thick of battle. Militants ripen more killers when they renegade against their foes. And we, the baffled harmless bystanders, become paint scabs on walls, watching with wide eyes, while we crack from disbelief as we witness it: The darkest nature of human nature—the ability to kill.
Did Colonel Tibbets, the pilot of Enola Gay, really know what he had nesting in his undercarriage as he cruised through the strong icy headwind before dropping Little Boy at 08:15 A.M. on Hiroshima: 80,000 people dead. When a psycho ex-wife revengefully stabs her husband, does she know she is shutting off his breath as her knife twists in and out, slicing gut, muscle, and artery, bleeding the soul. 1 dead. When a few individuals of a roused up mob in Aluthgama open fire on their own Sri Lankans and their bullets sear through bone, marrow, and skull, do they know they’ve robbed the lives of their victims: 3 dead. When Hamas launches a cluster of rockets that are vaporized by the Iron Dome, and when Israel’s jets streak through the breaking dawn, raining fire bombs on a dome-less wedged strip, do they blink twice from their actions? 2000+ dead.
Humans have killed, are killing, and will keep killing humans. But why, damn it!?
A large existential question to wrestle with, and one that cannot be pinned down here. It is like trying to open Pandora’s box to retrieve a precious truth soaked with reason. Because we cannot open it in this blog, this is more like sinking your arm into the box to scoop out one serving of truth so that we can then ladle it out, onto this article, to create meaning. My hope is that the essence of truth can flavor the whole.
Religiously, human acts are ordered to be pristine. The Bible remarks that “You shall not murder” (Matthew 5:21). The Torah specifies that “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). The Veda that “you must not use your God-given body for killing God’s creatures, whether they are human, animal or whatever” (Yajur Veda 12.32). In Buddhism, of the Five Precepts the first is “No Killing”. Likewise, the Quran’s elucidates that “whoever kills a soul… – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely” (5:32).
|Tree Bark Texture – Deviantart|
As a young adult I never understood what it meant when it said “it is as if he had slain mankind entirely”. I thought it was being rhetorical or melodramatic until I heard an explanation. It warns of how the death of the one leads to the death of entire generations. Generations that could have been but will now never be. For example, that the murder of a young man prevents his child(ren) from being born, which then prevents his offspring’s offspring from being born and so on. When the initial branch is cut, the bloodline meant to course through future branches will never flow. In essence, the killing of the one is the killing of the sacred lineage of humanity.
So why do we kill? The motives are many. Here are some broad strokes I’ve copied from others’ writings. I take no credit for their work or their research. The remainder of this article contains direct extractions from two sources that I found to be very interesting and accessible. I have condensed them for the interest of time but their full versions can be read by clicking the original links below.
The first is from the writings of Dr. Sohail, who notes that unlike animals, who kill only in self defense or when they are hungry, humans can display malignant violence (which means humans add meanings to their violence). In his words:
1. PERSONAL REVENGE
2. SERIAL KILLERS
Those who kill strangers, we call them serial killers and mass murderers. Serial killers, who were usually physically, emotionally and sexually abused as children, became revengeful against a particular group, be they blacks or women, gays or Hispanics, whom they killed indiscriminately until they were caught by police. Many such serial killers have psychopathic and sociopathic personalities.
3. SOCIAL VIOLENCE OF GANGS
As more and more people move from villages to cities and adopt an urban lifestyle, they face the pains of migration, social alienation and unemployment and some of them become involved in violent gangs. It is fascinating how these gangs provide a sense of identity and belonging to young men and women who feel lost, confused and isolated in big cities.
4. MENTAL ILLNESS
Some suffer from schizophrenia, manic depressive illness and paranoid psychosis. When these emotionally disturbed people feel threatened and attacked, they may think they need to kill before they are killed. Such people, rather than going to prison, are sent to hospitals for psychiatric treatment.
|Harvest of Death by Family Tree Magazine|
5. POLITICAL / NATIONAL VIOLENCE
As nationalism became popular in the West, states created national armies. Over the centuries, soldiers in the uniform of one country killed only the soldiers of the enemy army. As guerrilla war became popular, both sides have been killing innocent civillians. Some call it using human shields while others call it collateral damage. Human beings can be executed by their own governments, under capital punishment laws ordered by the courts. These are murders committed by legalized state violence.
6. VIOLENCE OF RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISTS
Some of those killings are done to create theocratic states. Many such murders are ordered by religious leaders who have charismatic and cultish personalities.
7. INTERNATIONAL VIOLENCE
In the recent past, governments have been sending their armies to other countries and invading sovereign states in order to topple their governments; they have killed innocent civilians and then rationalized their murders in the name of democracy, human rights and freedom. We are all aware that they are economic wars aimed at establishing the aggressor’s military presence all over the world, selling weapons and ensuring access to the conquered countries’ resources.
Similarly, “How Stuff Works.com” (an unconventional choice of a source, I know) also gives us further insight into the condition of violent consciousness. They write that:
A person with antisocial personality disorder feels no empathy toward others. This psychological designation includes people we call psychopaths and sociopaths. They feel very little emotion at all and may seek out dangerous or thrilling situations to get an emotional response. They tend to be deceitful and feel no shame or guilt for misleading others. While they may recognize right from wrong, they may not care about the distinction. Many serial killers and mass murderers fall into this designation — they kill because they lack the inhibitions and empathy the rest of us possess.
What about acts of genocide? How do societies justify wiping out an entire subsection of people? According to a hypothesis posed by Ervin Staub, genocide is a result of a combination of environmental hardships and psychological coping. Staub suggests that when times are hard, people look for an excuse or scapegoat. That can include identifying a subsection of the population as being responsible for the hardship the community experiences. Wiping out that population is a way to cope with the hardship.
What about the rest of us? What could drive us to kill? Since our decisions are based upon both emotions and reason, we can sometimes favor one over the other. In emotionally charged situations, we may allow ourselves to act impulsively, ignoring rationality. These so-called crimes of passion can happen between people with strong emotional bonds. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 30 percent of all female murder victims were killed by their spouses. Another 18.3 percent were killed by ex-spouses. Only 8.7 percent of all female victims were killed by a stranger [source: Bureau of Justice Statistics].
DR. SOHAIL’S CONCLUDING COMMENTS:
|Peace Please by IAP Community|
It is sad to realize that violent consciousness is on the rise and that the borders between just and unjust wars have blurred. Even in the 21st century we have not risen above a tribal mentality. I am afraid that if we do not develop peace consciousness and do not feel compassion for all of humanity, we might commit collective suicide and may not evolve to the next stage of human evolution.
With all that said, I’ll leave you with this. I love being left alone in peace. I think others would too. Peace people, peace. Adieu.