Controlling Aggression a Personal Responsibility?
The culture of violence that is unquestionable in our country, South Africa exists beyond race, culture or social status.
I have been perplexed by the events (not new but reported on more regularly now by the media) , happenings in my country (South Africa) over the past months, weeks, days. No particular event made me question the core of human aggression, but rather a mixture of thoughts, feelings and public reactions to events like, the rape of innocent girls, possible murder, by a renowned sports person, but also the gruesome happenings that I see in the communities I called home and that takes place within the intimate family spaces, we don’t ever talk about. I also wanted to mention, totally unrelated how these emotions are manifested in our civil arenas where we as a nation are to make decisions for better living in our democratic country, political spaces. I refer to the varying attitudes towards Ramphele (political activist), wanting to form a political party; I care not about her political interest or intentions when I write, but more so about the judgements aimed towards her as a woman, just another indication of the attitudes about equality by others, any prominent others, attitudes towards woman in general. A woman is not capable of leading this country, a woman is not capable of heading a household, act as any leader for that matter. At any turn we will use platforms (social or political) to show them the realities of being public figures, by attacking the gender, “this God –given weakness” for being a woman.
But this is not about gender inequality, so many have been written about this to educate our natures to this act of aggression. So many leading women activist, academics have shed light on these disparities that exist. I cannot be counted amongst these greats.
As stated by William James in his essay on the Moral equivalent of war; “the drawback is, of course, the great surrounding human vacuum—the historic silence fairly rings in your ears when you listen—and the social insipidity”.
I enjoyed reading James essay, simply because it reminds me of South Africa’s double personality when it comes to violence and how we react to it as a society.
This particular paragraph speaks to our countries current climate on violence and aggression, for me, from the works of William James, 1906.
“It is plain that on this subject civilized man has developed a sort of double personality. If we take European nations, no legitimate interest of any one of them would seem to justify the tremendous destructions which a war to compass it would necessarily entail. It would seem that common sense and reason ought to find a way to reach agreement in every conflict of honest interests. I myself think it our bounden duty to believe in such international rationality as possible. But, as things stand, I see how desperately hard it is to bring the peace-party and the war-party together, and I believe that the difficulty is due to certain deficiencies in the program of pacifism which set the military imagination strongly, and to a certain extent justifiably, against it. In the whole discussion both sides are on imaginative and sentimental ground. It is but one utopia against another, and everything one says must be abstract and hypothetical. Subject to this criticism and caution, I will try to characterize in abstract strokes the opposite imaginative forces, and point out what to my own very fallible mind seems the best utopian hypothesis, the most promising line of conciliation. The solution to the problem remains an open question, now that "nature" is not to be regarded as an "enemy". The real "enemy" is our own darker human nature, and no one has found a good way to oppose that without slipping into opposition to individuals or groups seen as embodying that darker nature. It would appear that the traditional militia system remains the best solution anyone has found, provided a way can be found to revive support for it, when the main remaining threats are crime, governmental abuse, and natural or manmade disasters.” - Taken from the Moral Equivalent of War. William James 1906
I draw on this comparison to show the acts of violence in our country, as a war on overall human dignity and individual autonomy. Ways to control violence and aggression on a broader level, need to be included into our everyday dialogues, in our schools, businesses, social media and political forums.
Attempts to control aggression are usually made on two levels. The first is individualistic, with the assumption that control is best manifested at a personal level. For example, it may be possible for society to reduce the level of violence through a change in socialization and child-rearing practices. If children can be taught can be taught to use constructive and non-violent methods to resolve interpersonal conflict, they may be less likely to retrieve aggressive scripts from memory in such settings. The same can be true for intra personal conflict.
You are likely to be effective in your relationships to the extent that you assume responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings and actions. Assuming responsibility for your feelings entails learning to express them where appropriate and to regulate them where necessary. One set of choices in regard to regulating feelings entails accurately assigning or attributing responsibility for what happens in your life. This is something that needs to be learned. Apart from reflex reactions you always have some choice in how you feel. Even where another in a relationship behaves badly towards you, you still have a choice regarding your thoughts about what is happening. Furthermore, the way you think is likely to influence the way you feel about yourself and another.
Human aggression will not be controlled entirely through efforts at the level of the individual; attack on aggressive behaviour must include an effort at ending social and economic injustice and inequity. When gross inequalities between the very rich and the very poor become characteristic of society, and particularly when large segments of the population decide that their situation is hopeless and that they have nothing to lose, violence may be regarded as the only means of restoring a norm of fairness.
Can aggression be controlled? William James used the analogy of the bear and fear. Do we run when we see a bear because we fear, or do we fear because we run?
Is aggression the result of fear?
The control of aggression and violence is a major challenge we are faced with. To some extent violence may be controllable at the individual level through changing patterns of child rearing, the inculcation of values that are incompatible with aggression and the control of violent symbols through the media and TV. However, the control of violence also requires require social change aimed at promoting social justice and enhancing the significance and worth of all members in our society.