Sunday 28 June 2009

A Taste for Violence

There is an interesting paper by Victor Neil in the August 2006 issue of The Journal Behavioural and Brain Sciences. The full title is Cruelty's Rewards: The gratification of Perpetrators and Spectators.

In essence it is an overview of cultural practices from the earliest times, focusing on the vicarious enjoyment of cruelty and pain. The capacity for cruelty, and the enjoyment of the suffering of others, is a constant if latent feature of the human psyche. Think of the spectators at the Roman arena; think of the pleasure derived from cinematic violence.

It is possible to extend this analysis to look at the problem of evil and sadism in more general terms. The monstrous, in other words, is not abstract or 'other', but an immediate, internalised danger. Humanity's baser impulses have been superficially channelled and controlled by personal socialisation and the super-arching structures of morality and law. These can, however, disintegrate, both at an individual and collective level. We know all to well from both contemporary politics, and from modern history, that cruelty and indifference, once released, can have devastating consequences.

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