Humans have acted violently as far back as history can catalog our existence, with no evidence of changing course before we go extinct. But violence isn’t necessarily malevolent simply because it’s destructive, or because humans have a compulsion toward it in one way or another. There can be good to come out of violence though—striking back at an attacker, or removing the leader of an oppressive regime—so even when there are moral agents involved, they're not inherently bad ones. The true salience of this issue is that violence doesn’t apply solely to human affairs; it’s simply a measure of severity—as in a violent storm—rather than exclusively human affairs.
Some violent actions are indeed bad, but our crisis-envying and media-addicted culture places so much attention on these events (and historical events like them) we are subtly reinforced toward applying negative judgment. It’s how modern day scripture works, whereas civilization's writers of History relied upon fanciful tales, anti-science, and silver-tongued rhetoricians to mutate non-moral phenomena into moral obligations, in modern society we rely on the media, competition of reputation, and the production machine to reinforce specific attitudes and behaviors. Since individuals are discouraged from engaging in the physical warfare that governments are applauded for exacting when they determine it's the right course of action, the concept of violence has been stripped of its neutrality as a means of social control. As B.F. Skinner explains, labels of good and bad are simply descriptive reinforcers for actions we deem appropriate and approve of repetition, but the use of said descriptors doesn’t necessarily indicate the action is good-in-itself. Skinner indicates how it’s simply a psychological tool we use to reinforce specific behaviors, rather than morality in general. Again, violence is simply a measure of severity, thus changing the terms of that measure tampers and mutates the concepts, rather than clarifies.
The misunderstanding and misplacement of morality places the human world in the center of affairs regardless if we have anything to do with them. This wreaks havoc on our ability to reason because its damages our ability to understand and interact with actual moral agents and dilemmas. Describing weather patterns as good or bad may seem innocuous, but tagging them with a moral qualifier places weather in a category it doesn’t belong, expending valuable energy on issues we have no control over anyway.
Our conceptualization of violence has thus not been very critical to reason. It’s become an overstuffed, mismanaged category consisting of natural events, unintended destruction, and intended destruction. Violence has thus been advertised by our ubiquitous media devices to slovenly include everything from the reproductive habits of insects and lower mammals, to the super cell thunderstorm that tears across the land, to drunken car accidents, to actual rape, murder, and assault. The ambiguity isn’t helping anyone, considering the first of these—the mating habits of the animal kingdom—are by nature severe due to the fact that mating entails vulnerability and costs a lot of expensive energy. And for many species the act is indeed deadly. The second—the super cell—is also violent by nature because it’s unpredictable, has a great ripple effect, and disturbs and displaces nearly everything its comes in contact with. There’s no human morality anywhere near either one of these; they’re completely natural. The third scenario—the drunken driving accident—is historically violent because of the driver’s reduced inhibitions and judgment. Morality can be attached here because a moral agent chose to tip the bottle and create harsh repercussions, further delineating this type of action from the previous two—which were natural—as human negligence. The last category though—rape, murder and assault—belong to a wholly different category with distinct implications.
These crimes aren’t just violent; they’re malicious. Violence attributes to partial definition of these acts, because, by definition, they are indeed markedly severe due to their adverse effects and repercussions, inhibiting the ability to immediately heal, progress, or understand. The part lacking in this distinction when it comes to malice, is the will to harm another. A violent storm is violent but not malicious because it doesn’t intend to harm anyone or anything, and the drunk driver only hurts via repercussion, but a rapist is both violent and malicious because they intend to harm others. Unfortunately, the crisis-porn media indirectly protects the malicious because it advertises them simply as just violent, not malicious. Very rarely is anyone out of a courtroom setting accused of being malicious. A discussion about malice is completely different than a discussion about violence.
What’s really strange about this is scenario is that evil is a more readily used word than malice, despite being so selectively labelled. Consulting Google’s Ngram—which plots word frequency in published books across the last few hundred years—the results of inputing the words violent, malice, and evil, show that evil has been published far more than the other two. The second most used term is violence, with a steady—though slow—declination from 1800 to 2000, representing about half the published usage of evil. Lastly is malice, scraping the bottom of the vernacular, with usage so pathetically scant I’m surprised it’s still in the dictionary. This data represents a cultural extremism, in that violence and evil are wildly different though published much more often than malice, which is by definition closer to evil than violence. Why are we not talking about malice? We talk about the weather all the time despite having no control over it.
The surge of mass-malicious activity in our culture has ineffectively brought the surge of anti-violence campaigns. We do not need anti-violence campaigns because violence is an effect of multiple potential causes. Malice is a psychological determination that is reinforced by the surge of power felt when harming another intentionally, relinquishing the other’s power. Malice is fed by ego, because the sheer act of harming isn’t enough, the doer wants to relish in what it maims or incapacitates. Hence, the majority of rapists thrive on humiliating their victim (citing a 1991 study done by Dr. Barbaree out of Queens College, Ontario), which is a similar phenomena as to why arsonists often watch their flames with pride or sexual arousal, why psychopaths often memorialize their acts with artifacts, and why Zodiac-like criminals intentionally leave clues to get as much attention as possible. Malice is therefore hinged upon the deprivation of others’ power, whereas violence is just a coefficient of severity.
Sanctioned mixed martial arts tournaments, despite all the histrionics, are geared toward violence, not malice. The competitors certainly intend to harm another, and may even psyche themselves up by repeating murderous monologue. However, the competition itself is predicated on revealing the toughest fighter, operating by specific rules and engaging others loosely defined as your peers. All these criteria are intended to carve away savage maliciousness, leaving the raw violence of competitors engaging in physical combat. When they’re engaged, they fight perceivably for their life, but afterward, they clutch and congratulate one another, often complimenting one another. They’re combatants, but not enemies--they're peers. Individuals who feed off the power of others through intentionally harming them never do this. Malice is one-way; A onto B. No relationship, just exploitation, self-gratification, and voyeurism.
One of the major issues with crisis-porn media is it constantly advertises malice and reinforces those with malicious impulses through allotting them with more airtime. Model train conventions don’t get as high ratings as random drive-by shootings. Malice is vain, just watch the 12-minute drunken confessional video of the teenage rapists from Steubenville, Ohio brag about having raped their victim until she was “deader than Trayvon Martin.” So on top of diluting this concept to “violent,” we press our ears to the ground for the slightest sign of malicious activity to report, chat banally over coffee, and in the recent years, Tweet or post to Facebook about.
Malice has become invisible. It has weaseled its way out of our vernacular but is still present. The concept itself is unnecessary and destructive to both humans and nonhumans, but if we are to eradicate it we must first understand it, which means we must make it visible and verbally prolific. Our culture is enacting so much malice and advertising it through multiple channels of crisis-porn media simply because we don’t understand it, nor do we understand how the repercussions of these scriptural advertisements are rewards for the malicious and destructively voyeuristic. Understanding requires an active vernacular, and the word “malice” is all but extinct, but not because we’ve moved past it. Because we're more malicious than we may want to believe.
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