26 September, 2023


Is Violence Inherent To Human Beings?

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

This short article aims to answer one significant comment by Dr/Prof Lasantha Pethiyagoda to my previous article titled “Manchester Carnage and the Need to Combat Terrorism and All Forms of Violence”. I thank for the comment. 

The comment in full was as follows. 

While the writer seems to sincerely believe that violence can be eradicated from human behaviour, he has not researched the fact that violence in human history has always been present and is an inherent feature of the human mind, together as groups or as individuals. Our thoughts are often violent, although we restrain ourselves due to social requirements or in fear of punitive repercussions. What needs to be addressed are the triggers for “terror” type violence and change government foreign policy (for example) that are unjust to hordes of civilians in far-away lands. However, it is impractical to imagine that these policies will be dismantled, given the enormous economic advantages that major (especially free market) countries have enjoyed for many years, at devastating cost to millions of “lesser” people.

I wish to answer his propositions in Q&A form.

Question: Has violence been always present in human history?

Answer: No. There have been peaceful periods in human history including in Sri Lanka. The period of Parakramabahu VI (1410-1467) was one. These periods can be relative, nevertheless significant. The human history has produced the term Pax Romana. Similarly, one can talk about Pax Sinica. The period of Ming dynasty opened up peace in China. Of course, violence has so far been more prevalent than peace. This is the challenge of civilization. It is unfortunate if we (LP included) emphasize the negative than the positive. Steven Pinker (The Angles of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence and Its Causes, 2011) shows the decline of violence today including in Sri Lanka. I am not saying he is completely correct. But the attempt should be to sustain the situation without being critical. 

Question: Is violence an inherent feature of the human mind?

Answer: Again no. In 1986, UNESCO convened 20 experts/scientists to deliberate on the matter. They came up with what is called the Seville Statement on Violence. UNESCO General Assembly later adopted it as a resolution. There were five core conclusions as follows.

  • It is scientifically incorrect to say that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors.
  • It is scientifically incorrect to say that war or any other violent behaviour is genetically programmed into our human nature.
  • It is scientifically incorrect to say that in the course of human evolution there has been a selection for aggressive behaviour more than for other kinds of behaviour.
  • It is scientifically incorrect to say that humans have a ‘violent brain’.
  • “It is scientifically incorrect to say that war is caused by ‘instinct’ or any single motivation.”

The Statement concluded as follows. “Just as ‘wars begin in the minds of men’, peace also begins in our minds. The same species who invented war is capable of inventing peace. The responsibility lies with each of us.” This resonated what the Buddha said.

Question: Do our thoughts always violent?

Answer: The UNESCO statement comprehensively answered this question. If I go beyond, yes, our thoughts are sometimes (not always) violent. This is more so in the contemporary, competitive and antagonistic, society. We should look for personal and social solutions.

Question: Do we restrain ourselves due to social requirements or in fear of punitive repercussions? 

Answer: Yes, certain social requirements prompt us to restraint ourselves. Simply said, that is good. Even if we get angry with our spouse or children at a public place, we usually don’t vent our spleen. There are also ‘punitive repercussions,’ for example, if you hit your wife even at home! In old days, those were not there. Perhaps still in Sri Lanka, you might be able to escape from punishment for ‘wife beating.’

But is that the better method? I hardly think so. Temper control might be even better for your own health, mental peace and happiness. Therefore, proper meditation might be the better way. I am not an expert on the subject, but I have heard, perhaps there is a part of the brain which prompts us to keep grudges, continue hatred and creates violent thoughts. This mostly comes from the subconscious mind. Therefore, the mindfulness meditation or such mental exercises can bring calm to your thoughts.   

Question: Could addressing triggers be sufficient to prevent ‘terror’ type violence?

Answer: Addressing triggers are of course necessary. What are these triggers? The views on the matter can be different. Could the ‘grievances’ be the triggers? LP’s questioning/comments direct in that direction. How do these grievances are created? Particularly in the Manchester case, we are still at the early stages of uncovering the facts. If we take Salman Abedi completely as a ‘lone wolf’ (I doubt it), we should know whether he had faced personal discrimination. Was he unemployed? Was he prevented from doing any business? If the triggers are related to government policies and wrongs, of course those should change. I have identified some.

However, as I have stated very clearly, none of these ‘triggers’ justify violent reactions let alone terrorism. This is a broad debate even in human rights. This is about rights and responsibilities of human beings. Lack of rights, should not allow a right to violence, specially under the modern circumstances. In the Manchester case, what we know very clearly is the existence of the IS group and its ideology. To distract a bit, I did my master’s thesis on political violence and the 1971 insurrection. My thesis was against the ‘frustration-aggression theory.’ In treasure this thesis than even my PhD! In my findings, it is not primarily the grievances that trigger political violence but violent ideologies. Therefore, combating violence also should take an ideological, philosophical and educational form. I don’t wish to use the term ‘struggle’ instead of ‘form.’

Question: How far the economic and international policies (free market) of the West responsible for the ongoing confrontations and violence?

Answer: Of course, the economic and international policies have created breeding grounds for violence and terrorism. I have very clearly identified the key elements of them (not all, given the restricted space) as invasions (Iraq, Afghanistan) and effected and attempted regime changes (Libya, Syria etc.) Money, oil and power have been the motives. However, to pin them all to ‘free market’ is not the correct diagnosis in my opinion. It could be easy and fashionable, but not totally correct. That kind of an analysis lacks precision and depth. It is like Kokatath Thailaya. There are countries who have benefitted from ‘free market’ when applied cautiously and preserving the national interests. China and India are two. Even Sri Lanka has benefitted in the past.

If one points out capitalism, as the structural condition of contemporary violence of the states and non-state actors, instead of mere ‘free-market, there is much truth in it. How can we talk about free market without capitalism? But that is a general theory. Moreover, many of our radicals or ‘Marxists’ are so shy to use that word (capitalism) these days, perhaps preferring state capitalism for their own benefit. One reason could be they are talking about and involved in not ‘class struggles,’ but ‘power-struggles.’    

In conclusion, let me ignore Lasantha Pethiyagoda’s slight slight that the ‘writer’ (that is me!) has not researched violence in human history. He also seems to think that my advocacy of non-violence is perhaps naïve! Both are clear from his first sentence. My reservation about his comment, in turn, is that while beginning from the premise that ‘violence is inherent to human mind’ in general terms, he then further attributes further justification for specific violence that I was talking about to economic and foreign policies of governments. This is done without a single word condemning violence. I am sure he would, but he has not.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    There are men and women. Male and female. Female watch the violence and get in love with the winner. To have a winner there should be violence. There is no rule of war No rule of engagement. By any means you win you are sure of your genome to continue.

  • 2

    “Lack of rights, should not allow a right to violence, specially under the modern circumstances. “

    What is the learned professor advocating is Don Stephen and Solomon West Ridgeway Dias have the license to start anything, but Tamils have no authority to end it.

    He dying so hard to mingle the Muslims terrorism with the LTTE and keep prescribing what Tamil can do what they can not do.

    ****In December (2016) Sampanathar’s secret solution was busted. ****In March UNHRC sponsored initiation to an International Investigation Busted**** In April the call for PTA removal was scraped off****May the EU GSP+ was won by the government.

    They are looting in Billions. They are spending in Billions for their security. Tamils in under the open sky and on the running water. This guy is telling what rights Tamils don’t have, but not ready to tell what right is left with Tamil anymore.

    Tamils have their Individual sovereignty. Tamils have their state sovereignty. Tamils have the right to ask for that. Because Tamils are asking for their land, Appe Anduwa doesn’t has no right to occupy it with 150,000 rapist army. Tamils have the right this rapist army invested by UN. Tamils have right to demand UN to have the Rapist army removed out of their land.

  • 2

    Violence is inherent in humans as that of the Animals. The only difference is the way how violence is often committed. In this advanced world of technology, humans use different methods of violence, e.g. bombs, suicide bombs , guns etc. In the ancient world methods used were bows and arrows, swords, and various other weapons.
    Human mind , in average have become poisonous, a different way of thinking, perhaps negatively jealousy, hatred are on the increase. Evil mind with evil deeds are unavoidable until a new generation comes up.

    • 0

      Sellam, why Tamils are prone to violence. Because, they are not buddhists.

  • 2

    Sorry Laksiri. So called humanness , peace, justice, religion and the like are attractive concepts created by homo-sapiens. Lasantha Pethiyagoda’s comment is a gentle, polite reminder about ourselves. Sorry your Q&A are Utopian – not saying that we must not strive towards it..

  • 3

    Any forms of violence is not good but violence is always associated with human behaviour. Human behaviour is influenced by many factors. Some are internal and some are external. The needs of the animals are many and animals have to compete to satisfy their needs. Human beings are considered at the top of the animal kingdom with improved brain system. Whatever the brain development we had over the priod of time, our needs and competition for satisfying the needs also grow faster at different stages of needs of individuals, groups, organizations, states. Competition for food, competition of homes, competition for ststus etc. It is true that we can control our needs using our brain but we can’t control our greediness once you are tasted like you can’t stop eating chocholate until you get diabetic (here the threat is diebetic, fear of dieing), simlarly you can’t stop the greediness of Mahinda Rajapakse or Ranil Wickremasinghe until they face eletric chair.

  • 1

    If Humans really Understand and Practise what All the Great Teachers Taught, we would have no Wars.

    Truth, as Taught by these Great Teachers, has been adapted as ‘Religions’, by separating Humans into the many Religious Sects, Races, Castes, led by Self-Seeking Individuals for their Own Ends!

  • 1

    As usual our learned professor complicate thing for himself and failed to understand everything in total. UNESCO study is about the violence in war. Under normal circumstances war may looked at as the biggest violence. But the subject under discussion was Manchester bombing and terrorism.

    War is mainly between two(or few) people. But oppression is on a society by another society. Hitler’s Germans oppressed Jews. Churchill, Stalin & Truman war-ed with Hitler. Jews had the right to rebel against Germans like the French Citizens rebelled against Lois’s Royal Lords. That is why they took arm. Jews did not take arms in Germany, but those who migrated to US- Canada volunteered to be in those country’s army. That was their form of rebelling. Tamil too took arm as they had right to rebel against the majority oppressed them. It is so stupid talk when one tell the lacking right will not give right to fight back. That is the farcical play of the century. War can be defined. Engagement laws modes can be established. Rebelling against oppressing society can not be formalised. That why UNHRC is accusing war crime on LTTE and Rapist army. Because it is trying to recognize them as two armies instead of two communities. This will allow UNHRC to conveniently disregard the 1956, 1958, 1961, 1977, 1983 riots where oppressions were staged on Tamils.

  • 0

    I am surprised that our learned Prof used very shorten form of Wikipedia entry on UNESCO report (1986) and come to conclusions… Just quoting five lines of 30 member UNESCO report and steadfastly say “Answer: Again NO.”… I suggest you read the full report.
    Genetics, brain sciences and Neuropsychology are relatively new sciences and lots of NEW knowledge is acquired in the last 20~30 years.
    It is current understanding that 50% of individual humans behaviour, habits, knowledge are genetically inherited. Rest is from the environment from the birth.. But one can argue that a child is surrounded by his loved and respected elders from whom he inherited his genes, then this environment could be just fine-tuning their genetically inherited knowledge, temperaments, etc…
    However, genetically we are against violence too, Blood is unpleasant scenery to us.. seeing an animal going through pain is very unpleasant. But this human violence is actually very strong protectionism of “Me, Mine, I”.. If we feel there is a threat to my daughter, my family, my tribe, my religion, then some of us humans may go insane and do horrible crimes to other humans .. This violence could be only a “thought”, but could extend to real physical actions like “killings”.. This inherited very strong protectionism of “Me, Mine, I” made humans very violent than most of animals.
    Historical records show that we humans are doing better.. but this natural violent thoughts like “hurting or killing somebody else’s daughter” to “protect MY daughter” would NOT disappear through human evolution process..

    • 2

      Laksiri, (I don’t like to address humans with prefixes like Dr, Prof.., very Asian genetically inherited silly quality)
      There is a book on discussion between David Boon (Neurologist) and Jiddu Krshnamurthi (very intelligent spiritual guy). Their discussion started with the question of Jiddu asking “Do you think that humans took a wrong turn somewhere long back in their evolution”.. Modern neurologist agreed and they continue.. Very complex discussion about nature of human brain and evolution.. One of the conclusion they both agreed was that it was too late to reverse the process back to where we humans took the “wrong turn”… We stuck with our very strong “Me, Mine, I” protectionism at any cost.. If this is not true, how we can justify we humans created atomic bombs, nerve gases to kill our own kind and at the same time we wholeheartedly try to invent medicine to extend the quality life of less fortunate brothers who have cancers like early terminating illnesses.

  • 1

    Many countries had explained to Old King that because LTTE shelled from within crowd (That was a lie and Rapist army obtained coordinated from ICRC and bombed nofire zone makeshift hospitals), Old Royals had no right to shell back with heavy artilleries to nofire zones. Pranab Mukherjee, when he met Karunanidhi, had told that Indian government had obtained the promise of not to use heavy artilleries towards crowds. Old Royals’ 150,000 army each individually behaved like Manchester Bomber with their heavy artilleries and bombing machines to create 150,000 death. This Guy gave a Nobels Peace prize with the name of PhD In War crime for Old King for listening his consultancy and having orchestrated that massive carnage. Latter he demanded to withdraw that PhD only when Old King refused to listen to his advices. The real maxim are 1) just because rebels fired from crowd then the state does not get right to bomb back the crowd. For example because Manchester bomber acted from a concert goers crowd, Britain did not bomb the crowd to wipe out any perceived accomplices would have been within the crowd. 2)Just because a war criminal faked patriotism and won the war for his race people by war crime, a learned professor does not get right to bend his university’s rules to honor the violent criminal with Nobel Peace prize. This guy should stop his opportunistic preaching of 21st century Buddha.

  • 0

    [Edited out]

    Read the following and understand it what was behind this violence;

    “U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, identified the assailant as Salman Abedi. They did not provide information about his age or nationality, and British officials declined to comment on the suspect’s identity.”

    This was published at a time when British police and security services were refusing to make any statements as to who they thought the perpetrators were because at the time, they were dealing with the immediate aftermath of the event.

    Quite how unnamed ‘US Officials’ wishing to remain anonymous correctly identified the exact individual exactly four hours after the incident from 3,500 miles away is anyone’s guess, particularly when British police and security services continued to make no such statement.

    At around the same time this tweet appears from columnist/lobby correspondent at The New York Observer Andre Walker. There is probably a good reason why he is in Manchester. He clearly states on his Twitter account that this image is FAKE. I am reliably informed that the image is in fact the Manchester Arena exit doors from straight after the bombing and the devastation is evident. How this journalist got this image quite so fast without actually being there just two minutes after Greater Manchester Police put out a Tweet stating that they were now responding to serious incident is difficult to understand.

  • 0

    “Is Violence Inherent To Human Beings?”

    no it is not ,but is inherent in some sinhalese and muslims , because they allowed anybody to become sinhalese or muslim and were not choosy whether the dregs of society became one of them.

    As result the good people among them are also getting a bad name because of a few among them.

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