UPDATE : 2019.2.18 월 17:36

[Vol. 74] Homo Violence

Why are we being enthusiastic about violence? 황경림 기자l승인2015.10.23l수정2017.11.26 19:50






  It's barely understandable that human beings, who are loyal devotees of 'reasonable thinking' once forcibly drove slaves into an arena and enjoyed watching them killing each other. But how can we possibly say that we've become different from the ancient Rome? Rather, some say that people in this age might be the most violent, or at least the most violence-enjoying generations of all. Whether you like shooting games or slasher movies doesn't matter. Watching people dying from terrors, accidents, or wars through the television news, part of your brain is willingly admitting that violence that happens to people not related to you is one great entertainment. 

Why do we feel a sense of pleasure on violence?
  There can be various accounts on the reason why we feel a sense of pleasure being violent or watching violence. One explains that testosterone is deeply concerned with such properties of violence. In fact, from the view point of an evolutionist, it is fairly natural for men to be comparatively more violent than women. Or it might be endorphin or adrenaline that controls such instinct. Both of them would make you feel excited and your blood runs fast but endorphin is secreted when you feel happy whereas adrenaline is secreted when you get nervous (generally). Depending on how you feel upon violence, you are being dominated by endorphin or adrenaline. One important point in this explanation is that no matter how you feel about it, you'll get excited being violent or watching violence. Another possible explanation includes genetic inheritance. Scientists have found that mice who lack specific genes show unusually high aggressive tendency. Besides, according to a research conducted in 1993, it turned out that a number of members of a Dutch family committed crimes and they all shared a specific genomic abnormality. There is no established theory yet, but one thing is clear; violence excites us. Some of you might say that the excitement we get from violence is not different with the excitement that arises from beating drums or listening to rock music. However, if that is the case, why would the members of 'fight club' choose to fight rather than beating drums? More specifically, think of the crowd who flocked to watch public execution in the Medieval times.      

Dilemma of pleasure
  The problem doesn't end here. If you take a careful look, you would find that the mechanism of pleasure that arises from violence seems to work in a very odd way. For example, the audiences love to watch a main character of an action movie sweep a lot of enemies with one cool shot. However, if a scene where the very same character slowly kills an enemy who is only a little boy is projected on the screen, the audiences will feel disgust. That is because a different kind of sensation is suddenly getting involved in this situation. When the sharp blade of the main character is pointing toward the boy, a sensation called moral objection occurs inside the audience and whisper that something is ethically wrong. And this also is precisely why so many action movies featuring a heroic character often fall into self-contradiction. In the preceding example, how could we be so enthusiastic about killing many people and then feel bad about killing one person? The reason why the moral objection does not occur in the case of the former is uncertain, but again, one thing is clear; we feel a moral objection to (certain kinds of) violence.

How are we dealing with this problem?   
  Then we are left with questions. How do we deal with these two contradictory emotional states? You would blame the main character in the preceding paragraph but after reading this article, you might go out and play the whack-a-mole game. Or you might tune into Tarantino movies and enjoyably watch blood being splashed against the screen while eating popcorn. All those things would happen without any inner conflicts. It is confusing though if it is morally acceptable to let movies with great massacres and buckets of blood be in the theaters. Even though we don't feel a moral objection watching those movies, the fact that we enjoy watching people being hit and dying is still a little bit strange and uncomfortable. History of people who didn't just let this problem go and tried to get to the answer is quite long. A German political scientist Carl Schmitt thought that recognizing humans as dangerous beings who cannot be separated from violence is the premise of political thinking and denying this with our moral sense is impossible. Considering that this idea of violence belongs to the man who had cooperated with the Nazis, some would find a novelist Susan Sontag's idea more valid. In her book Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag argues that people consume others' pain as a kind of spectacle in modern society where images full of violence and cruelty are crammed. According to Sontag, what people are supposed to do is to stop being compassionate and start to do something against violence on others.  
  In a sense, the history of mankind is the history of violence. Violence has been vital for survival, and one who could not acquire it fell behind. This inevitability might have made human beings to feel violence as something very natural and in some extent, even enjoyable but the fact that we still feel moral objection toward it helps us stay in the zone of dignity. As Sontag put it, in modern society full of violent and cruel images, blaming the ancient Rome for watching gladiators' match would be meaningless unless we try to deal with this matter.

황경림 기자  hdslkr03@blue.ac.kr
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