New Clear Vision


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The Batman Massacre

July 24, 2012 By: NCVeditor Category: Culture, Current Events, Michael N. Nagler

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Tell Me When You’ve Had Enough…

by Michael N. Nagler

I want to make an offer to my fellow Americans who are, like myself, reeling from the worst “random” shooting the country has ever seen. My question: Have you had enough? Because if you have, I can tell you how to stop this kind of madness. I know that’s a bold claim, but this is not a time for small measures.

We cannot fix this tomorrow, because we didn’t cause it yesterday. We have been building up to this domestic holocaust since — to take one milestone — television was made available to the general public at the conclusion of World War Two.

If you are still with me, you are prepared to believe that it was not a coincidence that this massacre took place at the scene of an extremely violent, “long-awaited” movie. Psychologists have proved over and over again that — guess what — exposure to violent imagery produces disturbances in the mind that must, in course of time, take form in outward behavior. The imagery can be in any medium, nor does it matter whether on the surface of our minds we think what we’re seeing is real or made up. This is a natural, scientific law. Exactly who will crack next and in what setting is nearly impossible to predict, and in any case it’s ridiculous to try to run around stopping the resulting violence from being acted out after the mental damage has been done. The only sane approach is not to do it in the first place.

As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman pointed out in his book, Let’s Stop Killing Our Kids, the video games that the Army uses to prepare ordinary men and women for combat, in other words to wipe out the normal empathy and inhibitions against hurting others that we’ve built up over millennia — a process known as civilization — are the very same games our young people buy across the counter throughout the country.

Of course, there are other factors. At some point we will have to talk about readily available weapons; at some point we’ll have to realize that a nation that engages in heartless drone warfare, torture, and extrajudicial killings cannot expect to live in peace. But until we liberate our minds from the endless pounding of violent imagery I fear we won’t be able to think clearly about those factors (or for that matter anything else).

With rare exceptions, film and video game producers will not stop turning out these dehumanizing products as long as there is profit to be made from them — and not enough sophistication about culture or the human mind to warn us about their dangers. But there is a way, one that has worked well on the small scales on which it has so far been tried: don’t watch them. Captain Boycott had the right approach.

Right now police have been posted at theaters where this same movie is being shown — still. But ask yourself, what are they protecting? Is it perhaps the belief that violence is just entertaining? People, tell me when you’ve had enough.

Michael N. Nagler, Ph.D., is Professor emeritus of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley where he co-founded the Peace and Conflict Studies Program. He is the founder of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, serves on the Board of Directors of the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision. Among his many publications in the field of nonviolence, Dr. Nagler is the author of The Search for a Nonviolent Future: A Promise of Peace for Ourselves, Our Families, and Our World (New World Library), winner of the 2002 American Book Award.

1 Comments to “The Batman Massacre”


  1. I agree that a regular onslaught of violent fantasy imagery can be desensitizing and is one of the contributing factors to the epidemic of gratuitous mass mayhem we are experiencing – though I believe it’s also a symptom of the general breakdown of modern culture.

    But I will take issue with one point: that “the normal empathy and inhibitions against hurting others that we’ve built up over millennia [is] a process known as civilization.”

    Recent neurobiological research, as well as field and lab studies in primatology, indicate that empathy and sociability are wired into the primate, and particularly the mammalian brain, though easily undermined by poor early parent bonding (which is a precursor to sociopathology).

    In the state of nature, humans are biologically empathic and cooperative. It is civilization which has enforced a competitive and individualistic imperative that contributes to interpersonal violence. Civilization also creates normative or legalistic inhibitions to suppress the very qualities it encourages, but as civilization breaks down those restraints are weakened while the fostered psychosocial drives become dominant.

    Simply eliminating violent fantasy (which all cultures include but which are normally non-pathological) will not in itself solve the problem of explosive violence. We must re-write the entire narrative of human culture, abandoning the pathogenic elements of what we’ve called civilization, in order to allow the better aspects of our human nature to emerge.

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