Why Are Humans Violent? The Psychological Reason We Hurt Each Other

Kirk Schneider connects feelings of insignificance and death anxiety to individual psychopathology and collective behavior such as terrorism, extremist religions and political ideologies, and materialist obsession.

... there is one overarching theme that almost never gets media coverage—the sense of insignificance that drives destructive acts. As a depth psychologist with many years of experience, I can say emphatically that the sense of being crushed, humiliated and existentially unimportant are the main factors behind so much that we call psychopathology.

Why would it not follow that the same factors are at play in social and cultural upheavals? The emerging science of “terror management theory” shows convincingly that when people feel unimportant they equate those feelings with dying—and they will do everything they can, including becoming extreme and destructive themselves to avoid that feeling.

The sense of insignificance and death anxiety have been shown to play a key role in everything from terrorism to mass shootings to extremist religious and political ideologies to obsessions with materialism and wealth.

... heed the terror management theorists and consider missing pieces of the puzzle. Economic, ideological and biological explanations take us only so far in unpacking the bewildering phenomenon of slaughtering people in cold blood, or playing recklessly with their health, safety or livelihoods.

... too often violence is provocative, and when it becomes so betrays a common thread of psychological destitution—the sense of insignificance, the sense of not counting, of helplessness, and of emotional devaluation. We have stories daily about both lone gunmen and soldiers who seek vengeance and “prestige” to cover over their cultural and emotional wounds. Correspondingly, such stories parallel the kind of psychopathy of some in the corporate sector who speculate, pollute and militarize at will.

The time for a change in societal consciousness is at hand. By focusing our resources on the root of the problem, the many people who feel they don’t count, we not only bolster individual and collective lives, we provide a model that others will find difficult to ignore. [emphasis mine]

Unfortunately Schneider's insights arise from the position of a depth psychologist embedded in Dominator Culture. He thinks we need a “moral equivalent of war” to provide mental health services to affected individuals and demographics. It never occurs to him to question our culture's hierarchical structure which empowers the 1% by eroding the self esteem of everyone below.

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Replies to This Discussion

The Dominator Culture that fosters a sense of insignificance and victimization drives destructive acts. Riane Eisler and her "Caring Economy Campaign" offers an alternative to those who feel helpless. 





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