The Culture of Violence

In our culture, women as a group are targeted for domination. But they’re not the only victims. The culture is in love with violence.

Anger, retaliation and revenge are popular. In our current society we are encouraged to look upon others as competitors for scarce resources, or even as enemies we have reason to hate.

It’s easy to see our cultural romance with violence in popular entertainment. But the hate mode of thinking extends to much more. We talk of solving problems in terms of destruction. We talk about a “war on terror,” a “war on poverty.” Politicians treat members of another party as enemies, and attack their attempts to do good.

We learn to see enemies everywhere, to fear them. The powerful elements in our society encourage this polarization because it gives them an easy handle for manipulating us. Drugs, junk food, entertainment, consumerism, “Keeping up with the Joneses,” nationalism, security-blanket religion…. Those who sell these to us, profit by keeping us dependent on their product.

Since the 1850s, chemical agriculture has killed organisms that make plants less productive. As a result, we have bred more virulent pests, killed beneficial organisms, and poisoned the soil; crops are less hardy and their nutritive value has plummeted. The way we use natural resources rapes the earth, kills the other species who share it with us, and wrecks the biosphere.

The medical approach to bodily ills focuses on attacking them with drugs or removing them surgically, seldom on determining causes and correcting them. Medical schools do not teach nutrition. Antibiotics produce resistant microbes. Cells of the immune system are an “army” and their target is “attacking.” Macrophages destroy “invaders” by “eating” them. Could we use other metaphors: ecology, embracing, transformation?

In Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen tells how a standard imagery-training program was not working for cancer patient Jim. The teacher had emphasized “the importance of an aggressive ‘fighting spirit’ and of the ‘killer motivation’ of effective cancer-fighting imagery” — and suggested Jim think of his immune system as “thousands of tiny sharks hunting through his body, savagely attacking and destroying any cancer cells they found.” But Jim — a quiet, reserved man — couldn’t relate to this.

What did work was actually a more profound metaphor. As a boy, he had been impressed by and fond of catfish. In an aquarium, for example, he admired the way they sifted the sand through their gills, “evaluating constantly, sorting waste from what is not waste, eating what no longer supports the life of the aquarium.” He thought of them as “discerning, vigilant, impeccable, thorough, steadfast.”

So now Jim visualized his immune system this way:

Millions of catfish that never slept, moving through his body, vigilant, untiring, dedicated, and discriminating, patiently examining every cell, passing by the ones that were healthy, eating the ones that were cancerous, motivated by a pet’s unconditional love and devotion. They cared whether he lived or died. He was as special and unique to them as he was to his dog. He opened his eyes. “This may sound silly but I feel sort of grateful to them for their care,” he said.[1]

This new meditation, Remen reports, touched him deeply. He did it faithfully, and achieved a full recovery.

Remen does not criticize the aggressive imagery of sharks. She specifically says everyone has different needs for healing: for another person sharks might have been perfect. But I can’t help wishing the program leader had understood the possibilities of non-hostile imagery.


The Myth of Redemptive Violence
Where Babies Come From
A Sense of Urgency
Cultural Sadism
Victimization and Victimage

[1] Remen, “Style” in Kitchen Table Wisdom (New York: Riverhead Books, 1997), 21.

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