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Violence is part of what we are

June 3, 2012

Jane Ritchie and James Ritchie once wrote a book on (and titled) Violence in New Zealand. In their preface, the explain:

Most people see violence as a breakdown of social patterns. In this book we present a radical alternative hypothesis, namely, that violence is part of what we are, an expression of deep and extensive cultural patterns. As a society we fail to deal adequately with the violence amongst us because we cling to the first hypothesis and resist accepting the other.

At the level of cultural ideals we want to believe that we are all law abiding and peacable. But at the level of ideology we have inherited culture patterns that include the coercive use of power, resort to arms, and a leering fascination with sex, aggression and violence. These stimuli are all around us.

When individuals are faced with conflict between aspects of their value system they often disassociate the two elements which are in conflict, acting now on one, then on the other. They deny connections and linkages, especially when, in the cold light of day or logic, they are caught in inconsistency or downright hypocrisy. They distance themselves from the problem, deny its reality, blame others or deny involvement or responsibility. Consequently, nothing changes.” (vii, Preface, written 1990)

They continue, explaining their work: “We first began to look at the pattern of violence in New Zealand back in 1963 when we studied the general pattern of child-rearing here. Parents who otherwise did not hit one another (or at least not publicly) not only hit their children but believed that it was good, necessary, right to do so. As we followed this through, we focused on how this pattern persisted over time. We then began to campaign for change in public attitudes towards the punishment of children. [-pviii] As we researched the matter we found that we had stumbled across a general endorsement of sanctioned violence which we called the ideology of punishment. But it was wider and more extensive in scope and damage than this label implied. / So we moved to the next level of analysis to look at the linkages between all the forms of violent expression in our society. This book is the result.” (pp.vii-viii, Preface, written 1990)

“While we must all do what we can about single events,” they assert, “forms of violence, or violators, while we may focus on any one of a multitude of reasons or causes, we will not achieve much change until we understand the pattern of violence in our culture and society. Is that enough? Maybe not. But we cannot go on tolerating the intolerable, excusing the inexcusable, supporting what we also condemn, pushing responsibility on to others or externals and refusing to make changes ourselves.” (p.viii, Preface, written 1990)

“…you cannot effectively deal with violence by merely tinkering with penalties, bail provisions, or details of parole. / Such a focus on violent crime is narrow and short sighted. It does not confront the causes that lie behind the criminal act. We demonstrate in this book that violence is endemic in our society and may, at this point in time, be epidemic. / Those who focus only on crime are not addressing the foundations of violence and, therefore, can only deal, either preventively or punitively, or, less often rehabilitatively, with discrete events.” (p.ix, Preface to the Second Edition, 1993)

“Similarly, many who take the correction of personal misbehaviour as their target, worthy as their therapeutic efforts may be, cannot address, control or change the contexts within which the offending behaviour occurs. …What, as people, are we prepared to give up in order to live in a less violent society?” (p.x, Preface to the Second Edition, 1993)

The book may have been written 20 years ago, before many social changes took place, but the ideas seem still to stand up as worth exploring, understanding, and applying…

Ref:  Jane Ritchie and James Ritchie (1993) Violence in New Zealand. Huia Publishers and Daphne Brasell Associates: Wellington


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