Bit of a random one here, a nice interlude maybe. I’ve posted this on medium.com, you can check out the links on my twitter @paddywords but something i’ve been dwelling on for a while…
Violent death has long been a part of human civilisation. The vast chasm of time makes it hard to understand how our ancestors lived. The details of their culture, beliefs, pasttimes — all of this is either rare or non existent. However, we can say with certainty that our common ground, that which is unchanging since time immemorial, is death, and the killing of others.
The first recorded murder is a murky fact to sieve out of the soup of history. Some would say that Cain and Able are the original perp and victim. The story was written as far back as 1500 B.C., so it could be the first documented murder. By the same token,there is no real hard evidence of the murder occuring, we have no dental records, there’s no mummified remains.
We do have a preserved corpse of Ötzi the Iceman, who suffered a blow to the head from a blunt object prior to his death. The motives behind the murder do not survive through time, but the evidence is clear. Perhaps Ötzi was just minding his own business, going about his day to day life. He might have been out hunting, trying to find some sustenance for a family when he was set upon by someone, or a group. Whatever fate had in store for him that day, 5000 years later Ötzi is a fascinating glimpse into a world that shared a certain brutality with our own.
Similarly the Bog Men of Jutland have been found with slit throats, evidence of ritual sacrifice, murder, or realistically both. Egyptian pharaohs have fallen victim to murder, and we have the mummified remains to prove it. Who knows why Ramses III was murdered, in our own time we have conspiratorial murders that remain unsolved, therefore solving those of the ancient past are nigh on impossible. We know the Maya were no strangers to the concept of homicide, and if there was a political gain to be had, all the better! This may be the first example of murder being used as censorship.
Which leads me in a roundabout way to the point of my article. Why do we kill each other? What is the value in causing the death of others?Why are we drawn to the violence, the murder? We send large groups of men and women to fight, and kill other men and women who oppose our views. We murder politicians who try to change, gangsters who try to rat, lovers who break our hearts. Some people, sociopaths, are able to murder for no reason at all. Why?
“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent”
- Mahatma Gandhi
When you delve into the psychological and sociological reasons behind murder things get tricky.
There are primal reasons to murder. We observe fighting in monkeys and other, less human looking, animals. Normally this kind of violence stems from a desire to maintain control, an instinctual need to dominate territory. This is how most animals survive.
In nature animals will fight and kill for resources, so too will a human. This becomes even more complex when you weigh in the human mind and it’s ability to rationalise and comprehend. An animal normally fights for resources because it has none. As humans we kill for resources even when we have an abundant supply, we call this greed. The pursuit of materialism is one of the dominant motives for any murder, and it is also one of the dominant ethos’ of the day. The greed family that kill off granny for her insurance policy are not far from the lions that kill their weakest member for more space at the watering hole.The burglar that shoots the homeowner is a startled bear, growling snarling, and finally gnashing.
This goes beyond just wanting someones materials and banging them over the head. Murder by jealousy involves a deep hatred that has built up in the person, for whatever reason. The killer may hate the victim for their job, their bank balance, their house. It might be a so called crime of passion, where a jilted lover takes a life in spite.
“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Revenge is a dominant motive for murder. The deep intensity of hatred that develops when someone seeks vengeance knows no bounds. In the not-so-distant past, revenge was an instituted part of society. Men “demanded satisfaction” of those who they felt had insulted their honour. It didn’t always work out in their favour.
Crimes of hate, murders used to further a certain dogma or ideology. Homicide is a powerful tool when it comes to shaping the world we live in. From Kennedy and Lincoln to Saddam and Bin Laden. We murder political figures to further our own ends, keeping them alive would be too much of a threat to the status quo.
With the 25th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre passing recently, the world was reminded of the power of the cult. A leader who is able to convince his followers that he is speaking the word of god directly, and that they should end their own lives — it’s a cliché at this point. Much of this cliché stems from the Jonestown massacre. Unfortunately, beliefs of all kinds are used as a reason to murder, like the mother who killed her own child by stuffing the bible into it’s mouth. Within this category there is significant crossover with…
There exist a class of people in the world who do not feel emotion. To sociopaths murder is nothing. The (non-sociopathic) mentally ill may kill in a frenzy of emotion. However, mental illness should not be equated with a drive to murder, as the stigma around mental illness and murder are easily disproven by looking at the statistics. When you compare the incidences of violence in mentally ill populations with the mentally stable, the differences are negligible.
That’s my attempt at grouping the reasons we kill into overarching classes, but even then it involves generalisation and abstraction. To me, the saddest thing about all of this is that, despite all the technological revolutions, changes in public perception, waves of different ideologies and viewpoints. Despite all of this, we are driven to kill each other. While standards of living rise, food becomes abundant and all of the other worries of man disappear, we still have the intrinsic focus on causing death to our fellow human. The driving force behind so much of what we do in the world is death, or activities that cause death to others — from waging war for oil to sending kids in Congo down a mine for coltan. If Asimov is correct when he asserts “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”, then the history of man is a sad inept folly, a terrible disgrace.Follow @paddywords