Acts of Violence

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Violence of man is not a phenomenon of the last centuries. It exists from the very beginning. Close to the end of his career, Freud wrote that in man there is an inborn impulse for aggression. Violence is not so much learned from the environment, it exists inside of us and wants release.

The British psychoanalyst Edward Glover once said, “A quick study of the dreams and the fantasies of insane people shows that the ideas of world catastrophe are clear in the unconscious mind. And since the atomic bomb is not so much a weapon of war but of destruction, it is more adjustable to the bloodthirsty fantasies where man is secretly drawn in moments of intense frustration. The ability that normal men have to separate sleep, illusions, delusions, and objective reality has for the first time in human history seriously weakened.”

Glover wrote the above in 1945, right after the drop of the first atomic bomb by the Americans in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing around 200,000 people. After this event, man’s inborn destruction is no longer questionable. The fantasies of destruction that all of us, more or less, have well hidden in the unconscious became a reality. History has shown that each of us learns from the family, friends, teachers, and from society in general, the acceptable ways to express aggressive impulses. These ways though could be destructive for us and the people around us. After the drop of the atomic bomb, a number of Americans accepted the rationalization of the time, namely, that the atomic bomb stopped the war.

There is no need to go that far to see man’s inclination to destruction. In the army (although the whole thing started much earlier in school, family, society) I identified with the message “Good Turk is the dead Turk” (another example of the infantile mechanism of splitting). These are the messages our kids receive at the beginning of their lives. On the other we shouldn’t ignore Freud who emphasized that the hate we “learn” is not the only reason to explain the violence we experience in life.

Freud’s drive theory helped us understand the destructive consequences that may follow when the expression of the aggressive drive is blocked. Freud (1933) wrote, “It appears necessary for us to destroy something else or someone else so that we don’t destroy ourselves, to protect ourselves from the impulse of self-destruction.”

Freud warned us of man’s inborn destruction and we ignored him. The world today is not safer from the time of the two World Wars. It’s no longer a matter whether or not man’s aggression would be expressed but how it would be expressed. Verbalization of hate and aggression brings immediate results as it relieves the need for violent actions. This is one of the aims of psychoanalysis also.

If we had given Freud the necessary attention maybe the world would have been different today. Maybe as humans and societies we could develop new, healthier and mature channels of emotional communication. Freud gave us the opportunity but we didn’t seize it. It’s never too late.

 

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