Re: A History of Violence
Grossman's work, although important, is flawed in a number of ways. First of all, he is talking about warfare by civilized men - who have already been socialized against violence. Secondly, warfare itself has another component that is a disinhibiter against violent acts - the enemy is trying to kill you too. Thus, one can be inhibited against, say, stabbing someone with a bayonet and rather, turn the weapon around to bludgeon them because a) training breaks down when one is terrified and one reverts to "primitive" responses (when people are frightened, they fight by flailing overhand, like children and chimps) b) in a situation beyond "bad," one inadvertently tries to find a way out - like praying or wanting to call "time out," one doesn't fire one's weapon because it's "wrong," but because one is in a situation so wrong. What Grossman is talking about is that there are two parts of combat in war - one is the willingness to do violence (which is an innate capacity) and two is the need for training to do so within the unnatural/complex/terrifying situation of war. Maintaining yourself within formation with shrapnel flying around, continuing to fire in coordination with one's fellow soldiers is not equivalent with the delighted group solidarity of hunting down outsiders in a community and looting their homes and beating them to death. In short, I think it is a misread of Grossman to take from his work that people are fundamentally peaceful and have to be trained to be violent - that without that training they wouldn't be. Pinksker rightly notes the myth of the peaceful "savage" - for a few decades, the !Kung of southern Africa were extolled as the exemplar of what we all really were "back in the day" - and it is true that their culture has many wonderful aspects. However, their peacefulness is belied by their appallingly high murder and rape rates, that occur in intact communities, not only those that have been affected by contact with Europeans and therefore, allegedly, not pristine. THE DARK SIDE OF MAN is a worthwhile counterpoint to Grossman.