Stephen Kahn

Posts Tagged ‘violence’

Tabloid headlines from thousands of years ago

In Humor, Uncategorized on November 22, 2011 at 1:15 am

In ancient history news, new evidence that ancient humans beat the shit out of each other.

“A healed fracture discovered on an ancient skull from China may be the oldest documented evidence of violence between humans, a study has shown.

“The individual, who lived 150,000-200,000 years ago, suffered blunt force trauma to the right temple – possibly from being hit with a projectile.”

Before whacking the victim, the assailant cursed him (or her), shouting, “May a thousand porcupines eat your face.”

“The skull was unearthed at a cave near Maba, southern China, in 1958. Before it was buried, a large rodent – probably a porcupine – gnawed on the bone, removing a significant portion of the face.”

However, even then, humans were learning to live together in peace and care for each other.

“But the Maba individual survived for weeks or months “at least” after sustaining the injury, based on the completely healed state of the fracture. And according to Professor Trinkaus, this presents an important flip side to the latest finding.

“He told BBC News: ‘It’s another individual in a growing number of human fossils going back in excess of a million years who show long-term survival with serious injuries and congenital problems – a variety of things along these lines.’

“’We have many instances of trauma – some serious, some minor. We also have a surprisingly high incidence of conditions that occur in the modern world but are extremely rare. So the probability of finding them in our meagre fossil record is extremely low.’

“Whatever the reason behind this latter observation, he said, ‘they are surviving them remarkably well'”.

“Researchers believe such evidence points to the existence of care and support networks within ancient human groups.

“’They hit each other, they squabbled, they had weaponry – so it became serious. But at the same time, they were helping each other out,’ Prof Trinkaus explained.”

They lacked CNN and Google News, but somebody reported the story of a rumble between a couple of guys called Cain and Abel and after a few thousand years it was duly noted in a tabloid called Genesis, though the fact checking left something to be desired.

Best of intentions

In Uncategorized on October 16, 2011 at 4:06 am

I started with the intention of avoiding the topic of violence in my blog, but then I heard that President Obama is sending a few soldiers to Africa to help Uganda fight The Lord’s Resistance Army (a terrible group with a terrible leader right up there with Hitler, Stalin, bin Laden, and the like in method and intent if not quite scope), I could not help thinking, I hope the take the bastard [Joseph Kony] out like they did bin Laden. My thoughts would not please my sweet, gentle pacifistic friends in Transition Whidbey.

Well, now having indulged my inner violent lynch mob member I will begin working on some thoughts about science fiction, starting with my father and A. E. van Vogt.

In Hard to tell on October 3, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I started out with good intentions this week. I would be positive and peaceful. Here on Whidbey Island, people are sure we can live in peace and harmony and adore nature. Once a month I go to the Transition Whidbey potluck. TW in a way is a little grim because they think things are going to get dicey when we run out of oil, but their slant on preparing for surviving such events is to “re-skill” and grow and preserve food and all work together so the collapse of civilization if it comes will be green ad cheerful and we will all sit and stroke our friendly chickens as they cheerfully lay eggs in our laps.

Our twice-a-week local newspaper is mostly upbeat and positive, telling us about good local events and activities. However, for the last several months the front page of most issues have provided coverage of a scandalous murder story. In a convoluted and peripheral way the hair salon where I get my hair cut is involved, though I am not worried about my hair dresser being careless with scissors near my head

I subscribe to Harper’s Magazine. A few months ago it carried an article arguing for pacifism. For many people skeptical of pacifism, a common slogan is “What about Hitler and the Holocaust? It was necessary to take up arms to defeat the Axis powers during World War II.”

The author of the Harper’s article argued that the Jews could have been rescued without going to war. I am still skeptical, but the article was well written and well argued. I wasn’t really convinced, but it was the best argument for pacifism I remember coming across.

At the time I read it, I was involved with a Transition Whidbey project to start a local credit union. I was working with two people, Duke and Bev. (Duke has since died.) It was clear to me that both were quite opposed to war. Duke had served in the Korean War, and Bev (who like me has Jewish ancestry) had demonstrated against the Vietnam War.

I called attention to the article to Bev thinking she would be pleased to see a strong pro-pacifistic argument. Her response was something along the lines of I don’t need to read it. I am completely against war no matter what. I dropped the topic but I am not convinced by the I am against violence no matter what argument.


In Hard to tell on September 12, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Our physical evolution and our cultural heritage provide plenty of reasons to promote our tendency to be violent against our own kind. Our physical evolution and our cultural heritage provide plenty of reasons for us to refrain from violence against our own kind.

The word “calibration” refers to the process of adjusting our actions to avoid dangerous excesses. When we drive vehicles, we adjust our speed based on traffic laws, objects in our field of vision, weather conditions, and other inputs. We adjust our direction of travel for similar reasons.

For me, calibration is also desirable in evaluating violence. Some sociopaths and some terrified people may turn to violence with excessive enthusiasm and frequency. Some pacifists and some terrified people and some overly empathic people may reject the use of violence even when circumstances probably warrant it for self defense or for rescuing threatened people. Such extreme reactions indicate to me calibration failures.

How can we improve our violence calibration?

Trouble in peaceful Norway

In Bad news on August 15, 2011 at 3:40 am

OK, now I am on a roll. Unlike my bright and talented relatives, who speak (or spoke) languages such as Mandarin Chinese and Wolof, I have little talent for languages. Thus, I do not speak any Norwegian.

However, I have over the years met a few people from Norway, and they seemed like quite nice and peaceful people. I have known some Americans who have lived in Norway, notably two of my college professors (a married couple) who had taught in Oslo for a few years. They spoke with great fondness of their time in Norway. So it seems like a nice place for the most part.

However, the Vikings’ historical reputation is a little shadier. The Norsemen of ancient times have a bad reputation, perhaps regarded by many as the “gang bangers” of around 800 A.D. As with history in general, digging out the truth is difficult. The following Wikipedia article may tell you more than you want to know about the puzzle .

During World War II, an event still regarded perhaps as the pinnacle of evil enterprise in modern times, Norway fell under the control of Hitler and Germany. After Hitler installed Vidkun Quisling as a puppet ruler, Qiusling’s name became a modern catch word for a certain type of evil behavior. As Wikipedia describes the reputation projected by his name:

“During World War II, the word quisling became synonymous with traitor. The term was coined by the British newspaper The Times in its leader of 15 April 1940, entitled ‘Quislings Everywhere.’ The editorial asserted,

‘To writers, the word Quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor… they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters. Aurally it contrives to suggest something at once slippery and tortuous.’”

Quisling himself has been described as follows:

“Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung described Quisling as a mini-Hitler, with a CMT (chosenness-myth-trauma) complex, or alternatively megalo-paranoia, more often diagnosed in modern times as narcissistic personality disorder. He was ‘well installed in his personality’, but unable to gain a following among his own people as the population did not provide a mirror for Quisling’s ideology; in short, he was ‘a dictator and a clown on the wrong stage with the wrong script’ … psychiatrist Professor Gabriel Langfelt stated that Quisling’s ultimate goals ‘fitted the classic description of the paranoid megalomaniac more exactly than any other case [he had] ever encountered.’”

It’s probably unfair to describe Quisling as representing Norway in any general or useful way. After the end of after WW II Norway gradually achieved the mostly benevolent reputation that Scandinavians in general now enjoy. Thus when a gigantic and violent atrocity occurred not long ago in Norway, both the Norwegians and the world in general were shocked.

To violent or not to violent?

In Hard to tell on August 13, 2011 at 10:44 pm

In my last post before I slowed down so much, I told of a woman many years ago who banged on my door to escape her brother-in-law who was beating her up. While she was getting succor in our house, the varlet slashed a Good Samaritan in the face with a knife.

Trucie and David suggested (sensibly) not to open doors to people banging on them in the night. As good as this advice is, it hardly solves the problem of the existence of sociopathic/psychopathic//behavior-disordered people among human beings. The Internet—perhaps the main source these days of all misinformation—estimates the percentage of people fitting this label at anywhere from 1 to 4 percent. Without getting more into the scientific study of the percentage of evil among us, I think it reasonable to conclude there are quite a few bad people out there. Locking the door (and not answering it) is one solution, and not a bad one, but hardly a complete solution or even a completely accurate one.

For example, perhaps by foolishly answering the door those many years ago, I saved this woman’s life, or at least saved her from some harm. I have no follow-up to the story. As I mentioned, she lived in a house of loosely connected people. By the next morning, the inhabitants were all gone. I don’t know if the sheriff’s department caught up with the scoundrel (whom they knew by name and considered a notorious bad dude). I don’t know if the victim achieved a normal and safe life after she was released from the hospital.

I will admit that if the cops had spotted the bad guy running up and down the street with his knife, I would hope that (in those pre-taser days) they would have been able to overcome and apprehend him without physical injury to themselves or to him. However, if they had felt compelled by circumstances to use violence, up to and including deadly force, I would not have felt very badly about it, would have defended their actions, and would have been glad they had the training and carried appropriate weapons for doing so.

It all gets very complicated and difficult, one of the reasons (along with a perhaps over-slow pulse), I did not post more thoughts for a while. To keep my blood sugar up I went home and ate lunch, and this evening will go to a harvest dinner with some very kindly and peaceful people who for the most part seem to feel that living on an island is more or less the equivalent of not answering the door to violent knocks in the night. I will not argue with them about it, but I will post more in this series, perhaps talking about Norway and lesbians and violence.

A meditation on violence (part 1)

In Uncategorized on July 6, 2011 at 3:37 am

About 40 years ago, there was a frantic pounding on one of our two front doors late one night. (As we lived on a corner, we had two front doors.) I opened one of the doors and encountered a sobbing, screaming, hysterical woman, who fell into our house more than she entered it. Amidst all her hysteria (probably the worst I have ever encountered), I managed to decipher that her brother-in-law had beaten her up. My wife appeared, followed by our (then) four-year-old daughter.

As my wife tried to calm down the woman, who indeed did have bruises on her face, and who was sobbing, throwing herself on the floor, and occasionally screaming, I called 911 and asked for ambulance and police (actually Sheriff’s Department in the then unincorporated area north of Seattle known as “Shoreline”). As we awaited for them to arrive, put a blanket around the sobbing woman and offered her some tea to drink, and tried to convince our curious child to go back to bed, I heard some furious pounding on our other front door.

Thinking this was the villain pursuing his victim, I refused to open the door. A man called, “I need help! A man attacked my friend with a knife.” No you don’t [need me to open the door] I thought. Through the locked door I called, “You will have wait. The Sheriff is on the way.”

Eventually an ambulance and a Sheriff’s car arrived, each vehicle bearing two people. The aid workers checked the woman for vital signs and began to put her on a stretcher. The deputies briefly questioned her. She lived in a house about four or five houses up the street from our rental house, one of those houses where an odd assortment of young people (who may or may not be related to each other in any formal way such as blood or marriage) lived together.

The deputies asked whether her husband was involved in the assault. In an unconvincing way, she sobbed that her husband had been present but had not participated in the assault.

As the ambulance attendants carried her out to the aid vehicle, the deputies told us that they were well acquainted with the alleged perpetrator, indicating he was a well known criminal in the area. “If we don’t catch him tonight, it will only be a few days before we pick him up,” they assured us.

The deputies went out to check on the outside victims, one of whom was also being transported to the hospital in the ambulance. We got a bit of the story from the other person, who fortunately was uninjured.

After I had let the woman in the house, two servicemen (not in uniform) driving down the street observed the perp pursuing her toward our house. They stopped to see what was going on. When the driver asked the perp why he was chasing the woman, he responded by slashing the driver in the face with a knife. Fortunately, while there was a lot of blood, the attacker missed his eyes and other vital parts.

[to be continued]