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An Ode To Violence

Some folks occasionally take me to task because of the impression that I am overly pessimistic.  To be honest, I'm not sure where I stand on that spectrum.  I am generally optimistic in my daily life, but when I peer into the hazy fumes of future time, I don't hold much hope for Humanity.

Yesterday, I wrote about the coming profound changes to civilization, as we rushed head-long into the mass-production of "people."  Today, I will look at those behaviors currently on exhibit to show why I am pessimistic about the human creature's ability to adjust.

In the news over the past two weeks, we had the death of Mohammad Ali and the soccer riots in Europe (but I repeat myself).  On the one hand, we had our media full of eulogizing a pugilist, and on the other, our basest behaviors on public display.

Now, I'm not a sports fan of any kind.  I have probably watched all of a few hours of professional sports in my entire lifetime, if I don't count the fact that I was the sports shooter/editor for a local news cast for a while.  However, I separate that since it was a job and the job allowed me to distance myself from what we call "fandom."

I mention the job because it gave me the opportunity to interview Mohammad Ali, and many other sports figures, and to get a feel for who they were as people.  I have nothing bad to say about Ali.  He was a soft-spoken and gentle man in real life.  However, his claim to fame was being among the best face beaters in modern history.  The two images of him clash in my memory - the icon of fist-throwing with the Howard Cosell voice-over, and the individual, who was quiet and humble.

Then, this week we had the soccer riots.  Now, soccer is one of the more civilized games, at least in play.  No contact (in theory), no touching the ball, etc.), yet it is one of the most violent games in terms of spectators.  Hardly a week goes by, it seems, without a story about soccer riots.  This time, it was England and Russia fans fighting over a tied score.  Not satisfied with being side-lined, Northern Ireland and Poland fans got into it before the game even started.

Professional sports, to my mind, are nothing more than a kind of sanctioned slavery.  The players are bought and sold at auction, like slabs of prime beef.  Furthermore, the whole pro sports industry is a massive, nay colossal waste of money and resources.  The billions spent on stadiums and all the ancillary industries around it are mind-boggling.  On top of all that, the people who invest their self-identities in teams and players is nothing short of frightening.

Yes, we as a civilization have not advanced a whit in thousands of years.  Like the ancient Romans and Maya, our entire society is represented by over-grown bags of muscles crunching each other every week to satisfy some deep, dark aspect of the human soul.

Don't get me wrong.  I have nothing against playing sports.  I have enjoyed many hours of pick-up basketball, softball, frisbee, and golf.  As a means of staying fit and blowing off a little excess energy, playing sports are a fine way to get a little fresh air and enjoy a little competition in the company of friends.

My point is that the existence of pro sports is symbolic of our still-undeveloped civilization.  We invest meaning and ritual in violence.  This is our collective identity.  This is how we view ourselves and our communities in relation to others.  Our resources flow into harming others, rather than intellectual and spiritual contests.  Our heroes are men who punch and crunch, not create and define.  Given the choice, most of us would rather watch a high-speed crash at the Indy 500, than observe and appreciate the skill and reflexes that avoid the crash.

When I sound pessimistic about humanity, it is for this basic reason: we still honor and engage in mass violence.  I vividly remember those days after 911, when flag-waiving idiots painted their faces and chanted "war!", rather than turn introspective and wonder what it was about our actions that would invoke such an attack.  Like some HUGE pep rally, the politicians and pundits whipped a nation into a frenzy, focusing people on the death and destruction, instead of what caused such an event.  Though the individual may be sane, the collective most certainly is not.

Humans are a fascinating, if not terrifying thing to watch.  On a personal level, humans can be amazing, with examples of great caring and empathy throughout history.  On a mass scale, though, humans are brutal and animalistic.

I don't know if you, dear reader, have ever been in the middle of a panic.  It is a frightening thing.  People, whom you normally view as sane and rational, are suddenly taken over by some explainable force.  I've felt it in myself - that urge to run blindly, screaming and yelling only because everyone else is.  It is powerful and almost impossible to control.  It's as if my feet want to start running even without agreement from the rest of my body.  My breathing gets short and studdered.  My heart races.  My mind nearly shuts down and lets everything go on autopilot.  That I was able to keep my senses and not follow the mob was probably why I am here to write this.

This is what we must still overcome.  This inner self that takes over when the mob goes nuts is one of the most frightening and powerful experiences one will ever have.  It requires an incredible effort to stand against it and remain cognitive and rational.

Until we can conquer that inner beast as a species, we will always be at the mercy of our creations.  We will always worship force and violence.  We will always use our power to harm others.  It is built into us and to deny that is to constantly repeat our mistakes for eternity.  As long as fight or flight are our only collective responses to a threat, we will not be in control of our lives - personally or collectively.

As a species, we are barely out of our infancy.  We still act on instinct and impulse.  We still worship our most base desires.  We still find new and creative ways to destroy those whom we perceive as competitors for resources.  We have barely taken the first steps towards rising above our reflexes.

The reason I often feel a profound foreboding when I look at our creations is because I know what we are and what we are capable of, both as individuals and as groups.  I know from history that we will always turn our ingenuity to violence, as long as we are unable to control our bodies with our minds.

So, as we bid farewell to Muhammad Ali, and watch the idiots slamming each other to the ground over soccer matches, I will continue to believe the worst about humanity.  Yes, there are those who have risen high above this level, but humans tend to kill them when they do.  We do not like the perception that someone else knows more than we do, and we react with - you guessed it - violence.

When greed and profit and fear are no longer our prime motivators, I will no longer worry about our creations.

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