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The Tradition of Violence in the United States: A Multidisciplinary Survey (November 2014): Medical Theories

By Scott Gac

Medical Theories

Works on the biological and psychological aspects of violence bring together a cohort of scholars, medical experts, and soldiers.  Here, authors engage the origins of human violence as well as the influence and impact of violent events.  Two eminent works have set the stage for this mode of exploration.  Anthropologist Lawrence Keeley’s celebrated War before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage, first published in 1996, focuses on early human violence.  Elaine Scarry, in her 1985 opus The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, points out the intimate bond between pain endured by individuals and larger political processes.  That violence is innate to the human condition has been newly explored by psychologist Adrian Raine in The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime, which highlights advances in neuroscience that identify biological markers in those most likely to commit violent acts.  Raine presents violence as a complex puzzle consisting of genetic, environmental, and personal factors.  In The Trauma of Everyday Life, psychiatrist Mark Epstein argues that violence and trauma are endemic to American life and that acknowledging violence and trauma as normal, not exceptional, is the key to a more compassionate society.  Soldiers such as Dave Grossman, in On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, tend to focus on two aspects of violence: first, the tendency in mentally stable men and women to avoid or undermine the act of killing in combat; second, the social and psychological impacts of asking individuals to act violently.  Writer Karl Marlantes, a former soldier, grapples with the personal, psychological, and biological impulses for violence in his What Is It Like to Go to War?

The theoretical reach of violence encompasses the individual, the nation-state, and global interaction.  It is no wonder that so much new work has focused on how to frame U.S. violence.

Works Cited