Societies free of violence exist
In his study of 90 different societies around the world, anthropologist David Levinson identified 16 societies such as the Central Thai, in which inter-personal violence was either rare or absent. These societies were not free of emotions such as anger and jealousy.
Non-violent societies can be found all around the world - for instance the Central Thai, a group of 10 million people in Thailand. Almost entirely ‘free from family violence’, this society is characterised by a culture of individualism, respect and recognition of the dignity of everyone.
Perhaps because we have been so culturally homogenised to violence over the centuries, the only European society in Levinson’s list was the Lapps.
Social factors influence levels of violence
Although violence is increasing alarmingly in our society, it is neither universal nor inevitable, but a behaviour that is caused and can be prevented. Once the behaviour is established in a society, violence levels are influenced by many factors, including:
- Economic inequality
- Alcohol consumption
- Violence in the media
- Poor housing
- Availability of weapons
The anatomy of violence
We can conceptualise violence as resulting from the interaction between two components:
- An individual’s propensity to be violent (personal factors) and
- External triggers (social factors).
A trigger on its own cannot lead to a violent act: both propensity and trigger are needed. Social factors, however undesirable, lead to violence only when an internal propensity to be violent is already present in the individual. In the absence of a weapon, a trigger is harmless.
While numerous social factors can behave as triggers, it takes very particular circumstances in a short time-frame to produce the propensity.