Violence and Choice Series: MORAL ISSUES of Our Times. Part 6 of an Occasional Series

The Christian Science Monitor, January 12, 1994 | Go to article overview

Violence and Choice Series: MORAL ISSUES of Our Times. Part 6 of an Occasional Series


AMERICANS are contemplating with renewed anguish the violence in society.

Even while statistics point to a slight decrease over the past two years in the rate of violent crime, rising murder rates in major cities and a spate of random shootings have jarred the public. More and more people are rushing to buy weapons to protect themselves. The number of guns in circulation in the United States, which has doubled since 1972, now almost equals the number of citizens.

Scenes of trouble have moved from late-night streets into schools, workplaces, homes - and any place en route.

So many youngsters are being attacked on their way to or from school, or in the classroom that some now talk matter-of-factly of planning their own funerals. Others speak blithely of their readiness to shoot anyone who insults them. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, juvenile arrests for murder, robbery, and assault rose by 50 percent between 1988 and 1992.

At the same time, reported incidents of domestic violence, mostly against women, have surged; more American lives are being lost to such violence every five years than in the entire Vietnam war. And random killings - whether of foreign tourists in Florida, of subway riders, or of patrons in fast-food restaurants - have stunned with their irrationality.

Crime and violence are the No. 1 issue in the minds of Americans. A crime bill to put more police on the streets and the Brady bill to regulate sale of hand guns are small steps - but not the most important ones.

Violence is learned behavior, sociologists and psychologists agree, and is most often learned at an early age. How children are treated and how they see others treated are fundamental factors. Underlying causes, researchers say, include physical abuse and harsh punishment; rejection or belittling of children; and discrimination - experiences that demean, leading to anger and loss of self-esteem.

But numerous studies also show that viewing violence - in movies, TV, video games - increases violence. It is now estimated that an average American has seen 200,000 violent acts by the age of 18.

Most disturbing of all are signs that violence has begun to be viewed as acceptable behavior. One school consultant in the Boston area has said she sees a dramatic change in children's acceptance of violence. "It has almost become the norm," she says.

The message seems clear that a climate of trivialization of human life has seeped into popular culture and had its greatest effect on our children. …

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