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Violence: Where does it come from?

Violence seems inexplicable to a rational mind, the one that observes, considers and acts within boundaries of its greater societal culture. At first, our emotions are triggered, with empathy for the victims and hate for the perpetrator; logic attempts to appear next. It is the amalgamation of emotions and logic, our executive functions, which lead to our decisions.

Unfortunately, an act of violence would indicate that what should have been a coherent decision-making process was highly disorderly; in systems science terms, it was an expression of disorganized complexity found in the zone of chaos on the Dynamic Systems Model. Chaos is characteristic of a sudden, dramatic, and a random event, labeled during the recent financial crises as a black swan, rare but devastating. Chaos is a zone where the complex adaptive system, a characteristic of rationality, is failing and incapable of self-correcting all the emotions and the twisted logic that distorts the resultant action. The failing system, in the Tucson shooting, was of course the assailant whose irrational and failing self-correction was quite apparent to many who knew him or came into contact with him prior to the fateful event. Just no one put the dots together or they would have seen a malfunctioning human system that would be incapable of self-correction. They all had bits of data available to them but not the information that would reduce the uncertainty about this individual who by all accounts had a profound absence of his sense of belonging.

In a failing system, the potential for a catastrophe never goes away; it’s always only matter of time. The community system as well as the larger societal system, with all of the inter-relationships among the numerous members have functioned together but separate as the key ingredient of an adaptive system, the feedback loops, were absent; the dots were there but the system components/its members could not put the pattern together.

A system, small or a large one, a community or a nation, cannot create value without managing, in real time, the systems’ risk. This must include the knowledge of how to convert uncertainty, which is unquantifiable, into risk which is quantifiable; prospective preventive measures can then follow. The conversion of uncertainty to risk can be done utilizing our pertinent human sensory gifts (you want to keep your eyes open while crossing a busy street; touch will not help you; running through a red light is an expression of self-destructive tendency with disregard of others with whom the Tucson shooter could not fit); intuition might be included here as well as there seems to exist the “gift of fear”(eloquently described in a book by Gavin de Becker).

Regardless of our individuality or cognitive ability we are all inter-related because we function as a system within a system. And, our system either creates positive or negative emergence, either value for the larger whole or its destruction. The violent action that is so distressing however, is preceded by thoughts; it is on this level that coherence is the key to subsequent systems’ organized complexity, i.e. rationality.

Tryon Edwards wisely said over 100 years ago:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Choose your words, for they become actions. Understand your actions, for they become habits. Study your habits, for they become your character. Develop your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Comments (1/13/2011 10:01:03 AM) on In the wake of national tragedies, some words won’t do (Matt Miller, Washington Post, Jan 12, 2010)