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We have a love/hate relationship with violence

“It’s the most perfect feeling in the world to know you’ve hit a guy just right, that you’ve maximized the physical pain he can feel . . . . You feel the life just go out of him.”

No, these aren’t the words of a hit man or a serial killer. This celebration of savagery was offered by former NFL star Michael Strahan, now a TV commentator known for his smiling, affable ways.

Smiling and affable. Sometimes. 

Strahan’s sentiments, contrasted with his off-field demeanor, nicely reflect the fact that our individual and societal attitudes about violence are, at the very least, confused. We despise and condemn it, but we also enjoy it. We denounce it from the statehouse and the pulpit, while spending billions to support and encourage it in popular culture and sports. Much of our popular TV fare dwells on crime and violence. We favor movies and video games that depict torture, murder and other remarkably gruesome acts. We love “reality” TV shows that encourage people to hurl accusations, insults and sometimes fists at each other. Our fictional villains use violence and operate outside the law – and our fictional heroes often do likewise.

We instruct our children that problems cannot be solved by the use of force, that violence is not the answer. Then they grow up to find that things are not that simple: Even if we reject all violence outside of sports, we seldom include the violence done by the police forces and military personnel who keep us safe and protect our quality of life. As George Orwell is reputed to have put it: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

So it seems that there is good violence and bad violence. And both can spring from the same source. Police officers use good violence – except when they use too much. Contact sports such as football, hockey and cage fighting are both extremely violent and immensely popular. We claim to revere our men and women in the military, but condemn them if they cross the line – even in the frenzy and terror of battle -- from savage violence to atrocity.

So how are we to resolve this ambiguity? If some violence is good and some is not, how do we tell the difference?

Morrison Institute for Public Policy recently sought some answers from an unusual source – four men trained and rewarded for inflicting and enduring violence. The four – a retired NFL player, a decorated Iraq combat veteran, a professional cage fighter and a police sergeant – talked on a roundtable panel about how they distinguish good violence from bad, what impact living with violence has on them, and how they separate the culture of aggression from their personal lives and intimate relationships.

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A summary of their comments can be found in the document, Violence: America's Love/Hate Relationship.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

Bill Hart is a senior policy analyst at Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

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1 comment on this story

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5 comments
Mar 21, 2015, 12:03 pm
-0 +0

Contact sports are stupid!  Abolish them asap!  There is absolutely NO REASON for contact sports to continue!

There are plenty of non contact sports to fill the bill.  Thinking it’s in any way “OK” to physically injure another person is non sense and stupidity!

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