I’m currently reading “The Batterer: A Psychological Profile” by Donald Dutton and Susan Golant and it has brought a lot of old questions to mind. Primarily, what do we do about abhorrent behavior like abuse, racism, etc. Particularly, what do we do with people who act this way and how do we prevent it in the future?
Let’s take an extreme case, someone who sexually assaults small children.
It is easy to say “throw them in jail”, but what does that actually solve? It may get someone off the street for a certain amount of time but does it help that person heal and become a part of society? Or does it just put them in an environment where they will face violence, become more violent themselves, and cost society limited resources? Does it actually help the victims or prevent this behavior in the future by other people?
If we are seeking to make the world a better place then we need to recognize how complex and multifaceted these behaviors are. As Dutton and Golant in “The Batterer”:
“It’s easy, given the atrocities against battered wives, simply to dismiss abusers as less than human or to see all men as inherently violent, as suffering from, as some call it, ‘testosterone poisoning.’ But if we do that, we draw a firm battle line between male and female, viewing all females as victimes of intimate abuse and all males as perpetrators. And drawing those lines limits our ability to understand.”
If we want to prevent future harm and help all parties heal, then we need to understand. And to understand we need to recognize that the perpetrators are humans and are likely victims of past abuse as well. I know that this is uncomfortable because to look into the eyes of someone who abuses or rapes or murders and realize that they are like me, that my urges and thoughts are not that different from theirs, that given a different life or genes I would be acting as they act, is terrifying. It forces us to hold up a mirror to the dark sides of our own identity. It is much easier to treat someone as subhuman and abandon them to the criminal “justice” system or vigilante justice. But that won’t really improve the world. Things don’t get better if violence is met with violence if instead of exhausting all options for healing and understanding we simply say “that act is bad and we are going to cut you out of society”.
If we want fewer racists, healthy families, and safe children then we can’t treat abhorrent acts as acts that dehumanize the perpetrators. Instead, we need to recognize them as complex individuals and we can’t view the circumstances that brought about those actions and views as compartmentalized. Society, religion, family, genetics, etc. all play a role in creating abusers and bigots and rapists. They don’t just materialize out of thin air. If our response to them is one of attempting to heal and understand and prevent, then we create a world where those acts are less likely to occur. But if instead, we create a world where those acts lead to dehumanization, violence, and ostracism, then we only help breed more harm to innocent people in the future.
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Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”