Why Are We So Violent?


The last month has been a period of unrest for many. It was probably the first time for all of us at FDR to experience two bomb threats within one week. At Lincoln High School three students were stabbed during a fight, and at Fort Hamilton High School a student spotted another with a gun in the school stairwell, which put the whole school into a soft lock-down for over three hours (according to police there was no gun). At Times Square a suicidal bomber intended to strike Manhattan in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes on ISIS targets. One followed another, such constant violence strikingly alarmed the public that their safety was severely in jeopardy. Concerns never abated, has violence become a permanent feature of American life? What on earth is poisoning our society? Why are we so violent?

Cultural Propensity

According to the study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), compared to other rich, capitalist democracies, America is a country where an unusual number of people die violently. Yet, the question is why? “For decades, people have wondered if the dark side of American exceptionalism is a cultural propensity for violence,” claims Criminologist Adam Lankford, from University of Alabama. Large parts of America remained in a state of anarchy until the 20th century. People could not count on the government to protect them, they had to protect themselves. Hence when government did try to take the responsibility, people were reluctant to hand over their self-protection (guns). This unique establishment resulted in a strong ideology of gun ownership in the United States. In fact, America has the highest gun ownership in the world, with approximately 88.8 firearms per 100 people living in the United States in 2007. Such a heavily armed population has significantly contributed to the possibility of gun violence.

Income Inequality

A significant correlation has also been found between violence and income inequality. With the richest 1% owning one fifth of the nation’s total pre-tax wealth, America ranks around the 30th percentile in income inequality globally, which is among the highest of all developed countries. According to a study of the factors of American homicides led by Ichiro Kawachi at the Harvard School of Public Health, “Areas with high crime rates tend also to exhibit higher mortality rates from all causes, suggesting that crime and population health share the same social origins. Crime is thus a mirror of the quality of the social environment …” Low-income neighborhood face a tenser living pressure and harsher social circumstance. When living a conventional life is even more than the cost of being a criminal, people become more susceptible to risk themselves in violence and crime. Even after adjusting for poverty, income inequality still accounted for 52% of the between-state variance in homicide rates. The unequal distribution of resources are inextricably tied with homicide and the high rate of violence inside the United States.

Lack of Respect to Human Dignity

It can’t be easier to find a video on YouTube about how American prisoners are miserably treated. A small confined iron cage that is poorly equipped and crowded with prisoners. In America, a jail is meant to punish. Nevertheless, does the punishment work? In Michael Moore’s documentary Where To Invade Next, he was astonished to find how humanized the prisons are in Norway. For example, 75-acre facility maintains as much “normalcy” as possible. Each cell is just like an ordinary bedroom, there are no bars on the windows, kitchens are fully equipped with sharp objects, and the relationships between guards and inmates are friendly. With such a setting, Norway has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world at 20%, compares to America that has one of the highest. 76.6% of American prisoners are rearrested within five years. Norway aims to repair the harm caused by crime, rather than punish people. As a guard said in the documentary, “the only punishment is freedom, we want the people to know we are here for help.” It is this kind of humanity that allow Norway to accomplish such an successful system, and that is what we lack as Americans when dealing with violence and crime — the respect to human dignity, a truthful desire to rehabilitate our brethren.

Why are we so violent? It is a provoking question that perhaps each individual has their own answer. However, all distinctive answers point to one common theme — an introspection of our society. The United States was established on the blood of martyrs who fought for freedom, liberty, and justice. Yet have we lost our foundation, underlying all our efforts to build the nation of happiness and peace? No matter, has the violence stemmed historically, economically or socially. We all assume the responsibility and should unite to restore our society.