Roots of Violence in the U.S. Culture
Roots of Violence in the U.S. Culture
A Diagnosis Toward Healing
by Alain Richard, OFM
Today, our culture promotes an alarming trend toward ever increasing acts of violence. When our children kill each other over articles of clothing or gangs murder for turf, it is a glaring sign that our youth have not learned to respect and revere life. What kind of future leaders are we creating?
Alain Richard has spent the last 25 years studying the violent tendencies of the U.S. His theory, while unsettling, makes sense. Ever since colonists first traveled across the ocean, this culture has been an invasive one.
Puritanical religious values were forced on natives,
Lands were taken, and
Slaves were imported to do the backbreaking work of development.
In addition to our legacy of violence, our culture has created a strong market (materialistic) economy with an insatiable desire for money and possessions. We place more value on acquiring wealth than on spending time with our children, family, and friends.
Roots of Violence exposes the origins and current causes of the underlying, explosive rage pervasive in our culture today. Understanding this is the first step toward healing our society.
“Roots of Violence is very gently but firmly written, with a great deal of empathy and concern. The author can say things about the U.S. culture which an insider cannot say.” – Kenan Osborne, OFM, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Theology, Franciscan School of Theology
“Alain Richard has spoken a Franciscan word to us all: a word of loving chastisement. He has spent his life serving the less fortunate and striving for peace and justice, and he speaks to us from out of the depth of that experience. We would all become better Christians and better human beings if we let ourselves by touched by his passionate concern.” – Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled
“Einstein said, ‘No problem can be solved within the same consciousness that caused it.’… This ‘diagnosis toward healing’ is a necessary first step out of our collective sleep walk….” – Richard Rohr, OFM, Center for Action & Contemplation
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. What Do We Mean by Violence, Nonviolence, Culture, Market Culture, and Principles?Foreword by Richard Rohr, OFM
2. Why Were So Many Wonderful Possibilities Not Realized
3. Market Culture: Its Emergence and Effects
4. Seeds of Violence from Colonial Origin
5. Individual and National Dreams
6. An Individualistic Role Model, the “Self-made” Man
7. Facing the Tangled Roots of Violence
Blue Dolphin Publishing, 1999 // Paperback, 156 pages
Even when the guns and bombs are silent all over the world, newspapers and television daily pour into me the latest news of a gigantic economic war. Is it because my reading of the newspaper starts with the business pages? I do not think so. Violence in many forms comes from the market world and is presented as the normal result of progress. War produces casualties, and one should not be surprised that the weakest country or corporation suffers from the most powerful, say the cold blooded strategists of the business world. Hostile corporate take overs, speculation, unbalanced international trade are daily news, but the resulting violence does not shock people as much as the violence of wars and terrorist acts.
Frequently too, my social worker friends lament that advertising increases consumption, thus creating new wants and even new needs. They mention shopping fever, addiction to consumption, credit debt leading many to dead end situations. Helpless, they witness family destruction and sufferings which are not natural fatalities and are caused by artificial needs. Lately, a group started a clever campaign against what they called an outbreak of affluenza. They present two meanings of that new epidemic: “1- The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling resulting from trying to buy all the latest stuff and keep up with the Joneses. 2- An unsustainable addiction to consumption and economic growth without regard for the consequences to our families, communities or the environment.” Other groups and recent books point out the same disease of our society. Aspects of consumerism and of the market bring indisputable advantages for some, but at the same time terrible destruction for many. Debts piling up, overwork, fractured families, and stress are the most obvious damages. It is universally recognized that economic warfare and consumption problems cause countless violences. Nevertheless, my focus here is not on these events but on a more dramatic fact: new cultural principles coming from the market functioning have replaced former cultural principles. We now live in a market culture. This market culture is bigger than, but includes, consumption and economic battles for control of the market, both of which are often understood as the source of many ills. More deeply than consumerism, market culture penetrates the whole social fabric, and the consequences of this penetration are powerful, subtle, and destructive.
The critique of the market culture is not a critique of the market economy or of the market society. The criticisms addressed to the market culture are related to the substitution of moral principles by principles that had been established for the material success of the market system.
When I think of the market culture, I reflect on my experience. I read or hear about factory closures in one North American town after another. Serving coffee or soup at the line organized by the Catholic Worker in Las Vegas I often encounter professional workers whose factory closed. Jobless, penniless and evicted, they arrive in Las Vegas in their overloaded car with their partner and children, hoping that in the nation’s fastest growing city they will find a job. In reality most stay homeless at least a few months. During twenty-five years I have encountered both decision makers and victims of factory closures. Corporations cite competition and impending bankruptcy as the rationale for relocating factories to places where cheaper labor is available, in Asia or Latin America. The management and the board invoke the laws of the market. They speak of survival, but are interested by a larger profit. Workers are rarely consulted, and if they are, they do not weigh much in the decision. U.S. workers who have been faithful to their employer for decades are left without possible employment in their area. Family dramas, suicides, poverty, say the corporations, cannot be considered. Competition cannot listen to calls for compassion. Market laws should be obeyed, proclaim the boards, formed of men and women who otherwise can be sensitive. The workers know that such an economic rationalism is flawed. People are not objects. They are human beings who collaborate through their muscles and brains to provide for their families. Petitions, strikes, demonstrations and solidarity expressed by fellow workers fail to reverse the decision. The workers lose the fight. It is the law of the market!
The law of the market touches every facet of North American society, even the health care system. A friend in severe pain from a stone in the bile duct is rushed to a hospital that refuses to take him because he has no insurance. Finally he lands in the emergency room of a county hospital where he waits fifteen hours, with slight relief from painkillers, before being treated. This case, which is not isolated, shows how market considerations operative in the health and insurance systems prevail over concern for the illness and life-threatening pain of a human being. Life, human dignity, confidentiality, respect for family and the needs of children become subservient to economic laws. The most sacred realities of life are no longer considered. “You have to be realistic,” proclaim the managers, “we live in a tough competitive society.”
The political rhetoric presents the U.S.A. as compassionate, a country giving food aid to the poor of the world. How do the previous examples fit with such a statement? Good intentions and compassionate feelings might be real, but the structure of thinking and the organization of the economy impose inhuman decisions in the name of the sacrosanct competition.