Brutalizing Society

A 17 year old was convicted in the British Midlands for the brutal murder of a 14 year old today. An extremely violent and depraved video game was behind the killing. In this game, you are a convicted murder trying to murder people in the most horrific way possible with hammers and knives, etc. The video game company had warnings that the game could promote copy-cat killings, but the British board of classification still allowed it onto the market, albeit with a rating of “classified 18″–as if that would prevent kids from getting their hands on the game. The game has been aptly described as a “murder simulator.”

I think it is a no-brainer that this game is influencing kids to murder each other in gruesome ways (the 14 year old was beaten to death in the park with a hammer, just like in the video game). My question is, why would this game be suitable for adults? Why prohibit children from playing this game but let adults? Adults are far more depraved than children. Sure, the argument goes that adults have a mature capacity to tell right from wrong. But what about the scores of child rapists and murderers. Being an adult merely gave these offenders the capacity to commit their atrocities; it didn’t endow them with a higher sense of right and wrong.

Can anyone be amazed at the abuses in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq? When a society is raised on violent video games that glorify torture and murder and on a steady diet of pornography, then is it any wonder that given a modicum of power and enough of their own leash to act how they wish, these individuals are going to act out the filth they see on the interet and in their video games? We miss something fundamental if we think that these things have no negative externalities: the long-term effect of a society nourished by the objectification of the human body and the drive for pleasure, whether it be through a prurient interest in sex or the bloodlust of a society addicted to violence.

Finally, I just want to point out a disastrous irony: it seems to me that those who oppose the death penalty–philosophically claiming that it brutalizes society and that society doesn’t have the right to take that kind of action against its convicted killers–are the same people who defend the “free speech” right to peer at perversions on the internet every night and to play these ultra-violent video games. This, to me, seems like a fundamental inconsistency, to claim that the death penalty brutalizes society but to defend the right to view endless hours of brutal violence in the media and video games.  

12 Responses to Brutalizing Society

  1. dan says:

    While I don’t condone his actions, I hesitate to place the blame on any one thing.

    For instance, before the internet was around and before kids played video games nonstop people still did bad things. The Stanford Prison Experiment showed that some people have a propensity to torture others when they are given authority and think no one will know.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Interesting and sad post. It seems a lot of video games thrive on the ability to depict violent death in almost the most gruesome manner imaginable. It’s hard to tell whether these games are a reflection of society or whether society is (at least sometimes) a reflection of the games.

    By the way, that hometeaching reminder plugin/hack is now working thanks to Dan from Amidst A Tangled Web. I’d be interested to find out if you could get it working on Blogger or not.

    Danithew
    http://www.wump.info/wumpblog

  3. john f. says:

    It is true that people were doing bad things before the internet and video games around. I am sure that our improved media also contributes to our awareness of everything that is going on.

    I don’t think this negates the causation at work here. When you feed someone a steady diet of psychopathic, murderous entertainment, and on top of that enshrine it as every man’s inalienable right to engage in, then you have a societal problem of enormous proportions.

    For example what is up with movies like Hannibal and the like? What is the purpose of glorifying mental illness, cannibalism, and psychopathic tendencies? Why does our society idolize serial killers, child rapists, and cannibals?

    Danithew, I liked your thought about whether society is like this as a result of this type of entertainment choices, or is it the other way around. From your writing on other blogs, you seem to be acquainted with the ancient world. What parallels or comparisons might exist between this trend and Rome, or other brutalized societies who disintegrated because they no longer had any bonds that tied them together?

  4. Renee says:

    The world today has denegrated families to the point, I sadly believe, of no return. We are the proverbial frogs in the boiling water. It’s getting hotter, people are sounding the sirens, and the frogs just keep saying “Relax, the water’s great! Come on in!”

  5. Ronan says:

    “Brutalized society” is a good explanation for the violence we see all around us, but why is America the most violent Western society when these video games/movies etc. are watched in Europe too?

  6. john f. says:

    Ronan,

    Thanks for the comment. I don’t know the answer to your question, and I’m not a sociologist. But it might have something to do with the historical development of America and the hyper-individualism that characterizes America as a result (England would be the closest second for this trait, but Germany and France, I believe, have much more “collectivist” societies). In other words, in Western European society (and to a lesser extent England), people are more community minded, not in the sense of American civic republicanism, which I believe is an almost uniquely American trait, but rather in the sense that people are more willing to subject the individual to a higher ideal, and that is less so in America.

    If you are hinting that the death penalty is the cause that American seems much more violent than Western European societies, I don’t agree. How can you blame someone’s “just deserts” as the cause of the person’s reprobate activities? I believe that it is not only just, but also very natural for murders to receive death in return for their works.

  7. john f. says:

    And Ronan, don’t worry, Allison and I know where you and Becky stand on the death penalty. Maybe someday when I progress further, past my current state of being, I will come around. Jordan seems to have done so already, see his great February 13 post on the death penalty at http://fowles.blogspot.com/2004_02_01_fowles_archive.html.

    I’m still just more of a barbarian than he is.

  8. john f. says:

    Ronan, this link will take you right to Jordan’s post on why he is against the death penalty. Since he is a permanent blogger here on a bird’s eye view, I just wanted to put his perspective into the picture, particularly in light of my own support of disposing of the murderers according to the demands of justice.

  9. Jordan says:

    I have no problem with allowing murderers to face their just deserts. However, I have a problem with who metes out the desert and the lack of procedural safeguards in meting out those deserts.

    And a difference of opinion on this does not make you a barbarian.

  10. john f. says:

    So Jordan, you don’t subscribe to the philosphical notions that the death penalty itself brutalizes society in an almost neo-Roman criticism (i.e. harking back to the blood-thirsty games in the colosseum), and that as a result American is a violent society precisely because of the death penalty (i.e. somehow the death penalty is mysteriously causing depraved individuals to commit their heinous acts)? Would you be in favor of the death penalty if you could be sure that the convicted person actually committed the crime? Or is it more of a theological opposition to the death penalty, as comes through in your post? That is, humans should never administer death through the state apparatus, regardless of guilt–let murderers get their just deserts in the afterlife?

    I understand such a position but wonder about the effects it has on Kantian notions of the moral value/necessity of retribution and the demands of justice in society. If the societal demand for justice goes unfulfilled, does that not create a certain void, a certain cognitive dissonance? Why not allow society to dispose of killers if the convictions are sound?

  11. Jordan says:

    I thought what came through in my post was confusion regarding exactly HOW fundamental my opposition to the death penalty was.

    I think it came through that if God himself or someone whom God had appointed was making these decisions, then I would porbably be OK with it. But when we leave it in the hands of an imperfect judge and (heaven forbid!) a jury- I think it is too risky. We risk executing an innocent person at my tax dollar. Life is sacred and should thus, I think, only be taken under divine mandate. (He who gives life has the right to take it away). Because we in the United States are far from actually executing God’s will in the death penalty, we ought to refrain from using it. Although life imprisonment costs more, at least it is a condition from which those later proved innocent can be released.

    I thought I had mentioned that when it comes to people like Timothy McVeigh where they are almost certainly guilty, I have a harder time saying no death penalty. But I think the borderline cases justify a prophylactic rule against in this country, at least for the time being.

    As I said on my blog: “there are enough uncertain cases that there ought to be a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty AT LEAST until we can sort out who is TRULY guilty.”

  12. john f. says:

    I have nothing against caution in implementation. But I find philosophical causation arguments (which I know you are not making, Jordan) that the death penalty contributes to and perhaps even causes the brutalization of American society severely lacking.

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