Man is the only species that is a mass murderer, the
only misfit in his own society. Why should this be so?
When angry human beings act violently and aggressively, other caring and
compassionate human beings sometimes tell them that they are acting like
animals. Given the level of violence in the contemporary world, I would not be
surprised to hear of some kind animals saying to other cruel animals that they
were acting like humans. Eric Fromm in his famous book The Anatomy of Human
Destructiveness shares his insight that animals express benign
violence—they kill only in self defense or when they are hungry. Even a lion is
peaceful when he is not hungry and does not feel threatened. On the other hand,
humans are worse than animals as they exhibit malignant violence—they add
a series of meanings to their violence. They justify their violent crimes and
rationalize their aggressive acts. Such justifications are also presented by
social groups, political institutions and religious organizations. In
communities, cultures and countries where capital punishment is allowed, when
one human kills another human, the entire society commits the same crime by
killing the killer. “Do human beings individually or collectively have the right
to kill other human beings?” is a vital question for the evolution of humanity.
Such killings are usually justified by the age old saying “an eye for an eye”.
Over the centuries many wise men and women have observed that if we act on this
belief, within a short time half of the village will be blind.
When we study the history of humanity we realize that the intensity and
severity of human violence and aggression has increased over the centuries. Only
in the 20th century millions of humans have been killed by other
humans by pre-meditated murder, including the use of nuclear weapons. If we
review human murders we can classify them into the following seven groups based
on emotional, social, religious, economic or political motivation.
There are many people in every community who have difficulties controlling their
anger. If someone hurts them, rather than forgiving or reporting the matter to
the authorities, they take the law into their own hands and kill their enemy. As
a psychotherapist I am fascinated by the number of murders that happen within
families; people kill those they had loved at one time. Their sense of betrayal
transforms their love into hate, and lovers become enemies. Spouses who once
vowed eternal love can kill each other because of jealousy. It is sad to see
domestic and family violence killing so many people every year, especially
children and women.
While some people kill people that they know intimately, there are others who
kill strangers. We call them serial killers and mass murderers. I interviewed
Javed Iqbal Mughal who had confessed to killing one hundred children in
Pakistan, and reviewing the research on serial killers, I was shocked to
discover that the United States
had the highest numbers of serial killings in the world. These serial killers,
who were usually physically, emotionally and sexually abused as children, became
revengeful against a particular group, be they blacks or women, gays or
Hispanics, whom they killed indiscriminately until they were caught by police.
Many such serial killers have psychopathic and sociopathic personalities.
SOCIAL VIOLENCE OF GANGS
As more and more people move from villages to cities and adopt an urban
lifestyle, they face the pains of migration, social alienation and unemployment
and some of them become involved in violent gangs to sell drugs to make quick
money. Unfortunately, once they enter the drug and gang culture it is difficult
for them to leave. It is fascinating how these gangs provide a sense of identity
and belonging to young men and women who feel lost, confused and isolated in big
cities. When there are violent confrontations between gangs, we see many
murders. In some cases the local police themselves become involved in these
While the majority of murders are committed by psychopaths who do not suffer
from mental illness, there are some murders committed by people who suffer from
schizophrenia, manic depressive illness and paranoid psychosis. When these
emotionally disturbed people feel threatened and attacked, they may think they
need to kill before they are killed. Such people, rather than going to prison,
are sent to hospitals for psychiatric treatment.
POLITICAL / NATIONAL VIOLENCE
As the concept of nationalism became popular in the West, states created
national armies. Over the centuries, soldiers in the uniform of one country
killed only the soldiers of the enemy army. As guerrilla war became popular,
both sides have been killing innocent men, women and children. Some call it
using human shields while others call it collateral damage. Innocent citizens
are being killed with no twinge of conscience on either side.
Human beings can be executed by their own governments, under capital punishment
laws ordered by the courts. These are murders committed by legalized state
6. VIOLENCE OF RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISTS
Over the centuries believers have killed each other in the name of God. In the
last few decades there have been a large number of killings between Sunnis and
Shiites, Catholics and Protestants, Hindus and Muslims, and Muslims and Jews in
different parts of the world. Ironically these violent murders were committed in
the name of a merciful God. Some of those killings are done to create theocratic
states. Many such murders are ordered by religious leaders who have charismatic
and cultish personalities.
7. INTERNATIONAL VIOLENCE
In the recent past, Western governments have been sending their armies to other
countries and invading sovereign states in order to topple their governments;
they have killed innocent civilians and then rationalized their murders in the
name of democracy, human rights and freedom. We are all aware that they are
economic wars aimed at establishing the aggressor’s military presence all over
the world, selling weapons and ensuring access to the conquered countries’
It is sad to realize that violent consciousness is on the rise and that the
borders between just and unjust wars have blurred. Even in the 21st
century we have not risen above a tribal mentality. I am afraid that if we do
not develop peace consciousness and do not feel compassion for all of humanity,
we might commit collective suicide and may not evolve to the next stage of human
It is ironic that in the contemporary world, leaders of religious, spiritual and
secular traditions claim that their ideologies and philosophies promote peace,
but we see their followers continue to kill each other. Whether they are
followers of Christianity or Islam, Judaism or Hinduism, Communism or
Capitalism, they kill innocent human beings and justify their murders.
I think time has come for all of us to learn to communicate
better and find ways to resolve our personal, social, religious and political
conflicts peacefully and respectfully, and accept that killing one human is like
killing all of humanity.