No one starts by killing someone.
There is a process of escalation, increasing levels of violence, or a psyching up to the attack. When we are going to be violent, we feed it, deliberately. We dehumanise the enemy, we hold our rage close and tell ourselves why the rage is justified, and why we are entitled to act on it. We feed our own fear, of what ‘they’ will do to us if we don’t act first. We attribute to ‘them’ the reasons for all the hate and fear we’re experiencing. ‘They’ did this to us. We’re just protecting ourselves.
Whether we’re talking about someone who beats their spouse, verbally abuses others online, murders, or we’re talking about violent action between communities, or countries going to war, there is a process of feeding the hate and fear first. I know of people who have been physically assaulted by other people who were screaming ‘you are abusing me’ even as they did the damage. The attacker is often invested in their own victimhood.
Not so long ago, I was witness to a person psyching up, but not alert enough to see what was happening until afterwards. They spoke at length about how they had been a victim, how everyone thought the aggressor lovely, but really the aggressor was nasty. It went on for some time, at the end of which the ‘victim’ went off in a state of carefully crafted rage to challenge the ‘bully’ over a matter of coffee. Shouting ensued, as the ‘victim’ hurled abuse at the ‘bully’. At the end the ‘victim’ stomped off, still shouting about how badly they had been treated, while the ‘bully’ still silent, stood shaking and tearful, shocked by what had happened over a mistake involving coffee. The ‘victim’ then later told us it’s a well known fact that the victim leaves the fight first. This is rubbish.
Stood outside of the situation, I saw one person invest enormously in becoming angry and feeling hard done by in order to feel justified in launching an intimidating verbal assault on someone who, at worst, might have been guilty of a trivial error of judgement.
When we act on anger, it’s because we feel justified. Verbal aggression online is common, and watching it, I notice that very few people are just having fun. Many are afraid, and see the ‘other’ as a threat and a menace. You will bring down society. You will destroy this country. You will make everything worse. You will let some even more fearful third party do even more terrible things. Go on the offensive in response to their terrible accusations, and all their fear and rage seems justified, to the person who will then consider themselves your victim.
Of course our anger is reasonable, well placed and appropriate. We’re acting for the best possible reasons, and on the other side there are narrow-minded idiots who cannot see how dangerous their ideas are, and what kind of trouble they are causing. They cannot see how wrong they are and it is our job to shout some sense into them. Scream it into their faces. Knock it into them. Beat them into submission.
And of course the easiest answer to this problematic, toxic expression of anger, is to rage at other people for expressing it. If we can’t get at them, we can lash out at those who were to hand, but made a bad call about the coffee, or other such infringements. Other people should not be angry. It’s all their fault. How can this change if we don’t face our own anger?
There is a relationship between verbal violence and physical violence. Mostly we start with words, with accusations and justifications, and we ramp it up from there. Perhaps if we want genuine solutions to matters of fear, hatred and violence, we’re going to need to start with non-violent language.