Ideas

A History of Violence

Mass murder, senseless violence, random brutality. We're all horrified by these things - yet they always seem to be with us. The human thirst for atrocity is at the heart of what psychologist Jordan Peterson has to say, in a talk he gave at the Stratford Festival, and in conversation with Paul Kennedy. Part of the answer lies in John Milton's great poem, Paradise Lost. It turns out Milton had a lot to say about our appetite for violence 350 years ago.
This image shows an unidentified detainee at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq, standing on a box with a bag on his head and wires attached to him. (2003) (AP Photo: File)
Listen to the full episode53:58

Mass murder, senseless violence, random brutality. We're all horrified by these things - yet they always seem to be with us. The human thirst for atrocity is at the heart of what psychologist Jordan Peterson has to say, in a talk he gave at the Stratford Festival, and in conversation with Paul Kennedy. Part of the answer lies in John Milton's great poem, Paradise Lost. It turns out Milton had a lot to say about our appetite for violence 350 years ago.

**This episode first aired March 20 2015
 

The first murder took place between the first humans -- Cain and Abel -- and that legacy, of destroying ourselves and each other, has come down to us from the very beginning: the Creation story reminds us as much about of our tragic weakness as it does about our infinite potential as humans.

Violence continues to bewilder us. Why do we turn on each other? In particular, what is this lust for destruction that bursts forth --  in individuals and in whole peoples -- when everything else we know about ourselves tells us that we are caring and social creatures, devoted to our children and the possibilities of the future?

It's easy to look at violence and war as anomalies of human nature, but there's clearly something else going on. What's the meaning of the Columbine and Sandy Hook school massacres, the bus bombings in Jerusalem, the Charlie Hebdo killings? Sometimes we think politics can explain these things, or a kind of madness, but what else might be behind such senseless acts? Acts that achieve no goal except a universal sadness about the human condition.

Jordan Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and a clinical psychologist. At the Stratford Festival last summer he explored some of these questions.


Related websites:

Jordan Peterson's YouTube Channel

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