It is impossible nowadays to catch a glimpse of the news whether written or broadcast and not be assaulted by the latest in world violence. An assassination here, a robbery there, a war everywhere news of death and destruction is what constitutes news at all in the world today. And what with Twitter and Facebook and all the gadgets in hand that have made reporters of all and sundry, the bad news travels fast and it travels wide.
Is the world becoming more violent or is more violence reaching its way into the public’s consciousness, thanks to modern technology? And more importantly, does the distinction matter at all when public violence of the sort that was witnessed in Islamabad and Arizona last week, is inescapable to the eye? People saw what happened in those two incidents — it was reported widely because it was observed widely and that is what added to its sensationalism. In both cases, stereotypes were magnificently upheld, as well. The cowboy nation where guns are easier to acquire than health care and the traditional nation where different can mean dead. But the stereotypes don’t quite grasp everything — they just skim the surface, and below the surface, no nation is really very different when it comes to violence.
It is difficult to hold any nation up as being more or less violent than the others when governments band together to conduct inhumane and meaningless wars and countries known for violence happen to have less homicides than the greatest superpower in the world. The combination of human nature and weaponry is everywhere to be found. The World Travel Organization made a list last year of the safest countries in the world to visit, New Zealand a country whose national crime statistics do not view sexual offences as violence topped the list. Newsweek magazine attempted to tell the world of the best countries to live in the top three were Northern European countries with annual per capita incomes above and beyond most other countries in the world, and homogenous populations. They also happen to be countries with troubling rates of domestic violence that go largely unreported in national, let alone international media.
The fact is that little changes in human history — the bad things get recycled over time and the glacial speed of progress is further impeded by the resistance of ignorance. A few months ago, while interviewing the Brazilian artist Gil Vicente you may know him for his series of 12 portraits of himself assassinating world figures like the Queen, the Pope, and George W. Bush I was taken aback by the simplicity of a statement he made about human progress. The only evolution in the world is social evolution, he said. For Vicente, advancements in technology or ecology or any other fad of the day are meaningless when, as he said there are still people who live in subhuman conditions. Advancements in humanity are Vicentes measure of how far we have progressed as humans and if irrational violence and killing is still very much a part of our lives, then we have not gotten very far past our ancients whether they were in Pakistan or the United States.
Sure, we hear about the violence more because of advanced technology, but its not as if people are killing each other with their mobile phones the same old problems have not been resolved: class distinctions, poverty, lawlessness, inhumanity. If anything, our contemporary access to more information about violence should jolt us into taking the steps to address these four problems, individually and collectively. Each of us has the capacity to make small changes that can have a larger impact. Be nice to your household help they will respond in kind. Be respectful to those you disagree with even as you disagree with them. Make your voice heard, but not at the expense of someone elses.
Violence whether desperate or malicious has always been an element of human history. From Pakistan to Arizona, and everywhere in between, now that we are more aware of violence will we stand by in fear, or will we try to change it?
The writer is US-based political analyst and a fomer Producer for BBC and Al-Jazeera. Follow her on Twitter @ShirinSadeghi