• Stephanie Vonwiller

Strength (energy) – Power (control) – Force (violence)

"If violence against humans were a disease, we would declare a pandemic."

Is violence a natural part of being human?

This question is irritating, and one immediately wants to shout: "No!" and after a short thought, "Yes," but it is not that simple.

To understand this, we must generally first deal with what violence is. For this purpose, I went on a search and researched in many different places.

- The World Health Organization defines violence in the report Violence and Health (2002) as follows, "Violence is the actual or threatened deliberate use of physical or psychological force or power directed against oneself or another person, group or community, which results, or is likely to result, in injury, death, psychological harm, aberration or deprivation."

- From Philosophie.ch: "So we can say that violence is defined not only by the use of excessive individual violence but also by deliberate action, where the perpetrator is aware of the consequences and effects of his actions. It can take various forms, all of which involve injury to the victim of violence."

Does this mean that violence is only violence if it happens intentionally? Is unintentional violence, not violence? The violence that occurs in the heat of passion, unplanned? That doesn't answer the question of whether violence is a natural part of human nature.

- An old argument among philosophers is: Is one aggressive by nature, or does culture make us aggressive? (Dr. Christian Wolf)

  • The fact that aggression and violence run through the history of evolution speaks for a natural predisposition.

  • Across cultures and times, men prove to be much more aggressive. According to the "Male warrior hypothesis," men profit evolutionarily from aggression directed against members of foreign groups: It allows them access to sexual partners, provides them with resources and territorial gains.

  • Today's forms of aggression are caused by a variety of factors. For example, early stress in childhood can cause a tendency to aggression.

  • There is evidence in the brain that aggressive people are less able to restrain aggressive reactions.

This means that violence is natural, and if unintentionally used, then this can not be punishable.

This is supported by the fact that the following examples also deal with forms of violence:

- sports like boxing, kickboxing, fencing

- Violent resistance

- Violence at school, e.g., having to sit on a chair during lessons, receiving punishment for unsolicited speech, etc.

- Resisting violence with violence

There is no way forward in this direction, but perhaps a change of perspective will help. I would like to deal with three further questions.

  1. What is the current situation in Germany?

"Crimes against sexual self-determination" included 14,260 cases of rape and sexual assault/coercion, and 11,547 cases of sexual abuse of children. In 2017, 558,506 bodily injuries were also registered - including many acts that took place largely in secret and were attributed to the approximately 140,000 documented cases of domestic violence. Here too, most of the victims are female. According to the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, every fourth woman has experienced physical or sexual partnership violence once in her life."

In Germany, violence against women is not tolerated - at least not publicly. Unfortunately, it is also present here behind closed doors. However, public perception and awareness of the existence of this violence is almost non-existent and is not really often discussed in public.

Our laws on this are extensive, but there is a lack of information and contact points.

Especially those affected in Germany often have a migration background and/or a low level of education. Complicated "ways" to get help are rather not taken. Here it would certainly help if there were some kind of door-to-door care. In other words, following the example of the street workers and give information and education right away. A personal conversation creates more trust and confidence than subtle offers of help on Internet sites. The topic is also not visible in the German media such as television or newspapers.

  1. Do religions, cultures, and different habitats first lead to violence?

Aggression and violence were, therefore, often useful from an evolutionary point of view, but today they have become a social problem.

According to Professor Thomas Elbert from the University of Konstanz, there is a latent passion to fight and dominate others that can be triggered in almost all people (men and women) - the psychologist has documented this in soldiers, youth gangs and other violent offenders on three continents.

"Neurobiologists like the much-cited James R. Blair, Direktor am Boys Town Center for Neurobehavioral Research distinguish between reactive and instrumental aggression. In the first form, aggressors react to (supposed) threats and usually feel negative emotions such as anger and rage themselves. If, on the other hand, goals are pursued in advance, this is called instrumental aggression. In addition, during his research in war zones such as Uganda or Afghanistan, Elbert repeatedly encountered a type of violence in which the perpetrators literally feel pleasure: it is not enough to defeat the enemy. He must bleed, scream, die in agony. The good, the bad, and the ugly - good, bad, and ugly aggression is what Elbert calls the three types, in reference to the English title of a famous western. Even the third form - in technical jargon appetitive aggression is not pathological, but part of the human being, says Elbert."

This question can, therefore, be answered in the affirmative. Cultures, religions, and states are responsible when violence becomes/is socially acceptable. An unbelievable number of people are first made victims and then perpetrators (e.g., child soldiers). We, therefore, have a global problem of violence that cannot be solved by fighting the symptoms. Conversely, however, this also means that not only the state and religious leaders but each of us must be involved in the solution - or is currently part of the problem.

Possibilities to sustainably improve:

  • Behavioral therapies, anti-aggression training, and medication

  • Prevention and early detection

  1. Why is violence, especially against women, so widespread?

Domestic violence - in most cases, the effects and symptoms are described; the actual causes, e.g., cultural and religious reasons, are far too often not mentioned. Domestic violence has its origin to a high percentage in domestic violence - this means that the perpetrator is also a victim. There are those who, for example, witnessed their mother being beaten/mistreated or those who were themselves beaten. Both probabilities most likely lead either to the person entering into a relationship in which he/she is abused/mistreated by the partner, or the person becomes the perpetrator himself/herself. Often the perpetrator, therefore, has a violent history - physical and psychological abuse as a child, not only with girls/women but also with boys/men sexual abuse must be considered. This cycle can only be broken if we start to focus not only on the current victims but also on the previous victims, i.e., the current perpetrator. This does not mean trivializing the acts.

Using violence to combat violence - this has never worked in the past. And deprivation of liberty is also a form of violence and must only be the last resort. As stated in the last point, education and prevention must be the first means - prevention rather than causing even more damage. After all, criminalized perpetrators do not, as a rule, become saints even after imprisonment.


Now let us take a closer look at the words, strength (energy), force (violence), and power (control) from the headline.

Strength (energy) is a word from the Germanic language and means muscle tension. Basically, the word is not negative. Strength sports and strength fully tackling are two examples of many. Here the energy of a person is invested in something neutral or meaningful. But strength is also needed to be able to do physical violence.

The term Force (violence) means violent behavior as intentional, physically aggressive behavior towards another person (Wikipedia). So force means that something is enforcement/achieved. Physical violence, therefore, still needs the strength to do it in order to work.

In contrast, psychological/verbal violence has nothing to do with strengths. Psychological violence uses different strategies, methods, and behaviors.

Herewith it is tried to make the partner/counterpart

- to unsettle (in their self-image, their perception, their trust in themselves and others, and much more)

- to bring them out of balance

- to weaken.

Verbal or psychological violence

- insult

- criticize

- shout at

- humiliate

- devalue

- threaten - "If you (don't)..., then I (don't)..." (Source: re-empowerment)

So it is a form of force, but not with the help of strength, but with the help of power.

"Power (control) means the ability of a person or group to influence the thinking and behavior of individuals, social groups, or sections of the population in such a way that they subordinate themselves to their views or wishes and behave accordingly (Wikipedia)."

Power is thus used through force and/or violence and is expressed psychically and physically. The term "domestic violence" is therefore, not well chosen. In reality, it is an imbalance of power that is brought about by the dominant partner in order to maintain control.

Is violence a natural thing?

To conclude the question from the beginning, whether violence is "naturally" predisposed in humans, one must say "yes."

Force is basically necessary to protect oneself, but it is also necessary for humanity to survive at all. Without e.g., force efforts, we would not be able to cope with problems like epidemics and natural disasters. Also, innovations would not be possible because the "drive" would be missing. Because our passion and our emotions are energy, and energy is the power to make a difference. However, as with everything, there are two sides to it, and the task is not to ban Force per se, because that wouldn't work, but to steer it in the right direction - away from violence (force/violence power).

As described under 2, prevention and early detection are the best means of achieving this, so that victims no longer have to become perpetrators. Just continuing to fight the symptoms will not alleviate the suffering of the people.

Above all, the term is wrongly chosen because it promotes insecurity and therefore blocks it. This can be seen in discussions on the subject where not even the experts are sure, for example, when psychological violence begins. Is it already violence when I speak my mind, and the other person feels influenced by it (for example, parent-child topic)? No, of course not. But this small example of an unbelievable number shows that we urgently need to discuss the concept of "domestic violence." Strength (energy) - Power (control) - Force (violence), are not the appropriate term to express the suffering and agony that women/children suffer from and, therefore, not suitable to show the need for change.

And once again, I realize that with the equality of all people, this problem would also be only a small one. In addition, inequality obviously has its origin in the claim to power (control).

Finally, I would like to say that this subject could fill books and a small article certainly cannot be all-encompassing. But I hope that my occupation with the subject can be an enrichment and perhaps also help for some people.

Other sources than indicated in the text:

https://www.degruyter.com/view/journals/nf/23/2/article-p77.xml Lust for violence: Appetitive aggression as a fundamental part of human nature

http://jaapl.org/content/37/4/473.longA Meta-analysis of the Psychological Treatment of Anger: Developing Guidelines for Evidence-Based Practice

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