What Moves Us to Violence? How Can We Create Peace?

UF-InnerDemonsIn his book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” author Steven Pinker defines Five Inner Demons and Four Inner Angels that drive human behavior between violence and peace. According to Pinker, “aggression is not a single motive, let alone a mounting urge. It is the output of several psychological systems that differ in their environmental triggers, their internal logic, their neurological basis, and their social distribution.” Below are the factors that he believes creates violence in our world.

The Five Inner Demons –

1. Instrumental Violence – which is violence deployed as a means to an end.

2. Dominance – which is the urge for glory, power, or authority over others. This can be found in individuals but also at the national, racial, ethnic, or religious level.

3. Revenge – simply the desire for punishment and retribution.

4. Sadism – which is taking pleasure in another person’s suffering.

5. Ideology – justifies unlimited violence through a shared belief system that some great good will come as a result of the violence.

Do you see any of these motives creating suffering around you? What about in your religion or government? Do your friends or family members speak from one of these vantage points? Do you find yourself ever motivated by any of these “inner demons”?

As daunting as they may seem (and we see evidence of these inner demons throughout the world), Pinker says that we are also blessed with Four Better Angels as motives towards cooperation and altruism. He defines these as:

The Four Better Angels –

1. Empathy – is when we feel the pain of others and align our interests with them. There is so much evidence that empathy is increasing in the world. As literacy, freedom of speech, mobility and communication expand globally, more people are able to take perspectives of other people unlike themselves and see humanity as one family.

2. Self-Control – allows us to foresee the consequences of our impulses and control them.

3. The Moral Sense – is a set of norms of behavior for a culture that governs how people treat one another. We witness this sense decrease violence in the world though when the moral norms become authoritarian, puritanical, or tribal (ideological) then it can justify violence.

4. Reason – is the power to think, understand, and make decisions by a logical process.

Can you think of anyone in power who has used these as tools for peace? How can you use them in your family, community and service in the world? Being aware of the Five Inner Demons allows us to guard against them. And as we practice and grow in confidence with our Four Better Angels, we increase peace in our own lives and in our communities.

By Mark Sullivan

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