How to Curb Violence in America: Response to Michael Moore
Activist, author, and filmmaker, Michael Moore suggests there are two fundamental problems with our culture that account for the United States being responsible for over 80% of all gun deaths in the 23 richest countries in the world. According to Moore
1. “We Americans are incredibly good killers. We believe in killing as a way of accomplishing our goals.”
2. “We are an easily frightened people and it is easy to manipulate us with fear.”"
Moore also asks, how do we change our culture to make it less violent?
Scientists have been studying the problem of violence for many years. One big difference between the media and scientists is that scientists like to examine the full range of problems like aggression and violence as opposed to looking at just one extreme example such as Aurora. That is, scientists argue that you need to look at the level of aggression in people across the board in order to understand extreme cases.
There are two interesting discoveries that have been made that relate to Michael Moore’s ideas and also suggest some answers to how violence rates could be diminished in the U.S.. As The Impartial Review News review of Dr. Robert Sapolsky’s work noted, scientists believe that culture can make people instinctually feel more threatened and aggressive and that this is also true for our nearest relatives—the primates. Dr. Sapolsky and others observed that typically male baboons fight for ranking status and their whole lives can revolve around attempts to climb the troop’s hierarchy. However, in one baboon troop a long-lasting peaceful culture emerged after the alpha males were killed in an epidemic. This suggests that human cultures that are not dominated by alpha-male rank status infighting are less aggressive.
Alternatively, a culture that encourages fighting for status may be more violent. Researchers have known for a long time in which part of the U.S. the aggression problem is worse. In 1985, a researcher found the US South, and western regions of the US initially settled by Southerners, are more violent than the rest of the country. Argument-related homicides for White Southern males are substantially higher than those for White Northern males, especially in rural areas associated with herding regions. In 1993, researchers began to understand the problem was associated with a Southern culture of honor. More recently, researchers have more clearly tied the higher Southern murder rates clearly to status seeking behavior—a culture of honor which is another form of status-seeking.
If humans tend to fight over status as other primates do, then cultures that emphasize status seeking should be more violent. In fact, most revolutions our fought because there is a perception that the elite have taken too much. People feel a sense of unfairness or injustice. Alpha males will keep the best food, females and lodgings for themselves. They will demand that others check out dangerous situations and they will beat and bully those who are beneath them in rank. The women will sometimes rise up and demote, banish or kill a particularly annoying alpha male or a group of males will form a coalition to fight against a fewer number of elite males.
Some have argued that the U.S. has high violence rates because the problem of inequality is increasing. Senator Bernie Sanders recently noted
“Today, the wealthiest 400 individuals own more wealth than the bottom half of America – 150 million people.
Today, one family, the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, with $89 billion, own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of America. One family owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent.
Today, the top one percent own 40 percent of all wealth, while the bottom sixty percent owns less than 2 percent. Incredibly, the bottom 40 percent of all Americans own just 3/10 of one percent of the wealth of the country. "
Americans are told that if they work hard their dreams will come true. However, that’s not what always happens. Americans who believe their hard work hasn’t paid off experience cynicism, a feeling of being alienated from their society and those feelings in some cases may turn to frustration and violence.
Another way to look at the issue is to examine if our institutions foster a sense of community or do they encourage fights over status. There is a great deal of evidence that U.S. school systems and workplace environments either directly or indirectly encourage fighting for rank over cooperation by rewarding status seeking and exploitation over thoughtfulness, helpfulness or kindness.
During the last 15 years, Dr. Patrick Gilbert of Mercer has conducted several international surveys on bullying in the workplace. In the U.S. and many European countries, he found it was commonplace for people to report that they were being bullied at work.
Examples of bullying in these surveys included:
>> Spreading malicious rumours.
>> Ridiculing or demeaning someone.
>> Exclusion or victimization.
>> Overbearing supervision and other misuse of power or position.
>> Deliberately undermining people and blocking promotion or training opportunities.
Bullying leadership is contrary to a century of leadership research which has proven that the best leaders convince employees that they will be fairly treated and enjoy company profits if they help the company to be successful. However, research also shows that companies do not reward leadership that builds a sense of teamwork and community. Instead, leadership acts very much like they are fighting to maintain their rank status and their tactics are frequently exploitive and bullying. These surveys suggest that the higher up a person is in the chain of command, the more bullying occurs. Of course, most people bully those of lower status. Leadership research strongly suggests that these sorts of tactics don’t improve the bottom line. Rather, they turn the employees against the company.
The problem doesn’t occur just in the U.S. It’s a western phenomenon. A British study found almost half of Britain’s employees (47 per cent) have witnessed bullying at work, one in 10 reported having been bullied in the last six months, and one in four said they had been bullied in the last five years. According to the study,
“a 1999 Institute of Management (IOM) report suggested that bullying was part of the new management credo. It concluded that new ‘leaner’ business practices are a breeding ground for “corporate bullying on a large scale.” (Hazards 67). IOM added that people are expected to “work longer hours with fewer resources, put into head-to-head competition with colleagues and treated unsympathetically if they flag under the strain. This attitude starts at the top and filters down through an entire organisation spawning a whole brood of macho style managers in its wake.”
The study also found that long hours and job insecurity has helped to fuel the epidemic of workplace bullying. Another researcher found that the problem was greater in the UK compared to other European countries in terms of longer hours and less job insecurity.
Britains work shorter hours and bully less than the U.S. The problem of bullying is much worse in the U.S. The Workplace Bullying Institute found 37 percent of workers were bullied in the U.S., typically by their boss but sometimes by a rival.
Below is the Workplace Bullying Institute classification guide to work bullies:
- The Screaming Mimi: Prone to loud outbursts and other intimidation tactics.
- The Constant Critic: A nitpicker who slowly erodes a colleague’s self-confidence.
- The Two-headed Snake: A backstabber who comes across as a “buddy,” then steals credit.
- The Gatekeeper: Hoards information and resources, so employees can’t do their jobs.
They also say that 81% of employers are either doing nothing to address bullying or actually resisting action when requested to do something.
A Psychology Today article on bullying in the workplace described research that found bullies created higher rates of absenteeism and attrition. The article quotes Lisa M.S. Barrow, author of In Darkness Light Dawns: Exposing Workplace Bullying, who states that “Bullies typically possess a Type A personality”;
Type A Behavior is a term used to describe an over-competitive attitude that is associated with a free-floating hostility that may lash out at anyone around them. Americans have extremely high rates of Type A Behavior when compared with the number of Type A’s found in other countries.
Type A behavior is also associated with certain professions. For example, attorneys have extremely high rates of Type A Behavior. Do American’s want a bunch of hostile people in charge of our justice system? Whether you refer to such individuals as Type A’s, bullies, hostile people or alphas, the problem is the same. Such individuals are attracted to power and so it is natural that they will get it just like they do in the primate world unless there are checks and balances in place which prevent a society from allowing itself to be exploited. Research has found that Type A Behavior leads to heart disease not only in the person who displays the behavior but also those who are bullied by the Type A. Dr. Sapolsky work found that Type A baboon similarly stressed the cardiovascular systems of bullies and their victims.
There is additional evidence that many leaders in the U.S. place an illogically high value on their ability to bully others. The corporate coalition ALEC, does not advocate for U.S. corporations to better adhere to proven leadership principles. Rather, their model legislation focuses on giving corporations the right to fire a person without cause. In contrast, In Britain their approach to solving the problem of workplace bullying has been to attempt to pass a dignity in the workplace bill. In the U.S., the approach taken has been vastly different. Almost as if it were a public relations strategy, people who attempted to work on the problem of workplace bullying were told they should work on school bullying instead. In addition, corporations spent millions convincing voters to end laws that allow people to fire their employees for any reason including mean-spirited reasons and spent millions more on attempts to defeat whistleblower protection laws.
Surveys also show that many Americans feel threatened by job insecurity. Obviously, it may induce a great deal of anger in a person if their manager threatens to fire them or actually fires them for petty or unjust reasons. In the U.S. this is particularly threatening because opportunities to start over may be diminished because the employer won’t give them a good references and a lack of good references from a single job may follow a person around for years. In contrast, there are little or no consequences for workplace bullies which also creates a sense of unfairness. Even when companies are found guilty of retaliation, the person who lost their job is typically not reinstated and the bullies remain without any personal consequences for them. The same is true when companies violate regulations or laws. In other words, the laws do not discourage bullying. For example, many whistleblower, discrimination and other types of labor employment cases cause the organization as a whole to pay penalties if found guilty but there are rarely consequences for those who bullied the whistleblower. Politicians are bullied as well. The more money you have the more you can bully politicians with threats that you will fund their opponent’s campaign.
The U.S. government has followed a similar pattern of consistently and persuasively attacking whistleblowers and displaying a complete lack of concern for the public. The Occupy Wall Street(OWS) movement has argued that neither the left or right seems willing to provide health care for all Americans even when they know it means that people will die from lack of health insurance. One study estimated that 45,000 people die each year in the U.S. as a result of a lack of health insurance while other countries have dealt with this problem.
In reality, lack of health insurance is just the tip of the iceberg. The New York Times [reported that the CDC:
estimates there are 1.7 million infection cases a year in hospitals and that 99,000 patients die after contracting them (although infection may not be the sole cause). It projects the cost of treating those patients at $20 billion a year.
The primary cause of these infections is health care workers not washing their hands. Other countries have had success in dealing with the problem. In the U.S., little has been accomplished.
The problem of aggression, however, doesn’t begin in the workplace. It begins in the schools. There is evidence that U.S. schools favor competitive status seeking teaching over superior learning methods that rely on cooperation. As The Impartial Review News recently noted, the U.S. educational system is deteriorating. One reason why that is occurring is because other countries have adopted state-of-the-art cooperative learning methods while the U.S. has consistently shown no interest. On the surface, new educational approaches such as the Jigsaw method, appear to be ideal for adoption in American schools because
1. "They teach kids to work on things together and to help kids who are struggling.
2. They teach kids professional behavior such as working in a group and taking responsibility for helping other kids learn part of the curriculum.
3. The goal is to learn the material well and become a well-informed and life-long learner. Kids are not competing against one another for the highest grades.
4. Kids feel less stress and work in a more supportive environment.
5. Kids like it more because instead of being lectured to they have to work together to figure out what to learn. Teachers are less stressed as students are responsible for learning the material. "
The teacher’s role for such approaches becomes more like a tutor, guide and mentor and not a lecturer. That is, everyone including the teacher works together to help solve different aspects of real world problems and everyone takes responsibility for helping with a part of the problem. Better students teach laggards because the best way to learn something even better is to teach another person and because it ensures that everyone knows it’s important that no one is left behind. In contrast to our failing education system, countries such as New Zealand that use such cooperative approaches lead the world in education. Their motto is, learn more with less stress.
In contrast, the U.S. status competition seeking system is rife with violence. According to Michele Borba, Ed.D.,
It is estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. Source: National Education Association. and 15% of all school absenteeism is directly related to fears of being bullied at school.
Young bullies carry a one-in-four chance of having a criminal record by age 30. Study by Leonard Eron and Rowell Huesman.
American schools harbor approximately 2.1 million bullies and 2.7 million victims. Dan Olweus, National School Safety Center.
One in seven students is either a bully or victim.
71% of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school.
So why don’t American schools adopt modern cooperative learning approaches or teach alternatives to violence? Republicans correctly argue that some of the aforementioned innovations are found in for-profit online education. They correctly ask why brick-and-mortar universities and schools are so resistant to educational reform. They point the finger at unions and teachers. However, unions and teachers don’t make decisions about educational reform. They also fails to acknowledge that similar to universities, for-profit schools have typically shown a consistent pattern of focusing their efforts on fund-raising and recruitment as opposed to ensuring high standards and high quality. If the cause of that problem can’t be the teachers or unions than where is the problem? The problem must relate to school administration. Yet, politicians argue that the solution for the U.S. is not to look at science or what has worked in other countries or even to determine why administrations are reluctant to embrace innovation. Rather, politicians argue that we should bully more. They seem to believe that by acting more aggressively (e.g., firing more teachers will motivate other teachers to do a better job).
In recent years, a number of mass murderers were students who were forced out of school, people who were recently fired, or people who had a grudge against the government. Of course, it’s also true that mentally unstable individuals who are paranoid can easily believe they are being persecuted and strike out. That is, their grievances may not be justified. So why not screen people for mental illness who want to buy a gun, who are having trouble in school or at work? It seems the answer for most people who object is that they are fearful of their government. Of course, it’s not just corporations or schools that can promote hostility, governments can do that to.
Our media also promotes status seeking in a number of ways. Incredibly, many TV commentators continue to argue that such wealth is deserved and we shouldn’t hold it against someone for being successful. Has the Walton family accomplished more than people who risk their lives (e.g., law enforcement, fireman, the military) and work to protect us every day? Does this family deserve more than people who dedicate their lives to helping others such as medical personnel, teachers, the clergy, social workers etc? … Did Steve Jobs really do more than the individuals who actually invented the products that his company sold? In the early part of the century, every school child can name the inventors of household products such as the telephone or life-saving inventions such as vaccines but nowadays people don’t know who invented the computer, the mouse, hybrids or wind turbines. Furthermore, such individuals are less likely to profit from their inventions (e.g., the inventor of the computer mouse or FM radio). Rather, corporate leadership profits. This leads to an accurate impression that our society gives greater rewards to those who compete to make money and doesn’t equally reward those who help others. It teaches Americans that being a cooperative person is less rewarding and that makes people in our society uncooperative.
Another way to look at the problem is values. Americans tends to value their personal freedom above everything else but experts on values argue that it is an illogical, immoral and dangerous attitude. For example, is personal freedom really always more important than public safety? Should we let people yell “Fire” in a crowded theater? Should we let people drink and drive? Should we let business make products that are unsafe? Should we let people express their freedom by bullying others? Should we let people express their freedom by allowing them to live reckless lives that end up costing the rest of us a lot of money(e.g., not purchasing health insurance, or making huge short-term corporate profits that later cause economic collapses)? Christians argue that the most important thing to do is to care for and help others. How does that reconcile with those who claim that we should pass laws to make it easier for people to harm others as the above examples have noted?
Scientists believe that culture can make violence seem like a more viable option when an individual is placed in a threatening situation. For example, a very large body of research has found that violent media produces increased aggression in children. If Michael Moore is correct that Americans believe in killing as a way of accomplishing our goals then perhaps we believe that because our educational environment and our media suggests that such things are appropriate. That same literature also suggests that if you teach children that the violence they see in the media is not real as well as teach them alternative solutions to their problems, they are less aggressive and the effects are long-lasting. Many years ago, Dr. Rowell Huesmann demonstrated a school teaching method for removing the connection between observing television violence and then acting on it. It made the children who received the training less aggressive for years. However, once again school administrators and their superiors have been reluctant to adopt these anti-violence methods that have proven to work.
On this point, Michael Moore disagrees
“They’ll say it’s the violent movies and video games that are responsible. Last time I checked, the movies and video games in Japan are more violent than ours – and yet usually fewer than twenty people a year are killed there with guns – and in 2006 the number was two!”
Of course, there are many differences between Japan and the U.S. in relation to factors that we do know influence violence. Perhaps their culture, gun laws or other factors insulate them in ways that would be worth it for the U.S. to try and understand others successful approaches better than we do and to adopt what has been successful elsewhere.
As The Impartial Review news noted in an earlier editorial, we have no national system to address problems associated with the violently mental ill. For example, the Mini-Mental Status examination is a thirty-item questionnaire used to assess the mental status of individuals. Why not ask those questions of everyone obtaining a gun? Also, as noted in the previous article focusing on the victims is a good idea because it makes us see the harm done. It makes us empathize with the victims and counters media messages that glamorize violence.
Violent Crime, Income Inequality, and Regional Culture – Another Look Sociological Focus Volume:18 Issue:3 Dated:(August 1985) Pages:199-208
Author(s): M E Simpson
Violence and U.S. regional culture. Nisbett, Richard E. American Psychologist, Vol 48(4), Apr 1993, 441-449.
by Todd Miller
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