Anatomy of violence


By Arslan Hyder

Violence in its different shapes and forms is a dangerous problem of this globe. In order to understand deep roots of such behavior at individual level we must look into the forces that generate and restrict such behavior. There are two basics forces which are constantly at work in a social individual; they are instinct and conscience. Both these have different origins and workability. Before going deep into the details it is important to know about these two forces.

Instinct is an inborn trait. It is human’s primitive mind in state of nature and works on principles self gratification and pleasure; self gratification to acquire basic needs necessary for survival and security of life and the pleasure which one gets after gratifying such needs. It is therefore clear that it has nothing to do with restrictive notions of morality. Due to this unrestricted nature it justifies extreme behavioral patterns and violence is one among them.

Conscience, on the other hand, is a socially acquired trait of human personality which a social being inculcates into through process of socialization within a society. It works on principle of common good; the driving force behind sense of humanitarianism. It is due to this very nature it is in compliance towards moral ethics and values of a society. This makes it more humane in nature and restricts it from following the unrestrictive violent path of instinct. Unlike instinct it prefers order over chaos in society.

Both these forces are at loggerheads in human personality, they have an inverse relationship to each other. They create different personalities; the higher the conscience the lower would be instinct level of an individual and result would be a human with higher civic sense and moral values. On the other hand the lower the level of conscience the higher would be instinct levels and resultantly we find individuals with more rebellious tendencies ready to follow a violent path.

Every society in the world generates the required level of conscience to beat the self gratification instincts in their individuals so that a social human with humanitarian tendencies could be added in a particular society. No society in the world inculcates the instinct arousal because it would destroy the very nature and essence of society.

If that is the case, then why individuals go violent despite going through process of socialization? What makes them incline to and embrace traits of instinct and relinquish conscience? To answer these questions we have to look into the some minutes details of human needs and instinct in relationship with social institutions within a particular society.

Needs are pre-requisite to life. In order to ensure its survival every living being tries to full fill its basic needs and that phenomenon of living being is guided by their instinct. Humans are not an exception to this rule. In state of nature the fulfillment of these needs was an individual responsibility and this led to war of all against all; this provided the justifications of violence to quench the needs of life. After the advent of cognitive revolution when humans stepped into the world of conscience and built societies the fulfillment of needs were categorized and social institutions were built to fulfill particular needs. This ended the era of the state of nature and era of social being was started.

Over the period of time different revolutions shaped civilizations and social institutions transformed from simple to complex ultimately leading towards modern world characterized by nation states. In these modern societies, the idea of welfare state was generated which aimed at equitable distribution of resources in order to ensure fulfillment of citizens residing within the boundaries of particular state. Due to different reasons this system could not be established evenly in nuke and corner of the world. Some states embraced this policy and others denied. Hence we witness an unequal world. The developed states fulfilled the basic needs and created a sense of responsibility towards society in citizens through inclusive government institutions. On the other hand a large number of states with extractive model of institutions failed to fulfill even basic necessities of their individuals. This resulted in sense of incompliance towards state authorities and lack of responsibility towards the society.

The result of such actions is obvious today; developed societies are characterized by less violence because needs of instinct at individual level are gratified by institutions of society and government machinery has generated an optimum level of satisfaction. Hence we see a sense of conscience teeming with common good in individuals of such societies. On the other hand, plethora of social problems emerges in societies where state machinery collapses and social institutions fail to deliver even basic needs to their members. Individuals lose hope in state authorities and social institutions retreat to behavioral tendencies driven by instinct resulting in sense of insecurity and lack of responsibility. It provides ideal breeding ground for extreme behavioral tendencies like resort to violence.

With causes understood, it is much easier to provide solutions to fix such problems. The policy makers sitting at top level should understand the behavioral tendencies at individual level and find out the core relationship with the social institutions and governmental structures; this would help control such social problems especially in third world countries. Keep it in mind Pakistan is one among them and it’s time to fix these problems before it’s too late.


The writer has Masters in Anthropology from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He is a

development professional and founder of Born Human Foundation. He can be reached at