conditioning is like the famous case of Pavlov's dogs you
learned about in Psychology 101: The dogs learned to associate
the ringing of the bell with food, and, once conditioned,
the dogs could not hear the bell without salivating.
Japanese were masters at using classical conditioning with
their soldiers. Early in World War II, Chinese prisoners
were placed in a ditch on their knees with their hands bound
behind them. And one by one, a select few Japanese soldiers
would go into the ditch and bayonet "their" prisoner to
death. This is a horrific way to kill another human being.
Up on the bank, countless other young soldiers would cheer
them on in their violence. Comparatively few soldiers actually
killed in these situations, but by making the others watch
and cheer, the Japanese were able to use these kinds of
atrocities to classically condition a very large audience
to associate pleasure with human death and suffering. Immediately
afterwards, the soldiers who had been spectators were treated
to sake, the best meal they had had in months, and so-called
comfort girls. The result? They learned to associate committing
violent acts with pleasure.
The Japanese found these kinds of techniques to be extraordinarily
effective at quickly enabling very large numbers of soldiers
to commit atrocities in the years to come. Operant conditioning
(which we will look at shortly) teaches you to kill, but
classical conditioning is a subtle but powerful mechanism
that teaches you to like it.
This technique is so morally reprehensible that there are
very few examples of it in modern US military training,
but there are some clear-cut examples of it being done by
the media to our children. What is happening to our children
is the reverse of the aversion therapy portrayed in the
movie A Clockwork Orange. In A Clockwork Orange,
a brutal sociopath, a mass murderer, is strapped to a chair
and forced to watch violent movies while he is injected
with a drug that nauseates him. So he sits and gags and
retches as he watches the movies. After hundreds of repetitions
of this, he associates violence with nausea, and it limits
his ability to be violent.
time a child plays an interactive video game, he is learning
the exact same conditioned reflex skills as a soldier or
police officer in training.
are doing the exact opposite: Our children watch vivid pictures
of human suffering and death, learning to associate it with
their favorite soft drink and candy bar or their girlfriend's
After the Jonesboro shootings, one of the high-school teachers
told me how her students reacted when she told them about
the shootings at the middle school. "They laughed," she
told me with dismay. A similar reaction happens all the
time in movie theaters when there is bloody violence. The
young people laugh and cheer and keep right on eating popcorn
and drinking pop. We have raised a generation of barbarians
who have learned to associate violence with pleasure, like
the Romans cheering and snacking as the Christians were
slaughtered in the Coliseum.
The result is a phenomenon that functions much like AIDS,
which I call AVIDS--Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency
Syndrome. AIDS has never killed anybody. It destroys your
immune system, and then other diseases that shouldn't kill
you become fatal. Television violence by itself does not
kill you. It destroys your violence immune system and conditions
you to derive pleasure from violence. And once you are at
close range with another human being, and it's time for
you to pull that trigger, Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency
Syndrome can destroy your midbrain resistance.
of Violence, Peace, and Conflict, Volume 3, p.159
1999 by Academic Press. All rights of reproduction in any