Methods in this Madness: Desensitization
the military increases the killing rate of soldiers in combat
is instructive, because our culture today is doing the same
thing to our children. The training methods militaries use
are brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning,
and role modeling. I will explain these in the military
context and show how these same factors are contributing
to the phenomenal increase of violence in our culture.
Brutalization and desensitization are what happen at boot
camp. From the moment you step off the bus you are physically
and verbally abused: countless pushups, endless hours at
attention or running with heavy loads, while carefully trained
professionals take turns screaming at you. Your head is
shaved, you are herded together naked and dressed alike,
losing all individuality. This brutalization is designed
to break down your existing mores and norms, and to accept
a new set of values that embrace destruction, violence,
and death as a way of life. In the end, you are desensitized
to violence and accept it as a normal and essential survival
skill in your brutal new world.
Something very similar to this desensitization toward violence
is happening to our children through violence in the media,
but instead of 18-year-olds, it begins at the age of 18
months when a child is first able to discern what is happening
on television. At that age, a child can watch something
happening on television and mimic that action. But it isn't
until children are six or seven years old that the part
of the brain kicks in that lets them understand where information
comes from. Even though young children have some understanding
of what it means to pretend, they are developmentally unable
to distinguish clearly between fantasy and reality.
young children see somebody shot, stabbed, raped, brutalized,
degraded, or murdered on TV, to them it is as though it
were actually happening. To have a child of three, four,
or five watch a "splatter" movie, learning to relate to
a character for the first 90 minutes and then in the last
30 minutes watch helplessly as that new friend is hunted
and brutally murdered is the moral and psychological equivalent
of introducing your child to a friend, letting her play
with that friend, and then butchering that friend in front
of your child's eyes. And this happens to our children hundreds
upon hundreds of times.
Sure, they are told: "Hey, it's all for fun. Look, this
isn't real, it's just TV." And they nod their little heads
and say, "okay." But they can't tell the difference.
Can you remember a point in your life or in your children's
lives when dreams, reality, and television were all jumbled
together? That's what it is like at that level of psychological
development. That's what the media is doing to them.
Journal of the American Medical Association published the
definitive epidemiological study on the impact of TV violence.
The research demonstrated what happened in numerous nations
after television made its appearance as compared to nations
and regions without TV. The two nations or regions being
compared are demographically and ethnically identical; only
one variable is different: the presence of television. In
every nation, region, or city with television, there is
an immediate explosion of violence on the playground, and
within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate.
Why 15 years? That is how long it takes for the brutalization
of a three to five-year-old to reach the "prime crime age."
That is how long it takes for you to reap what you have
sown when you brutalize and desensitize a three-year-old.
Today the data linking violence in the media to violence
in society are superior to those linking cancer and tobacco.
Hundreds of sound scientific studies demonstrate the social
impact of brutalization by the media. The Journal of the
American Medical Association concluded that "the introduction
of television in the 1950's caused a subsequent doubling
of the homicide rate, i.e., long-term childhood exposure
to television is a causal factor behind approximately one
half of the homicides committed in the United States, or
approximately 10,000 homicides annually." The article went
on to say that "...if, hypothetically, television technology
had never been developed, there would today be 10,000 fewer
homicides each year in the United States, 70,000 fewer rapes,
and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults" (June 10, 1992).
of Violence, Peace, and Conflict, Volume 3, p.159
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