Most violence in the world is motivated by personal morality – Quartz

From Tage Rai, Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management:

What motivates someone to be violent? This is a question many people are asking in the wake of the recent mass shootings in California. Most explanations tend to revolve around the core assumption that violence is wrong. If someone is violent, something must be broken in their moral psychology—they are intrinsically evil, they lack self-control, they are selfish, or they fail to understand the pain they cause. However, it turns out that this fundamental assumption is mistaken…….

I looked at violence across cultures and history with my colleague Alan Fiske of the University of California, Los Angeles. We analyzed records of all kinds of violence, ranging from war to torture to genocide to homicide. While this was rather depressing work, it also led to some very interesting findings. We identified a pattern in that violence that was both predictive and explanatory. The commonality was that the primary motivations were moral. This means that the perpetrators of violence felt like what they are doing was morally right. In fact, when they were committing the act, they perceived that not acting would be morally wrong…..

Read more at Most violence in the world is motivated by personal morality – Quartz

23 Replies to “Most violence in the world is motivated by personal morality – Quartz”

  1. Absolute Rubbish…any person of intellect recognises the violent thought and either works through it spiritually or through fundamental process of right and wrong,I will not except the process of perverted logic that allows a caveat for violent behaviour. In extremes the premise has some merit….if a family is threatened etc.The premise that instigators of violence have a conscience of doing right is flawed. Governments are the biggest perpetrators of violence because they have no collective conscience. Individuals that perpetrate violence do so through sub intelligence ability to reckon beyond their actions..most violence is perpetrated through a deep seated revenge intelligence.Morally correct people see past their actions.

    1. Their point is we don’t all share the same morality. In some parts of the world it may be morally correct to kill your sister if she commits infidelity, kill someone because they steal your bicycle/goat, or kill someone because they don’t say their prayers correctly.

      Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion–several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven. ~ Samuel Clemmens

      1. Colin, I listen to your comment and I want to agree,but I cannot..religion and morality have been mixed into an elixir of hatred and excuse…a moral person will see his hatred for the immoral seed that it is.. I believe the author is confusing morality for fanaticism….and when the fanatic believes he is right,he/she can commit any deed of violence with a clear conscience…it is a perverted premise..remove religion,because it has become perverted and is an easy target…man is intrinsically a moral creature…In those cultures that permit stoning of a sister…they know their moral compass has been realigned…yet they give into a crime of hatred and loathing…morally they know they are committing a crime….they allow false righteousness to to overwhelm an inner hatred and acceptance of violence..Religion and morality have long parted company my friend.

      2. We are getting into the realms of what constitutes natural ethics/justice and what is perverted/malformed ethics. Some people spend a lifetime debating this. The works of ethologist Konrad Lorenz provide plenty of food for thought.

        I have found the missing link between the higher ape and civilized man; it is we. ~ Konrad Lorenz

  2. Religion and morality”have long parted” is not true. Yes as people we do tend to stuff things up. We could argue which religions? Not all religions are share the same fundamental moral beliefs. most don’t. True religion, is sane and peacable. True religion will always point to the higher being, being God, the creator of the universe and mankind. True religion wont excuse its own narrow mindedness, once discovered.
    The essence of true religion is that the supreme deity, being God, the creator, all knowing, all powerful, omni present, has the final say and is the only true judge and discerner of intentions.
    The problem can be clearly seen: the more ‘knowledge we have aquired the deeper into depravity we go, the less peacefull and neighbourly mankind has become-overall the world is looking more bleak than centuries ago.
    There is such a thing called deceit. The one and only true God isthe only one who really knows the core of a persons life, thoughts,etc. The problem is when people, made in the One and only true God’s image take it upon themselves to ultimately devise and discerne what is good, what is bad, what is right from wrong, ignoring outrightly the supreme diety, God. The further out into space and the more that is ‘discovered’ by DNA will reveal more and more about this supreme diety. If we take time to listen and even enquire of Him, you may find very surprising results about yourself, the universe and those around you.
    To embrace God should never be an excuse to excuse our shortcomings. Neither should it be an excuse for those who are against, to fob off what is being revealed and what has already been revealed with regards to morality, virtue, deceit, wholesomness, purity, peace, longsuffering, patience, kindness, love,etc
    Seek Him with all your heart, keep seeking, keep on knocking and the door will be opened for you to discover the greatest frind of all time. There is no darkness in Him. There is only Light. Don’t be so stupid and ignore his patience and longsuffering.
    May you discover true religion, The amazing, wonderful Creator of all good things.

    1. People have fought wars for thousands of years over differences as to what is the True Religion.
      Only when leaders from different religions can thrash out a set of principles that they all support is there any hope for peace.
      The Golden Rule would be a start:

      1. Treat others as you would have them treat you.
      2. Do not treat others in ways you would not want to be treated.
    2. Frank, I beg to differ…I believe that religion and morality has in fact long been parted..believing in God is one blindly believe that the church and religion has the blind faith of morality at hand is misguided.

      One simply needs to study history,the Vatican has an appalling record on morality in the middle ages…their have been many popes who where merely tax collecting immoral perpetrators of violence and oppression….does that mean the Vatican is,of course not…there have many superb popes…but do not cloud judgement because of a religious doctrine…this is exactly the problem the modern world faces with Muslim fundamentalists…do you really believe that the knights Templar did not commit crimes of hideous means against the Muslims in the crusades,out of the Vatican…to GOD ????

      Each man must face the creator at some point and explain himself…each man will have sins to explain….try talking your way out of that one.

      Live the Truth.

    3. Hi Frank. In response to:

      “The problem is when people, made in the One and only true God’s image take it upon themselves to ultimately devise and discerne what is good, what is bad, what is right from wrong, ignoring outrightly the supreme diety, God.”

      I guess until God pops down and explains what is good and what is bad, what other choice do believers have than to decide for themselves? A collection of short stories written by a bunch of Bronze Age farmers and self-appointed prophets isn’t useful at all today. That collection which we call the bible is so full of conflicting moral messages like love your neighbour; stone your wife; kill anyone who grows the wrong crops side-by-side, or touches a pig, etc etc etc etc; gives plenty scope to justify extremist behaviour. Anyone who deludes themselves that this is the word of God should be standing outside churches killing people for not bringing a lamb to be slaughtered at the door. [Gentle readers: Please don’t do that].

  3. It is bankrupt debating, to use extremist caricatures to try to validate assertions.
    The decline of (Christian) religion and the rise of agnosticism and atheism of has been concomitant with the almost total loss in Western society of true morality, both personal and international.


    It’s all about Self Esteem:

    What motivates someone to be violent? The article says “The commonality was that the primary motivations were moral.”

    I think you have to go one level lower to get the true motivation, because morality is merely a social judgment that varies with culture as he has noted. One man’s violence is another man’s survival skill. What motivates anyone to do anything, irrespective of culture or time in history is self-esteem. Every action anyone is about to take has to pass the test: “how will this affect my self esteem?”. This includes writing well researched papers, blogs and responding with emails, incidentally.

    So what do I mean by self esteem? If you think about self esteem hard enough you’ll conclude that self esteem is actually the future tense of survival. Survival is, obviously, a past tense thing. Survival is a statement that you just survived your most recent threat or challenge (whatever it may have been); that you’re still here to enjoy the feeling of having survived it.

    Self-esteem, on the other hand is about believing that you have the right stuff to survive the next threat/challenge; that you’ve got life all figured out; that you’ve got the right tools for the job, and you’re pretty well set to survive well into the future. Every moment that we survive reinforces the (often mistaken) notion that our currently held beliefs, behaviors, skills and knowledge are what got us through the day safely, and those same beliefs, behaviors, skills and knowledge are the right ones to have if you are going to matter. You can think of humans as machines that are constantly striving to improve their self esteem. This is where morality gets created, since people with similar beliefs, skills, behaviors etc will recognize them in others and collectively label them as morally right.

    The problem is we are inherently “self delude-able” beings. [Yes I know it’s not a word, but gullible has the wrong shade of meaning]. The point is we can convince ourselves that anything might be contributing to our self esteem. The example used of mom spanking her kid works here. Mom wants to boost self esteem by being a good parent; the kid is rebellious and could damage her drive for self esteem as a good mom so she spanks the kid to be less rebellious. Depending on the kid’s level of understanding, empathy, need for love, socio pathological tendencies etc, he/she will readjust what matters to his/her self esteem by either behaving as mom insists, or rebelling even more strongly. Either way it’s a battle of self esteems. Donald Trump is doing a similar thing at the moment: he can only maintain his self esteem by being sheered for being controversial, and being the centre of attention, irrespective of the nonsense he sprouts. I assume that comes from a lifetime of surrounding himself with panderers.

    The point is if “shooting people” becomes a contributor to a person’s self esteem for what ever reason (eg it looks cool in movies; or the noise/recoil makes you feel powerful; or killing at a distance appears to your inner coward; or merely because the simplicity of “an eye for an eye” appeals), then that person, if they have easy access to a gun, will shoot lots of people because it’s the right thing to do (for them).

    Having said all this, if I had to point to just one thing that is responsible for the increased desire to do violence, it is the ease with which it can be executed these days. It’s no coincidence that the increase in violence coincides with a worldwide glut of cheap and powerful weapons that can do great harm at great distances in a kind of God-like manner. I also include the Internet in this. The keyboard is the weapon of the intellectual (but even more cowardly) terrorist.

    Of course boys (mostly boys) with no parent-instilled values are going to reach for guns or keyboards; especially when they get so much fame, accolades, street-cred, or coolness on TV for doing it. How else can they feel like they matter? Religion here plays only a subsidiary role and is usually evident only when the perpetrator needs an authority figure/system to maintain their delusion of rightness. There have been plenty of non-religious acts of violence since we climbed out of the trees.

    I’m a well informed atheist, but even I can see that blaming religion for terrorism is like blaming dogs for rabies. You’ll never cure rabies if you convince yourself dogs are the problem.

    Want to end violence? Stop manufacturing ammunition.

    1. Excellent assessment. However, “self esteem” at one extreme can equate to just “self”, the antithesis always of the Christian ethic. And approval of the ‘tribe’ in these days of (anti)social media means approval of the jerks who mostly populate it. They will usually scorn any quiescent religion as being NOT cool.

    2. Committing violence because it is easy..I think you have missed the point entirely..the premise of the discussion is violence is a morality given..The moral person must be just…hence,why would he commit an act of violence without due course ( defense of self,property and family) … It’s not about God…it’s about the individual accepting responsibility for his/her actions…and to be just within the community at large…immoral morality is what feeds hatred within the world…because the perpetrators of extreme violence work on the premise that their world of understanding is right, they fail to work through the ramifications of their actions…they are indeed backward emotionally,spiritually and they are fundamentally incapable of looking beyond their actions…how has the act of violence A) – increased their well being spiritually…B) – How has is justified their moral position…. it’s a double negative…perpetrators of violence are justifying their own hatred,with a caveat of false righteousness…it is a false morality..which is to get back to the subject…to forgive violence through morality is the superior sin.

    3. Borrowing from Konrad Lorenz, behaviors (and moralities) have evolved over the millennia, along with our genes. Aggressive behavior towards other tribes ensured your tribe was less likely to be attacked and improved the chances of your gene pool surviving. Society is evolving at a faster pace than our genes/behaviors, however, where now it makes sense to cooperate with other tribes rather than kill them. Especially with the development of more and more powerful weapons and mutually-assured destruction (MAD). So there is a conflict between primitive drives within all of us and the needs of modern society. Some channel these drives into violent sports or other less destructive paths. Others don’t. Religious justification is just lipstick on the pig.

      1. Yes violent sport is the bloodlust outage many require…soccer…rugby League…boxing..apparently it is a good thing…to leave one’s bloodlust at the game so to speak.

  5. Barking dogs occasionally bite, but laughing men hardly ever shoot.

    Bureaucrats are the barking dogs of democracy !

    1. The problem is that some view this as a god-given moral standard:

      On her way home, Farkhunda, a religious student and devout Muslim, stopped at the Shah-e Do-Shamshera shrine for brief prayers, her mother said.

      According to eyewitnesses, Farkhunda had an argument with the caretaker of the shrine over amulets — pieces of paper with verses from the Koran scrawled on them — that faith-healers sell to customers claiming they cure diseases or solve problems.

      Farkhunda regarded the amulets un-Islamic, Hajera Bibi said.

      The caretaker accused Farkhunda of burning a copy of the Koran, a claim that incited the frenzied mob attack against her……

      The attack, which culminated with the crowd throwing her burned body into the Kabul River, took place in broad daylight and in full view of police.

      From RFE.

    2. I can’t believe I’m wading back in – but here goes:
      Michael, on the face of it the Ten Commandments seem a pretty good start for a legal and moral system. The trouble with all “higher power” invoked rules, regardless of the particular belief they support, is that they always come with an “or else” clause. In the Christian adaptation, that “or else” is everlasting burning in hell. That sounds pretty violent to me, and it is what justifies indoctrinated soldiers of that faith to take it upon themselves to create their own version of hell on earth for lesser believers that don’t meet expectations.

      Until “treat others as you would have them treat you”; and “do not treat others in ways you would not want to be treated” (Colin’s words elsewhere in the blog) are taught to children as self-evident and inherently rewarding (i.e. without a violent “or else” clause), societies are always going to find a justification of violence. In fact they’ll get pretty efficient at it. A few soldiers of anyone’s army today could wipe out entire 18th Century armies and be home for dinner.

      We all have violence in us; it’s the law of the jungle and explains why we are here and the poor sods our ancestors killed off aren’t. That works fine for individuals but it can’t work for societies, in fact it destroys societies. If we want a have peaceful societies the first (possibly the only) thing we have to do is teach our offspring those two simple self-evident morals when Colin mentioned earlier.

      1. Frank, it is invalid to suggest that any Christian ethic would look to provide “hell on earth” for unbelievers. Except possibly for the hill-billy American invented versions, anyone with even the rudiments would know that the NEW covenant since the time of Christ was exactly as Colin said (i.e. to quote Jesus, “the greatest commandment is to love your neighbour as yourself”).

      2. “Love your neighbour as yourself” teaches us how to behave towards others when they are in need, but skirts the issue of how to treat your neighbour when he is behaving badly……when he is not the Good Samaritan, but has joined a bikie gang, is dealing drugs, or is sending money to ISIS. How do we correct his behaviour?

      3. Examples are abundant of people considered to be behaving badly (prostitutes – tax collectors) being successfully regenerated in Bible stories after benign interaction.

      4. Trevor, That narrows the issue down even further. Benign interaction may have a reasonable chance of success with prostitutes and tax collectors but is unlikely to succeed with people exhibiting violent behavior. The Old Testament suggests that people like bikie gangs, ISIS or Vladimir Putin should be treated violently (David and Goliath) whereas the New Testament is more submissive, suggesting passive resistance.

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