The dilemma faced in dealing with the destructive tendencies of individuals either in being destructive towards others or themselvesWhile it has been made clear that our destructive tendencies are the result of our defence mechanisms, it must also be noted that their intention, although misdirected, is the protection of the self.

Our defence mechanisms are an evolutionary process that has developed over the millions of years that life has been evolving on this planet. But human defence mechanisms appear to be unique in that all other life forms appear to use their defence mechanisms purely to avoid or confront a physical threat or risk. Because of the civilisation we have constructed that protects us in so many ways from physical risk or threat, the need for that defence mechanism (that it may be argued had a major hand in shaping civilisation) has dwindled when it comes to facing a physical threat.

But the creation of civilisation has created a newer threat; a massing together for protection means we have had to deal far more with the complexities of our social interactions with others. Civilisation and the new social structures essential to its existence and maintenance has brought with it our social development and this has brought about the creation of a sense of self which is an image of who we are that we project outwards in to our environment. It’s our identity.

An image of identity has created a new threat, a threat to the sense of self, a threat of undermining our external social image of ourselves, our identity.

A new role for the defence mechanism has been created. Unfortunately, it’s not even close to being up to the task. The defence mechanism is situated in some of the parts of our brain considered to be primitive, the biology of this means that as they developed long before our higher brain functions and are much simpler, they deal with situations faster because there’s less calculating going on and that the pathways from our senses to our primitive brain parts are faster and more established than to our higher brain functions.

One of the problems faced is that, when our defence mechanisms sense a threat, their first reaction is to shut down or reduce the effectiveness of all systems considered unnecessary to survival, this, unfortunately, seems to involve shutting down or reducing the effectiveness of the higher brain functions. In essence, the defence mechanism takes over.

Now this is where the problems start; our defence mechanism is a simple part of the brain in terms of its calculating and analysing abilities, it also has only 2 solutions to problems: Fight or Flight. Now consider that it’s faced with threats and risks of the complex nature of social interactions and trying to live in some form of harmony with an environment far more crowded than we are, by design, built to cope with.

The nature of the threats and risks we face today are very complex, and yet, by nature, our defence mechanisms apply solutions that fit in to one of either of two categories; fight, or flight.

Now we go back to the “threat or risk to a sense of self”. The self in essentially an image of who we are, in essence, an illusion. It’s not who we really are. The illusion is extremely complex, it has to be, because we have to believe it in order to sell it to others. And hence when something threatens to throw that sense of self in to doubt, it is perceived as a threat by the defence mechanism that then applies its dichotomous solutions to the perceived threat. Something else of note is; the more fragile the sense of self, the more likely there will be an instant and violent response to any perceived threat.

If the threat to the sense of self is external then the chosen solution is usually either a fight or flight response from the external perceived threat. This is the destruction of others and can also lead to self destructive choices. If the threat to the sense of self is internal, then an external surrogate is often found via the mechanism of projection. This also leads to destructive and self destructive behaviour.

A psychological or emotional threat to a sense of self cannot be confronted internally because it risks throwing the illusion of identity in to doubt. In essence, it is perceived by the defence mechanism as the self, dying. The defence mechanism, in this role, is about the survival of the self. A repression of this conflict, it has been suggested, leads to acts of suicide, i.e. the ultimate act of self destruction. The projection of this conflict, i.e. finding an external surrogate, gives the means to attack the conflict as another person, i.e destructive towards others. This is essentially the defence mechanism applying its dichotomous solutions of fight or flight to the complex problems of a threat to our identity. Suicide is essentially a protection of the sense of self at the expense of the physical self, the ultimate act of self destruction. All violence against others is the defence mechanism’s fight response to a perceived threat. It attacks what it perceives is the source of threat. In the simple act of defending a physical threat it will attack what it perceives is threatening it, but in the complex issue of a threat to a sense of self, the solution is once again to simply attack. Unfortunately applying a simple solution to a complex problem usually leads to an inaccurate response.

But here’s the crunch and the dilemma of the title; It appears that information about the role the defence mechanism plays is itself perceived by the defence mechanism as an attack upon the sense of self because it throws in to doubt the authorship and autonomy of the self, in that it shows that something that is not self, is in us and has the power to influence, if not control, our behaviour and responses. This is the essence of the resistance to information derived from psychological study and why attempts to inform are met with attacks.

We are once again defending our sense of self and the illusion of sole authorship over our behaviour is a vital aspect of that sense of self.

How does this apply to the problem of the culture of violence of youths within pockets of our society?

Let’s remember that life is full of “threats to our sense of self” which we all, for the most part, deal with on a daily basis without feeling the need to destroy ourselves or others. Day in and day out we deal with issues which elevate our stresses and anxieties (the modern words for fear). We exist in an elevated state of fear, and that is the price we pay for forming a society.

Now the children of society are brought up to be integrate in to our society and cope with the price we have to pay in terms of dealing with the fears that living in a society places upon us. They face being entered in to a world of fear and doubt; a place that their defence mechanisms are going to consider as a risk and a threat to self. The pressures of coping with such demands, especially if they are not equipped, via education, will inevitably lead to some drop outs, some people that cannot handle that stress and turn away from society.

How does this give us an answer to the problem of the culture of violence of youths within pockets of our society?

The illusion of a sense of self is something we begin to develop as children. It isn’t until we are adults that the illusion, the psychological and emotional defences and all the prejudices that involves, are developed to the point of successful integration (although it may be argued that some people never achieve that integration). Once an adult, the defences to our illusion of self are well installed, so information that might lead us to doubt our sole authorship will be perceived as a grave threat to our identity. As a child we are developing and it is a well known and proven fact that children are more susceptible to learning as “blank pages” than adults are. I would suggest that most of this is due to the resistance our acquired prejudices place upon our ability to learn.

So if children are easier to educate, then it is there that we must educate them better in to dealing with the integration with society and the price we pay in terms of the emotional and psychological threat that places upon our sense of self. This can only have a good affect on reducing the instances of those children, that when faced with the fear of entering a responsible society and the defence mechanisms perceiving and interpreting that society as a threat to their developing sense of self, choosing, instead to rebel against that society and to live outside its convention.

This will become a cumulative effect as the children will one day become parents, and as we are well aware, that part of the problem of the culture of violence is the inadequate understanding and coping mechanisms that many parents have for dealing with integration with society and that most of the youths that pose this problem come from the homes of these parents. It is natural then for the problem to become cumulative.

This is why education is the key to reducing violence in society in order to make the integration of children in to society a less feared obstacle and equip them to better face the obstacles ahead. This would make the cure cumulative.

There is no simple answer and this is a truth we need to accept. It’s a long hard road to reduce the violence in our society and there are no easy steps!