Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Butcher's Mindset

               Our society glorifies violence. I believe that anyone who looks at our society truthfully would agree to that. Nearly all movies, even those made for children, show the good destroying the evil in righteous combat. The same can be said for many video games, and even books.
                I take issue with this because I believe the idea of the 'good' fighting the 'evil' is far removed from reality. Casting someone as evil is a good way to dehumanize them, but it doesn't allow for the truth of the situation to be seen. I'll give an example.
               If a man attempts to kill me with a knife, and I end up killing him instead, it would be easy for me to rationalize that he was evil and stop thinking about the encounter all together. The truth of the matter is this. He was a complex being, with hopes, dreams, desires, people he loved and people who loved him. His motives for trying to kill me were probably complex as well. If I were put into his exact situation, I might have responded in the same way. Thinking of the man I killed in this manner is far messier. It leaves me open to feeling pity, remorse even.
               I personally believe that everything living has an innate spiritual aspect to it. A sliver of the divine, sewn into its being. When I enter into a situation where I am preparing to kill another being (human or animal) I find myself shutting this idea of innate spirituality out of my head. I deny that that being has a spiritual aspect. I like to call this denial the 'butcher's mindset' (a term taken from an old kung fu instructor).
               In my experience, it is damaging to adopt the butcher's mindset. Whenever I am forced to kill something (or prepare to kill someone) my emotions fall flat. I am no longer capable of the same depth of feeling. My introspective tendencies fall away as I try to ignore the reality of what I did. I try to rationalize my actions, as best I can, given my world view. After a few hours, maybe days if it was an emotionally traumatic incident, these side effects tend to fade. For many veterans who have been forced to kill their fellow man, the side effects of that event stay with them for years, if they ever overcome them at all. I personally have a great amount of respect for anyone who kills livestock for a living. If I needed to kill an animal in order to eat meat, I would most likely never eat meat again.
               The butcher's mindset relates back to our over glorification of violence in this way. I noticed that many of the young men I taught when I worked in the middle school had adopted the butcher's mindset in an abstract sense. They thought that killing certain humans was a good thing, perhaps even a fun thing. They thought nothing of killing animals. I believe this is due in large part to the playing of first person shooter video games and because many of them have never actually killed anything. How many virtual murders has a child perpetrated by the time they are ten in our society? For most children the answer is at least over one hundred. Placing cross-hairs over another human form and pulling a trigger is normal, exhilarating, and rewarded. How many of these children have helped their fathers butcher livestock? Very few. They have never been confronted with the reality of killing.
               I'm not advocating that anyone keeps their children away from video games, but I do think it's important to educate our children on this one fact. You pay a spiritual price whenever you kill. The act of killing does damage to the one being killed, but it also damages the perpetrator of the violence, regardless of how righteous their motivations might be.

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