Aristotle was wrong. Well, about a lot of things: the inferiority of women; an Earth-centered universe; spontaneous generation for some species. I guess we should be pleased that his early empiricism got anything right since he spent so much time with Plato.

          Aristotle’s ethics and the observations supporting it still resonate. But, his psychologizing take on the dramatic experience gets refuted daily.

          Writing just after the great Greek dramatists, Aristotle advanced the notion of catharsis. A few years back, I returned to him to get a full explanation. Turns out all we have is very brief considering the big deal English teachers make of it.

          As a “purging,” catharsis supposedly cleanses people of unhealthy emotions by portraying those emotions dramatically: Watch this. Get it out of your system. Avoid it in real life.

          Of course, Aristotle was wrong. Studies over the past 100 years or so have shown that watching violence actually desensitizes spectators, makes them numb to the horrors they’ve seen, makes such actions more, not less, acceptable.

          One of the more famous examples was the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971 when students chosen as punishers just kept increasing the (simulated) torture of prisoner students.

          Philosopher Hannah Arendt had articulated the condition earlier while covering Adolf Eichmann’s1961 trial for his major role in Hitler’s Final Solution to rid Europe of all Jews and other “undesirables” through extermination. She cited how people become numb to the evil surrounding them, carrying on as if nothing was amiss, as “the banality of evil.”

          Evidently, the human ability to adapt has a dark side. Aristotle might have reached the same conclusion had he assessed the violence Athens inflicted upon its supposed allies at the time they were watching those great plays. Euripides even criticized that hypocrisy.

          Tipper Gore gained notoriety – and infamy in liberal circles – for her campaign in the 1980s to get warning labels on record albums (I still own a few) with lyrics that were overtly sexual, violent or treated drug use as an accepted norm. (Yes, I was among those making fun of her.)

          But, Gore had an M.A. in psychology – 20th century, not Fourth Century BCE. She knew how impressionable young minds are, how ideas become standardized.

          Besides, seeking record jacket elucidation of the contents is not much different than a label on a can of beans or the motion picture rating system.

          At about the time of Gore’s campaign, other goody-two-shoes took aim at violent video games – with points assessed for murder and mayhem. And, their criticism reflects the conclusions of modern research. The violence players immerse themselves is unreal – and constant. The norm.

          Disingenuous media moguls argue  that the smorgasbord of violence they shovel our way has no real effect on us. I doubt they tout claim, that same ineffectiveness when selling air time or product placement.

          The unreality of science fiction characters and over-the-top blockbuster extravaganzas makes their high body counts equally unreal.

          The proliferation of movies based on the Marvel and DC comic “universes”  and video games adds another dash of unreality to the violence to further desensitize the viewers. Heck, they’re comic book characters. The viciousness, carnage and evil doesn’t matter – except how it affects our grey matter.

          Americans grow up watching fantasy violence that carries no real consequences. So, acting out that violence in real space/time seems normal. And the results are becoming all too regular.

          I’m a First Amendment kind of guy: Free free-thinking!

          I’m also a facts first adherent. Educating people to the effects of violent content and letting people know what they are buying is a point of honesty though I imagine parental monitoring is is no easy task in these social media days. Kids’ brains are still forming. What they put into them matters as much as the food they eat.

          And, it’s not just the youngsters whose brains and minds are in danger.

          Adults living on a steady diet of Faux News and Donald Trump show how easily the outrageous becomes normalized. Some people eagerly “go along to get along.” But, their loudly distorted fantasies have precipitated real violence.

          Trump is so consistently vile and outrageous that avowed Christians and once respectable Republicans don’t even blink when supporting his proud bigotry and misogyny, his seminal grift and even an attempted coup. That’s just the Trumpian norm.

          So, he feels free to repost a 2020 threat: “If you (expletive deleted) around with us, if you do something bad to us, we are going to do things to you that have never been done before.”

          Trump, too, should come with a warning label: Dangerous to the republic.

          (Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)

Desensitizing us to ultra-violence

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