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PJ Online | Onlooker (Violence: the causes and effects/Mound of mystery)

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The Pharmaceutical Journal
Vol 268 No 7186 p260
23 February 2002

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Onlooker

Violence: the causes and effects [more]
Mound of mystery [more]


Violence: the causes and effects

Violence presents a problem throughout the gamut of human existence, from the subtler strife of the domestic hearth to the political and international arena. Far more study of how it operates between individuals and between social groups needs to be carried out, and unless we take it seriously and undertake more research, driven by a sense of urgency, we shall suffer increasingly from its evil effects. The argument that humans have always acted violently towards one another since the beginning of tribal existence is no legitimate reason for not facing it today.

Interpersonal violence and the factors that prompt it are difficult to explain. An individual may suffer from a lack of self-esteem and feel a sense of inadequacy that prompts him or her to take an arrogant and antagonistic attitude to others who may be perceived as less disabled in the struggle for existence. An unstable temperament that makes someone unduly sensitive to criticism may induce the feeling that it is necessary to boost self-assertion. Throughout history drug habits, notably abuse of alcohol, have resulted in the removal of the self-critical factor and balanced judgement that normally prevent people behaving antisocially.

In our own time we have to contend not only with alcohol excess but with a host of more dangerous drug-induced effects. Apart from the pharmacological factor, the drug culture involves people in robbing and murdering in order to pay for their habit, and to maintain the illicit commerce in psychoactive agents. Health care workers, schoolteachers and ministers of religion all seem to be under threat of violence nowadays, and there is no safety in the public places of our cities, or even our villages.

Political violence, too, has made alarming strides in recent years. It is said, with scant distinction, that violence may be differentiated from force in general by being contrary to accepted law, which permits a degree of violent restraint. Terrorism is held up as the supreme example of political violence, but has never satisfactorily been defined. It has been analysed as political killing of illegitimate nature, directed at innocent persons instead of the creators of the situation it seeks to redress. Alternatively it is regarded as low-level warfare against harmless civilians. Political violence includes the use of force against an existing establishment and against minorities unable to defend themselves against vast majorities.

An editorial commentary in The Lancet for 3 November 2001 points out that "violence leads to death and disability, no matter who the perpetrator", so that doctors must become involved in the situations which foster violence. One social force that has political implications may well be violent films or television programmes, which reach large numbers of children as well as adults.

Indeed, the question of whether violent movies make violent children features in The Lancet for 9 February. It has been shown that watching wrestling matches, for example, is associated with increased use of cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs, victimisation and carrying weapons. Curiously enough, girls have been found to be more affected in this respect than boys. Children watching wrestling, boxing and other martial arts show greater disposition to violent behaviour in school. However, personality and social influences of home and school apparently play a more prominent role.

It is important to remember that amiable relationships between humans are formed by adopting an outgoing attitude. An active imagination inculcates the sterling virtue of compassion — feeling with someone else — and powerfully inhibits the tendency to adopt an antagonistic stance. Conversely, any lack of imagination, and therefore inability to sympathise, disposes towards a confrontational attitude.

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Mound of mystery

Silbury Hill, that impressive mound north of the Bath road a mile south of Avebury in Wiltshire, has a chequered history that shows no sign of ending. Its diameter at the base is about 180m and at the summit some 30m, and it stands some 40m high, with a flattened crest. Its angle of slope exceeds 30 degrees, and during periods of heavy rain the surrounding ditch becomes a veritable moat. The curious thing about Silbury is that archaeologists differ fundamentally over when it was raised, by whom, and for what purpose. Was it a burial mound, the most obvious guess, or a celebratory monument to an ancient battle? No one knows, for evidence of these functions is lacking.

I remember ascending Silbury long ago, with an archaeological society, and was struck by its exceeding steepness, unless you picked a transverse route. That was before public access, for reasons of conservation, was highly restricted, some 20 years ago. Long before that, the mound had become victim of many insults by amateur explorers. In 1777, under the direction of the Duke of Northumberland and Colonel Drax, a shaft was sunk into it without significant findings. In 1773 an attempt to plant trees on the summit platform revealed a human skeleton, a bone-handled iron knife and a Viking bridle-bit. In 1849 Dean Mereweather made a half-hearted attempt to drive a tunnel into the side.

In his 1883 book on the antiquities of North Wiltshire, Rev A. C. Smith of Calne remarked that he believed Silbury to be sepulchral, but admitted that the evidence was lacking. In 1867 Smith had tried to discover the link between the mound and the ancient Roman road which skirted it, and had decided that the road had been deliberately diverted from the straight to avoid it.

In the November 2001 issue (No 176) of Current Archaeology the recent history of Silbury has been discussed in view of the increasing instability of the mound and the threat posed to explorers. On 29 May 2000, a deep hole appeared on the summit, for no obvious reason, and the situation has been monitored ever since. A further subsidence appeared in December 2000, and a major seismic study was initiated, so far unpublished. Access had become dangerous and rain might worsen the position.

Meanwhile, in the world of pagans and students of the extraterrestrial, strange stories were circulating regarding the appearance of crop circles, orange lights and strange extraterrestrial visitors about the mound. Apparently there are some whose thirst for supernatural marvels is leading them into perilous paths of exploration from which both Silbury itself and its unauthorised visitors stand to suffer injury.

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