There are seemingly inconsequential moments in life that one carries around because they are, in retrospect, highly informative. Here's such a moment from my own life:
It's back in the early 80's. I'm riding (not illegally at the time) in the bed of a pick-up with a friend's two boys, ages six and eight. We are crawling along in traffic in downtown Charlottesville.
The two boys have brand new toy laser guns, of which I, in my peacenik heart, do not approve at all. They are taking aim at people as we ride along, pretending to shoot them, having a high old time. Shades of me, decades ago, the pow-pow-pow-you're-dead kid, shooting the neighborhood gang with sticks. A part of me I've long considered obliterated by years of peace and love.
"Hey Martha!" the eight-year-old says, offering me his brand new toy gun, "You do it!"
The offer is generous as the gun is new. My moralistic mind is caught between wanting to reward generosity and wanting to preach against guns. Any guns. Even toy guns.
Generosity wins. I take the gun and hold it gingerly, pointing down.What I took with me from this incident is a personal belief that, no matter how strong your convictions, your religion, your practice, violence remains a part of the human make-up. We are what we are, no matter how hard we try to be what we're not. And that we ought to be careful which parts of our make-up we nourish in the name of having fun.
"Shoot something!" shout the boys. "It's no fun if you don't shoot something!"
Ah, the slippery slope of toys. I raise the laser gun and point at a passing fire hydrant, pull the trigger, and politely say "kapow."
"Yeah!" the boys bellow. "Shoot something else!".
At that moment we're passing a little old lady who's creeping along the sidewalk. She's the age and shape of all the little old ladies who have held me up in grocery stores by stopping their carts in the middle of the aisle while they read endless labels. I feel a flickering hunger for revenge in my well-disciplined, peaceful heart. The pow-pow kid is still right there inside me. Starved for action. Ready to rumble. I raise the laser, I take aim, I shoot. "Kapow!" I sing out.
To my shame, I realize I am having fun.
Our culture's romance with astonishingly violent video games has long made me nervous. So it was with interest that I read a small article in yesterday's Washington Post that cites a study done at Iowa State University, firmly linking violent video games to violent thought and action.
In its review of data, the new research found that exposure to violent video games was associated with aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition and aggressive "affect." It desensitizes users and is associated with lack of empathy and a lack of "prosocial" behavior.I couldn't reach the actual study. It's published in Psychological Bulletin, which requires a subscription to view. But just reading the Post's summation was enough to take me back to that pick-up truck, that laser gun, and that fantasy.