No cure for violence of natural born killers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 March, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 March, 1999, 12:00am

The crack of fist against skull. The satisfying feel of a knife entering flesh. The bomb blast's heady roar.

Ah, violence.

You can counsel it, imprison it, hold talks with it, even execute it.

But it just keeps coming back.

Breeze through the Internet and you'll encounter hundreds upon hundreds of web sites designed to combat domestic violence, workplace violence, violence against women.

But none of them address the underlying problem.

Why is it still here? Shouldn't our clever little species have evolved out of it? A bunch of scientists went on a freebie to the Grand Canyon in search of the answer.

That's where the tiger salamander lives.

This cute little critter wiles away the days paddling contentedly around its pool.

But it gets a lot less cute when its food supply dries up.

Then the salamander's head and mouth grow larger and a new set of cannibal teeth replaces the normal ones.

Sort of the Werewolf-meets-Godzilla-meets-that shrinking machine from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

Anyway, the creepy creature then begins gobbling up its fellow salamanders.

When so many of them have been eaten that there's enough food to go around, the head shrinks back and the teeth fall out.

The salamander then returns to the business of looking sweet in puddles.

Some scientists think this kind of thing may also happen to humans.

They claim a hostile environment can cause a person's brain chemistry to change, transforming her from a mild-mannered columnist into a homicidal maniac, wreaking terrible revenge on any reader who dares criticise her work.

Of course, that was just a random example.

At any rate, we Hong Kongers are pretty restrained in the violence stakes.

But don't go getting too smug about it.

Though we aren't avid practitioners, our hunger for visual violence keeps movie makers scrambling to keep up with us.

Hong Kong is one of the world's worst on-screen offenders.

Students at Atlanta's Emory University even study us.

Their list of spring semester courses for students majoring in Violence Studies includes 'Hong Kong Cinema: Swordplay, Gunplay, Melodrama, Ghosts'.

But before you take it personally, consider the source.

After all, the college is located in America, where a Tulane University study found 20 per cent of suburban high school students believe that if someone steals something from you, it's OK to shoot them.

For her part, Lai See thinks mankind is an evolutionary mistake - nature's bungled attempt at an intelligent species. No offence.

Our favourite theory has it that all mankind's ills spring from a problem with the way our brains developed.

The old part, where our emotions are, took ages.

But the intellect bit came later, and went through a rapid (as these things go) growth spurt.

Unfortunately, it never managed to integrate properly with our emotions.

So the old rage and mob potential sit in a lump on the bottom of our brains with a sophisticated information processor perched on top.

The old bit uses the new bit to come up with clever ways of blowing up the people it hates.

The theory concludes that we, like nature's other mistakes, will ultimately destroy ourselves, allowing a more perfect species to dominate the planet.

Our money's on dolphins.

If all this is true, then there's not much we can do about the violence problem.

An unfixable mistake has already been made.

And yet thousands of groups and millions of pacifists speak of violence as something unnatural and 'inhuman', caused by bad childhoods or social breakdown.

It is described, not as something our sad species is born and stuck with, but as something external that can be fought off.

There's hope, they say.

This thing is like a disease. It can be cured.

We can all learn to unclench our fists, lay down our weapons and get along.

Suppose that's one way of looking at it.

But Lai See disagrees violently.