Saturday, September 29, 2007

Stressed Populations

Fear and Violence in Stressed Populations
Stress, Violence and Peace in the Balkans
Dai Williams, 27th April 1999
Courtesy of The Eos Life-Work Resource Centre

Williams explains, that, “Stress arises when the combination of internal and external pressures exceeds the individual's resources to cope with their situation. Stress may develop from chronic (ongoing) or acute (sudden) pressures. As general pressures increase on a population - economic, environmental or political - then a greater proportion of individuals are likely to cross the threshold from anxiety to panic or violence.

Physical and mental behaviour in the stress zone is determined by the fight or flight response, when threat or fear triggers an adrenaline reaction. Civilised cultures try to suppress the fight response or channel aggression into other activities e.g. sport. But it is latent in most people, restrained only by codes of social behaviour. In war (or criminal) situations these codes and restraints break down, potentially liberating great brutality, or are redefined to make violence a duty.”

The psychological climate of a community or population determines what percentage of the population may resort to organised or mindless violence. If a population is already stressed every additional source of stress increases the probability and number of individuals that will become violent. For example an individual whose relative has been killed or maimed, is more likely to take violent action themselves. This has been found in research into the background of terrorists in Northern Ireland. As these pressures increase then normal social and moral restraints become weaker.

These patterns indicate that violence is a last resort in a stressed population. The existence of violence is a warning that the population is already over-stressed for reasons that are usually obvious.

If violence is the only way to restrain violent individuals or groups it must be very carefully limited. Collateral damage is psychological as well as physical, increasing fear and the potential for anger and violence in a much larger population. The key task in peacemaking is to reduce and minimise all avoidable sources of stress - military, economic, environmental as well as political.

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