Roots of Violence in the U.S. Culture:
A Diagnosis Toward Healing

by Alain J Richard


The French-born author is an admirer of the people of the United States. He has a broad background and a variety of experiences: Teenage years in Nazi occupied France, an engineering degree from the Institut National Agronomique de Paris, philosophical and theological studies as a preparation for the priesthood in the religious Order of Saint Francis, chaplain of one of the two scientific campuses of the University of Paris, worker-priest in an office of an architect-urban planner in Paris, then in Chicago as a day laborer in factories. He was also involved in human rights defense in Guatemala, Sri Lanka, North Canada, and Haiti. He was co-founder of the Center for Nonviolence and Cultural Transformation located in Las Vegas, Nevada. During 25 years spent in the U.S., he became increasingly concerned about some manifestations of the North American culture.

This book is an attempt to search out the roots of violence specific to the North American culture. This is a very ambitious project. Violence is everywhere and has diverse origins. Some roots of violence are the direct result of the mysterious contradictions within the human being. Violence comes from human nature itself, especially the propensity to imitate, as René Gerard and Gil Bailie pointed out. Violence comes from religious patterns, from historical rivalries, from structures of thinking, and from social structures. Western culture provokes special violences; capitalism and communism each bring specific violences. This analysis, however, is limited to the North American Way of Life. Reflecting upon events in which the author has personally been involved, this text looks at the North American culture and explores its core for particular roots of violence. The matter is extremely complex, as cultural principles are established, not by an assembly or a decree, but little by little, influenced by a multitude of events or forces.

After an introduction, the author defines his use of the words "violence," "nonviolence," "culture," "market culture," and "principles." Each of these words can lead to confusions. The expression "market culture" is very recent and the author collaborated in coining it.

In Chapter 2, examples of unrealized promising possibilities within the U.S. are reported, asking why so many wonderful possibilities were not realized. Is there in the culture itself something that impeded some blossoms to bear fruits?

In Chapter 3, the notion of market culture is developed together with its emergence and how it eliminates the recognition of the sacredness dwelling inside each creature. This unnoticed violence is of incredible magnitude. After reading about a few violences coming from the market world, the reader is invited to a quick historical retrospective. The author starts with the trading post and arrives at a culture whose characteristics, born from market mechanism, replace the principles of human-based cultures. The words might not have changed, but the values of reference are new. The violence flowing from the market culture then appears more clearly. In reality what is at stake is the sacred, the human, that greed, casualness, and prejudices ignore. Violence erodes the sacred, but that destructive desecration may be remedied if people realize what is going on.

The market culture grew out of a complex set of causes and principles. Some of its principles were created and developed by the colonial origin of the U.S. culture. For this reason the seeds of violence which can be traced to the country's colonial origin are considered in Chapter 4, focusing on a) the depth of racism grounded in the culture, b) the belief in a messianic role, c) the importance, in the North American psyche, of being Number One, and d) the imperial policy of the country. Relationships are drawn among the various seeds and the developing of the market culture. The relationships of the author with various Indian Nations, with Afro-Americans and Hispanics give abundant material for these reflections.

Chapter 5 is a reflection on the frustrated dreams that originated in the culture. The market culture presents as a value the immediate satisfaction of a growing number of desires. When immediate satisfaction is impossible, frustration can lead to extreme violence. The myth of the American dream that did not materialize for a large minority brings to many a deep dissatisfaction. Similarly, the myth of a messianic mission given to the North American nation brings frustration and violence when it is perceived as unfulfilled.

Then the reflection centers on the special type of individualism represented by the self-made man, an important role model (Chapter 6). American education celebrates this model as a characteristic of the U.S. culture. In reality this model impedes humans from reaching wholeness and brings a deep frustration. It damages their interpersonal relationships, their relationship with God, their relationship with all of creation, animate and inanimate. Even the relationship with the totality of the self, including the dark or shadow parts, often becomes impossible for the self-made man. Moreover the self-made man did not grow out of nothing. The author advances that a truncated anthropology gave birth to the self-made man and helped develop the market society as the communitarian barriers established by religions and humanism broke apart.

In Chapter 7, there is an attempt to gather the various interactions of the roots of violence, mainly market culture and wounded anthropology. Then there is a reflection on the passage from cultural roots to violence itself. Greed and individualism have a special role in nurturing the market culture, but the other roots of violence coming from the culture help to make the reality of violence so complex and discouraging for parents, educators, and political leaders.

All along the way the author gives glimpses as to how a nonviolence spirit and technique could heal the ubiquitous violence that he describes. However, this book is not about the remedies to violence. People impatient to change the situation too often choose remedies before they have enough clarity on what needs to be healed. This book limits its exploration to the roots of violence specific to the U.S. Way of Life. Other writings by field activists or by scholars will need to give more details about the possibilities of nonviolence for changing the American Way of Life. We do know that making that culture respectful of humanness and sacredness can be done only slowly. The author's confidence in the nonviolent process as the best way for transformation is grounded in a multitude of facts from the past and indices for future use. In the Afterword of the book, the author briefly advances a few directions for reflection. He states some of the most important principles of a nonviolent culture and invites all spiritual people of the country to unite. These last pages strive to open wide the field for hope without distracting from the main focus, the cultural roots of violence in the U.S. culture.

After each chapter, a few questions invite the reader to reflect on his/her own experience. These questions can be useful either in individual reading or for group work.

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