A Step Back

17/06/2016 16:39 | Updated 17 June 2016

Like so many in the UK today, I am mourning the death of Jo Cox - an active member of our parliament, who was assassinated yesterday by a member of her constituency reportedly shouting "Britain first".

I am quite certain I am not the only one today also reeling over the fact this potentially politically driven act of violence happened mere days after 49 were shot dead in a LGBT nightclub in Orlando.

And whilst this list could go on - the increase in these kinds of attacks (whether media-depicted or in actual quantitative terms) is worrying; both in terms of a representation of societal cracks and as a potential driving force of them.

Speaking to a primatologist this week, I was reminded that violence always bubbles under the surface of any primate society. And especially in those where large numbers form the backbone. The tensions between individualistic, biologically-driven goals and those of a collective, culturally-driven nature reaps many rewards. They also often wreak havoc on the individual trying to mediate them.

These two driving wheels of humanity are under constant and dynamic strain, mediated, in part, by a third evolving phenomenon; the law. A collection of ever-changing rules and codes that importantly, punish those who break them.

Importantly, this code of conduct is enforced entirely by the state; a monopolisation of violence, if you will. After all; punishment is a threat of violence against the freedom to choose and act according to your own individual preferences.

For those familiar with Norbert Elias' 'Civilising Process' - the taking back of violence from the state is a worrying sign. In his 1939 theory, Elias stated (in the most simple terms here) that the control of violence within a society by a central, governing body is reflected in a control of violence in the people who exist within that society.

Thus; as a society becomes more 'civilised', the culture (and thus; law) that sits at its heart further quash the biological impulses and urges that exist within each of us.

But what happens - like in the case of Jo Cox - when individuals start to take back some of that power and act according to the laws and morals they have created themselves? And importantly, what happens when others hear about it?

We are social beings and like all social beings, our behaviours can often be collective. One only needs to glance across the European political stage to see that extremist is the new populist, and xenophobia has gone from side to centre stage. Add this to the possible interpretation of violence (and thus violent acts) returning from the state to the hands of the masses, and the potential for more politically-driven attacks seems alarmingly high.

And whilst it's all good and well spouting sociological interpretations upon the current state in which we live, the real (and only) question becomes - what can we do about it?

I don't know. Neither do you. Neither does anyone.

What I do know is that like any other animal - when we are threatened, we fight back. When we are cornered - whether physically, emotionally, or morally - we lash out.

We are animals after all.

And no matter how hard we try to escape that, we need to stop pretending this is not the case. That - in the six million years of our existence as a species - we have somehow moved beyond that. That our art, culture, and global economic trade, have somehow allowed us to transcend the bounds of biology. They haven't. And they never will.

And so; whether it's the upcoming EU referendum or attacks on members of a minority or murders of those in power - we need to unpick why these things are happening. In a country that boasts a fair democracy and voice for all - why is that certain people feel the only way their voice can be heard is through acts like the one that stole the life of Jo Cox?

As is quite rightfully said in a brilliant Spectator piece by Alex Massie;

"When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don't be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn't make them do it, no, but you didn't do much to stop it either."

"Sometimes rhetoric has consequences" he writes. And yet, it's the rhetoric of the citizen, and the causes of their actions that are not being attended to. Labelled as 'freak attacks' or 'fundamentalist violence' - the real ignorance is coming from those in power who refuse to see less extreme cries for help as anything but that.

Is this what it takes for those in power to realise that the system isn't working for everyone?

The individual and the 'clan' is all we humans have - take the latter away and you can't be surprised when people act according to their own rules. Now is a time to pull together. Now is a time to listen. And now is a time to try and mediate our differences. Because if we don't - the evolutionary ties that bind us all will fall away, leaving behind only segregation, hatred, and violence.