Pierre Karli

The Roots of Evil A Neurobiologist's Thoughts Publication date : April 1, 2002

Violence is everywhere and seems to be present in all walks of life: child abuse, violence against women, poor treatment of old-age pensioners, moral harassment in the workplace, street crime, and violence among schoolchildren. The cause is always an attitude or a type of behaviour that harms another person, undermining his physical and/or psychic integrity, even if the specifics vary.
In Violence et Vie sociale, Pierre Karli, a specialist in problems of aggression, examines different sorts of violence based on the agent who commits the act of violence and on the factors that have formed him or her throughout life. The author studies the construction of the agent's personality as it interacts with its environment and examines the factors that led to violent types of behaviour.
This study should enable readers to improve their understanding of different sorts of violence, why they manifest themselves, and the various forms of dysfunction that further the development of violent behaviour.
But Pierre Karli is a humanist. His attachment to the study of classical philosophy concerning the agent, freedom and responsibility leads him to refuse to reduce human beings to their nature, just as he refuses to reduce them to the fatality of their socio-economic background. And so, he asks the following question: How could we go about creating and constructing a society that would foster non-violent forms of behaviour and ways of being, a society that would inspire and fulfil free and responsible agents, instead of providing fertile soil for the development of violence and suffering?
"If we really want our social life to be profoundly changed, we must accept that our interests and value system have to evolve. But we must also be fully responsible - both individually and collectively - for our actions. This implies a widely-based awareness, a major effort through schooling and education, a coming together of analysis and practical initiative which, if they are to be effective, must rise from the grassroots. A sustained, clearly thought-out effort and some sacrifices are required if we are to work towards the common good. It is up to us to decide whether or not we have the courage and the willpower to do so," concludes Pierre Karli.
What if the response to the various kinds of violence that surround us depended, in the first instance, on each one of us?

Pierre Karli is a member of the French Academy of Science and a former professor of neuro-physiology at the medical school of Strasbourg. He is the author of L'Homme agressif and Le Cerveau et la liberté.