Real and Virtual Violence

As the US contemplates a military strike against Syria, it’s easy to lament the violent state of the world. But real-world violence has declined remarkably, as detailed in Steven Pinker’s book.

Instead, violence has become virtual– moving into video games and movies, like the summer’s blockbusters. Previously, I argued that (virtual) violence has actually increased with technology, because it’s far easier and less risky to kill video game villains than to pick a real physical fight.

Now I want to build on that point, and join a couple of threads in my articles. Violence and combat capability have achieved a state that I call the perfection paradox, a state where military technology has so perfected the art of killing that physical martial skills and muscled bodies have become essentially irrelevant.

Summer action movie heroes dodge bullets, and fight with fantasy martial arts moves in musculature physique sculpted by steroids and a personal trainer. Meanwhile we all know that they’re no match for a real-world, malnourished child soldier with a third-hand gun and a functioning trigger finger.

Old style martial arts training is for entertainment, and serves essentially no purpose in real combat. Overweight suburban parents send their children to kung fu class to make up for canceled phys ed classes. Winning enough safe fights might help earn college admission. It won’t result in any advantage in an actual war.

Meanwhile, dedicated athletes head to the gym several times a week to cultivate body builder muscles at the gym. But it’s all for show, for sex appeal. They won’t be fighting with those muscles.

That’s not to say that exercise is irrelevant. In rich countries like the US, we don’t get enough exercise.

For useful muscles, look to the migrant laborers working in the agricultural industry, or construction workers. Those aren’t muscles for war, but muscles for survival.

War has always been driven by technology, from flint knives to spears to combat horses, and then to gunpowder, armored vehicles, missiles and drones. Chemical weapons are among the cast of real world weapons of the day.

Strength training and martial arts classes won’t protect us. They’re for show only, for showing off and for show business in video games and movies.

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