Inquiry: Estrangement XXIV – The Institutionalization of Violence and the Architecture of its Expressions

Credit: NASA

 by LJ Frank

This series on estrangement seeks to understand some of the differing faces of estrangement and the crossroads it approaches for good or ill.

The beginning of the known universe appears not to have been a peaceful event. Rather, it was severe, violent, and explosive. Stars, planets, and other celestial bodies of the cosmos that formed evolved in violence from the stirrings of energy and the first enzymes, peptides, and diverse elements of life embedded in energy and stardust. Scientifically it’s more complicated than that, the point is violence was and is core to the architectural expression of the universe. The mathematics and physics of that architectural expression was/is profound and potent. Paradoxically the violence not only led to inevitable decay and destruction but creation and rebirth. The violent nature of the universe is punctured with moments or periods of human perceived tranquility, at least on the surface.

Is there any relationship between such violent beginnings and the nature of human evolution and our DNA? From the earliest anthropological and archeological records, acts of aggression and violence would appear to have been inherent in the human species…the struggle to survive.  Myths and writings made sacred by humans attest to the interpretations of events accorded to a volatile God(s).

The earliest myths, oral and written, and the fragmentary evidence of human bones that were gnawed on by both animals and other humans indicates the shape of survival was horrendous if not hideous at times, with interludes of peace within various groups or tribes of people who shared a common experience or understanding. Still in the most ancient of grave sites we find an assortment of organic and inorganic objects suggesting a belief that there was more to life than our physical presence on Earth. Even considering that, there’s evidence of violent outbursts among believers. Nothing appears to be absolute or sacred. The appearance of relative superficial tranquility punctuates the violence in the universe and on Earth.

To what degree are we genetically and learnedly violent? Anthropologists have discussed, conversed, argued and written volumes of scholarship on whether violence is embedded in our DNA or whether the potential is embedded in the leaning towards violent behavior, through competition and aggression.

The known history of the world and prehistory demonstrates the over lapping layers of behavior between Cro-Magnon, Neandertals and other human species in term of violence with cannibalism as an acceptable form of that violence…yet, not by all human groups. What makes one human group different than another in terms of behavior? Scholarly papers continue to be written on the subject matter.

Have we made a leap forward in our understanding of violence or have we in part incorporated our understanding into and through our evolving  institutions, our building programs and resulting design? How is the architecture of violence expressed in our social, cultural, political, gender, race, sex, and related constructs of design? Is awareness itself a process of evolution and increased factual knowledge?

The architecture of our expressions appears correlated to our learned perspectives in life and work.  We are filled with opinions that are expressed in our everyday structures. The question is how humane are those structures? What is the effect on the human mind and body? Humans have devised an architecturalization and institutionalization of violence in their own terms.

 I would suggest we’ve created an Estrangement with each other through the institutionalization of violence.  That is, from the design of prisons to policing structures, military machinery and technology and mindsets, sports rivalries, competition in all phases of life (look at how we design the modern office as the worker becomes the product), capitalism (financial cannibalism/greed), religious dogma and rituals with the potential of eternal damnation, etcetera.

Abuse of the human arrives in many structural forms. We feed into the very thing we may protest. Our attitudes towards each other are replicated and otherwise translated in our building programs and physical structures. We become our architecture for good or ill…form following function is a very dated concept when exterior to human dignity and compassion and enhancing peaceful exchange.

Violence once given a structure is a remarkably potent form of reinforcing behavior…whether it’s economic or social control or poverty and homelessness related,  or gender, ethnic and so forth. The derivative shaping includes everyday disturbances, stress, and anger. Violence retains an architecture. Those structures effectuate behavioral attributes – verbal abuse, and psychological and spiritual violence and paranoia as cameras watch our every move.

Why do only the wealthiest deserve places designed for reassurance, inner peace, and psychological warmth? What about those places that encourage acts of aggression with the downstream effect of war, homicides, murder and suicide? Do we not see the connection between the dignity and self-worth of place and the individual? Is it the architecture of control by those that have, over those that have not?

What we create we become as the ancient Vedic saying suggests. The architecture of institutionalized violence creates an existential estrangement within all of us. But what are the programming options if we wish to get to the roots of the issue, confronting human violence and institutionalization thereof, or do we already come genetically programmed or predisposed? Does there have to be a cosmological intent or reason? If violence just is…how can we shape our space for everyone’s self-worth, self-dignity and harmony amid an existential uncertainty?