Today I have a wonderful guest post from Australian author Rowena Cory Daniells:

Are we Hard-wired for Violence?

Years ago I read a book by Barbara Ehrenreich, titled Blood Rites. One of the things that I found fascinating was the concept of violence as a communicable disease. If you were peaceful and you came up against a violent people, they either wiped out your village (and all your genetic off-spring) or you became violent in self-defence, in which case you were now primed to use violence to protect those you loved.

Which brings me to zombies… stay with me, I do have a point.

I was thinking about the popularity of Zombie movies and TV shows. I used to think it was because zombies were already dead so you could kill them without guilt. But after reading an article the other day I think that is only part of the appeal.

It all boils down to survival pure and simple. Them and us.

Modern life is too complex. People feel like they are a very small cog in a very large machine and they can’t affect things. Politicians and big business prove corrupt and no one seems to want to make the ‘brave’ decisions that our world needs.

Bring on the zombie apocalypse and suddenly, life is simple. Protect the people you love, food and shelter. Wipe the board clean to start again and maybe this time we’ll get it right.

After we’ve wiped out all the zombies, (they’re dead already remember so we can shoot them without guilt) we can start again, so get out the machine gun and mow down those zombies.

The very act of violence can be hypnotic, as Jeff Sparrow puts it in an article in the Overland ‘the attractive power of deadly violence itself.’ In When the Burning Moment Breaks: Gun Control and Rage Massacres, Sparrow said:

‘Much of the most overt writing about the pleasure of violence, about the attraction of war, emerged from the First World War. Indeed, the outbreak of the Great War led to mass celebrations, in almost all of the combatant nations. How to explain that enthusiasm?

… historian Eric Leeds explains, ‘It was commonly felt that with the declaration of war, the populations of European nations had left behind an industrial civilisation with its problems and conflicts and were entering a sphere of action ruled by authority, discipline, comradeship and common purpose.’ The pleasure of war represented, in other words, an indictment of the peace that it shattered.

Peace meant that men and women were atomised, alienated and alone, impersonal cogs in the gears of industry; war offered an organic collectivity in which there would be a meaningful place for everyone. Again and again in the literature of 1914, you come up against a perception of modernity, with its factories and its technology and its bureaucracy, as soulless and anti-human: a world that was ‘old and cold and weary,’ as Rupert Brooke says. Battle, by contrast, was thought to restore the values of an age that was passing, understood (in idealised terms) as honour and purpose and camaraderie.’

And it is these very traits which fantasy is famous for. It has been suggested that people turn to fantasy because of its purity of purpose. In a fantasy epic you will find a battle good against evil. In fantasy the smallest of people (the orphan or the hobbit) can make a difference. But fantasy is also evolving.

In a post on Fantasy Faction Douglas Smith writes about the popularity of gritty fantasy.  He mentions authors like Abercrombie and multi-layered books, movies and TV shows like Breaking Bad and Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Douglas says: ‘I personally read all kinds of fantasy – the “Farm boy versus Dark Lord”, the “bunch of heroes on a quest”. But I am consistently drawn back to (gritty fantasies). I don’t expect these stories to drop the classic concepts in fantasy, but rather take them and put a new spin on them. For me, these authors are keeping the fantasy genre fresh and exciting – they are touching on concepts which are important in a real-world way.’

All of which brings me back to my original question. Are we hard-wired for violence? As a student of history, I find the same problems arising generation after generation. What is this fascination for power? Why do people fear what is different? And why is violence so much easier than negotiation?

In my new trilogy The Outcast Chronicles, I created a world just so I could explore these questions. There are a minority gifted people, who those without gifts fear. Power attracts the ruthless, who would be classified sociopaths by today’s standards. Poor Sorne is born a half-blood mystic so his father, the king, disowns him and rears him to be a weapon against the mystics.

But the mystics aren’t ‘noble savages’, they have their own problems. Rivalries between the males and females lead to paranoia. When Imoshen is born to the leader of the brotherhood, he hides her meaning to use her against the sisterhoods.

Sorne and Imoshen have to examine their world and their places in it and ask themselves what they really believe and what they value. Is violence the only way?

Rowena has a copy of Besieged to give-away (world-wide) to one lucky commenter.

The give-away question: What’s your favourite zombie movie or TV show and why?

OC  Trailer embed

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=NDfjjKVn96Q

Rowena’s Blog

Catch up with Rowena on Twitter: @rcdaniells

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