BRUTALITY IN SOCIETY

Collaborative research needed to get to the bottom of wanton killings

Sociologists and social psychologists tell us that such violent and cruel behaviour of human beings against one another cannot simply occur haphazardly

In Summary

• I would like to appeal to schools of social psychology in our universities, departments of sociology and those studying conflicts in law to study this wanton violence in society

• Given the tremendous ease that modern gadgets have given us in social research, this should not be a complicated exercise.

The casket bearing the body of Ivy Wangechi on Thursday, April 18, 2019.
The casket bearing the body of Ivy Wangechi on Thursday, April 18, 2019.
Image: EUTYCAS MUCHIRI

It is surprising that what is dominating headlines in our newspapers today is not police brutality — Kenyans seem to have become numb to this sad phenomenon — but ordinary Kenyans butchering one another with abandon.

The tales are so sad that a day does not pass before one hears of a housewife pouring boiling water on house girl, a father beheading a neighbour's child or a school teacher beating the hell out of a pupil.

What is happening in our country? Why this mass cruelty?

 
 

Some of us are getting tired of mere appeals for the police to do something, for "thorough investigation to be done" and for "no stone to be left unturned." But nothing seems to follow after such homilies.

One does not know whether the law enforcement agencies hear these homilies, or whether they hear but they don't care, or whether they don't know which stones to turn.

Sociologists and social psychologists tell us that such violent and cruel behaviour of human beings against one another cannot simply occur haphazardly, especially when they are so widespread within such a short space of time. There must be certain causal factors to this widespread behaviour.

Let us, for example, look at the element of social frustration. What would possibly be frustrating some Kenyans to the extent that they have to "let off steam" by exhibiting fatal forms of violence? Not a very simple question but I will venture to answer it. 

First,  there is just too much exhibition, particularly in the uninhibited channels of social media, of easy ways of fulfilling needs, desires and ambitions without much effort.

When prescriptions for acquiring windfalls of fortune lead, for example, to indebtedness, such culprits tend to seek certain solutions like consulting wizards.

A wizard may then recommend the sacrifice of a human being as a way of cleansing the misfortune. Result? The mysterious and unfortunate killings we seem to be witnessing hapa na pale!

Second, tensions within homes can also lead to an increase of such wanton killings.

Intrafamily violence is obviously on the rise. With the apparent breakdown of social bonds even in rural areas, family tensions have very limited external outlets for solutions.

Complicated by poverty which has much higher adverse effects on males, the latter, given their tendency to dominate through a false sense of sexual dominance, may easily become extremely violent when they feel this dominance is challenged by a successful spouse asserting her independence.

Third, our modern laws, even where they exist, have not kept up with social changes, while our customary laws still dominate our social ethos.

We live in a conflicted period of transition where neither sphere of law has hegemony in certain traits of social behaviour.

Harambee, for example, is antithetical to the African culture of mutual social responsibility.

The important word here is "mutual." Today Harambee has become an obnoxious exhibition of superiority in wealth by the politically powerful at all levels.

This behaviour is rapidly entrenching a sense of social unworthiness among the poor in the lower classes. It could easily be a cause of frustration exhibited in the form of violence at times.

 

But in scientific investigation, systematic data speaks volumes. What I have said here could as well be regarded as speculation or hypothesis.

I would like to appeal to schools of social psychology in our universities, departments of sociology and even those studying conflicts in law to study this wanton violence in our society using my speculations as some springboard.

I hope that our security agencies have such specialists among their ranks and in their training institutions. They too should join the quest for evidence-based law enforcement system. 

Given the tremendous ease that modern gadgets have given us in social research, this should not be a complicated exercise.

But scholars sometimes tend to miss the point by assuming that knowledge is spread by demonstrating science as a mystery rather than science as knowledge made bare through easy access to facts and figures.

Thus, in an exercise like this, one is likely to be flabbergasted by complicated graphs and tables than enjoying a simple reading of such graphs and tables explained in an ordinary paragraph or two understandable by you and me.

In that regard, journalists may be in a better position than the hard-nosed scholar to do this research and communicate the results to us.

Or they could collaborate with scientists so that we enjoy the outcome of a combined work of both.

The essence of my appeal is based on the seriousness of this matter. Were I to be the head of some social science foundation, I would send out a quest for proposals for research in this area.


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