Modeling Violence

Designing an intuitive graphical method for studying
the causes of violent behavior

Against the backdrop of violence that plagues human society, a seemingly endless debate about the causes of violence goes on between those who look for causes of violence that could be addressed and those who see someone else as evil and thus consider punishment to be the solution. Meanwhile, everyone pays the price. Perhaps the answer includes a little of each, but certainly if we could identify and address causes, distinguishing violence with cause from pure viciousness, the price could be cut. Innovative modeling techniques that transform traditional scenario analysis into a flexible and suggestive system modeling tool may help to make this distinction.

Earlier posts presented the generic Behavior Model of a world in which behavior is a function of the actors’ conflict resolution strategy, the actors’ ideological commitment, and how challenging the political context (or “environment”) is. Here, two alternative ways of interpreting the model are presented to broaden its utility.

The structure of the Behavior Model provides the framework for clear reflection about how the three driving forces (conflict resolution strategy, ideological commitment, and context) function. The very emptiness of the octants begs for exploration of internal dynamics, and taking that step should lead one immediately to think about connections among the octants. “What distinguishes each?” and “What connects each to all the others?” become obvious questions when looking at the diagram. For these graphics, the purpose is not directly to reveal answers but to provoke questions.

The traditional next step would be to name each scenario and describe what story it represents, but the model also pulls one toward other types of questions that help one escape from the somewhat static concept of scenarios as alternative descriptions, of which one is expected to select one’s favorite.

Model As System. Consider the model as representing the actual system rather than alternative futures. If the whole model represents the system, then it defines a system containing eight “tendencies.” Using the model in this way, instead of the model representing eight alternative future possibilities, it represents eight distinct political tendencies – all of which are present in the system simultaneously. In other words, the model becomes a picture of the system. Traditional scenario analysis is unrealistic to the extent that it is interpreted as offering alternatives where the “one that comes true” utterly negates and replaces all the others. In reality, a scenario might dominate but reality would include actors favoring other scenarios and dynamics continuing to cause pressures in other directions (albeit in subordination to the dominant scenario). In the real world, a “peace” scenario would continue to contain aggravations operating beneath the political surface that might suddenly become dominant, causing the system to evolve from peace toward war, for example. This interpretation of the Behavior Model as the picture of a complicated system could lead to questions such as:

  • How do various political tendencies interact?
  • Which tendency dominates?
  • Under what circumstances will domination shift?

Behavior Model As Set of Actors. One could similarly interpret this model as representing not political tendencies but actors (or actor types, if you wish to think of it in those terms). Thus, the model would depict a system of eight actors, each with a distinct perspective—a rather realistic portrayal of a political system that underscores the reality that defeated viewpoints do not disappear but are much more likely just to be temporarily submerged by the victors of the moment. This perspective suggests questions such as:

  • Are there coalitions of actors that make intuitive sense and, therefore, should be anticipated?
  • Are there arrangements (e.g., coalitions or paired opponents) that would be particularly dangerous?

The above graphic shows one such coalition: Crusader + Aggressor. It is hypothesized that if a system contains both a crusader and an aggressor nominally on the same side (e.g., separate factions in the same country where the country is part of a larger system such that the crusader and the aggressor are both focusing outward), then these two actors will tend to form a coalition. If a Crusader and an Aggressor can unite, they will form a solid and threatening team because they will see eye-to-eye – the Crusader militant on the basis of faith and the Aggressor militant on the basis of calculation. A reinforcing loop will intensify this team’s aggressiveness, with the Crusader’s faith buttressing the Aggressor’s belief in its analysis and the Aggressor’s analysis buttressing the Crusader’s faith.

For now, I leave it to the reader’s imagination to find connections between this theoretical discussion and any real-world situation.


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