Many violent acts are the result of the desire to “do good” as explained by two anthropologists in their provocative book called ‘ virtuous violence ‘. “Violent acts may seem unacceptable to most of society but they make sense and are necessary to those who practice them. These people feel they have to make someone pay for their evil, teach a lesson or instil obedience ” argue their authors.

The book has its origins in research by University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) , headed by Alan Page Fiske and Tage Shakti Rai . Both researchers argue that most criminals and people who commit acts of violence follow the same pattern of behavior as the protagonist of the famous television series “Breaking Bad” , and perform violent acts motivated by the desire to do good. In other words, it is quite common to exercise violence against others because they think that by doing so they are defending a moral cause .

Breaking Bad Syndrome: the influence of personal beliefs and violence

In the television series that inspired them, the protagonist Walter White becomes a drug dealer after learning that he suffers from cancer. In his thoughts, his duty as a father makes him enter the world of drug trafficking since he feels obliged to leave a good financial legacy to his family and obtain the money necessary to pay for his treatment.

“Morality in oneself is not only about being good, polite and peaceful, but it also includes the feeling that, in some cases, there is an obligation to do something regardless of the practical consequences,” Alan Page Fiske of the UCLA School of Anthropology explains in an interview with BBC World .

Research data

According to the BBC article, Fiske and Rai’s conclusions are the result of the analysis of hundreds of studies on violence carried out in different parts of the world . These, in turn, were made up of thousands of interviews with criminals. After reviewing all the data available to them, found moral motivations even behind suicide, war and rape , although they admit that there are exceptions that confirm the rule. “Except for some psychopaths, hardly anyone harms another with the intention of being bad,” explains Fiske. The researcher clarifies, “that his study does not justify those who commit violent acts, but rather exposes the reasons why they do so.

In their book, Fiske and Rai give the example of people who abuse their children or their partners. Although from society’s point of view they are wrong, they are convinced that they are doing the right thing. The perception that their victims must obey them is a result of their beliefs.

An example of the influence of beliefs on violent acts: the Nazis

Before becoming Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler was obsessed with ideas about race. In his speeches and writings, Hitler contaminated German society with his belief in the superiority of the “Aryan race.

  • And, in fact, it was during the Third Reich that some of the most atrocious animal acts occurred “in the name of science”. You can discover this by reading the article “Human experiments during the Nazi era.”

When Hitler came to power, these beliefs became the ideology of the government and were spread on posters, on the radio, in movies, classrooms and newspapers. The Nazis began to put their ideology into practice with the support of German scientists who believed that the human race could be improved by limiting the reproduction of those they considered inferior. The truth is, the events that occurred during the Nazi holocaust, were produced by ordinary people who were not especially bad citizens. Hitler, with his anti-Semitic campaign, made the German people believe that the superior races not only had the right but also the obligation to exterminate the inferior ones. For them, the struggle of races was consistent with the laws of nature.

This shows, therefore, that much human violence is rooted in beliefs . If the key to eradicating violent behaviour is to change beliefs, by changing them we will also be changing the perception of what is right or wrong.