Violence under Damasio´s theory

Nature and society are, and are not, separate things.

Life closes and opens at the same time: bacteria detect (primitive way of feeling) and respond intelligently, according to patterns that have evolved homeostatically, that is, stabilizing bacteria as life forms. With the emergence of nervous systems in higher animals, which close and open to the bodies of which they are a part, feelings evolved in the form of a mind. A mind is a homeostatic result of the combination of detections of all the associated living matter in the body and of senses produced by other specialized organic systems that also integrate bodies. Centralizing the control of the nervous system in brains produces awareness, the ability to interpret holistically and separately the images produced and memorized together with the feelings of unique, individual entities, within each one’s history.

From the continuity of the same process of integrated and open differentiation to the rest of the body (interior) and the world (exterior), human capabilities arose the use of their hyper-centralized and deeply rooted nervous system, both in individual and social bodies, through a intensified web of particularly plastic interior-exterior relations. The primitive automatic homeostasis of bacteria, without conscience, supports the evolution of life and, with humanity, the mobilization of individual and social feelings, internal and external, for the purpose of transforming the environment.

Humanity has recently become aware that war to adapt to the environment, adapting it to its will, can be homeostatically negative, namely in view of the sixth great species extinction and global warming events. However, humanity also discovers that the power of conscience to alter individual and social behaviors, in order to change the behavior of other forms of life and half-life (such as viruses) and the environment, is less powerful than the war apologetic culture and tales, memorized in glory of the winners,  imagines.

Imperial cultural misunderstandings are a major problem for the continuation of the natural history of evolution that allowed humanity to exist. The freedoms conquered and offered to sciences and social theories are a hope for the homeostatic exercise of human intelligence, if there is the courage to face the imperial powers that design scientific policies, which control the workers trained by scientists, who regulate the processes of scientific research according to geo-strategic orientations, which build an ​​omniscient image of science in the light of the idea of the God who protects empires.

Science is a human production, both outside and inside society, whose freedom serves for knowledge not to be held hostage by the dominant culture. Science must be available to each person. Empires are opposed to scientific wisdom; in the sense they want to use it and to prevent enemies (peoples and power adversaries) from using it.

This pression over science affect the quality of science available to elites. Therefore, science continues to benefit from freedoms that do not exist in other sectors of activity, while scientists are subject to restrictions equivalent to other workers.

This narrow space between inside and outside, between apology and wisdom, between service and knowledge, is used in an often unconscious way to advance in science.

Damásio defines estados de espírito as “a new set of feelings, which now [due to the evolution of life] are partially emotional, instead of being purely homeostatic” (Damásio, 2020: 113). Violence, it should be added, is the counterpoint to the emergence of estados de espírito, as much as habits and training are social and personal counterpoints to performances.

Violence and the chaos are necessary for the configuration of estados de espírito, be they old – already experienced before – or innovative. Violence and estados de espírito are, at the same time, internal and external qualities of our bodies, identified by the partially emotional feelings that distinguish the different intensity and transformation do to impacts that are thought to be merely external (psychology tries to complete the dominant thought under the form of specialization closed to other social sciences).

One must understand, therefore, how violence is cognitively associated with negative emotions; states and the powerful, modern instruments of empires, give strategic, military, police, penal priority to the negative or positive qualification of socially perceived violence. In the abstract – and in the case of imperial societies, denialists of their misogynist, racism and punitivism – negative feelings are associated with the word violence. Anyone can see at the movies how violence trigger feelings of disgust and excitement, probably motivated by primordial fears. (Fear closes the bodies that feel it, freezing them, or, alternatively, mobilizing them for escape or aggression extreme actions). National states and the media know many ways of manipulating the contradictory feelings associated with the social recognition of violence, either hiding it, revealing it, or provoking it, for their purposes of power games.

Thus, a social theory of violence requires the social researcher to adopt a classification criterion so that violence can be as emotionally free as possible. For example, social theory can choose to look at violence as the reduction to the body that is combined with movements in the opposite direction, of elaboration and adjustment of estados de espírito.

Science needs to breaking with common sense and with the influence of self-interested imperial powers, and theirs’s utilitarian selection of what should be felt as violence by the people. It is a question of breaking with the militaristic, police, criminal Manichaeism that separates violence from the formation of estados de espírito, as it is done at the education system or in the ideological struggles. This break up is only possible if science also breaks with the imaginary boundaries of social systems equivalent to the membranes and the skin of animals. The later objectively separate an exterior from an interior, not the former. Societies are people and vice versa: no skin separates them from themselves.

Studying violence requires self-reflexivity about the emotional effects of imperial, warmongering, punitive symbolic violence, capable of expanding the scope of scientific and social freedoms for the science production.

The understanding this scientific self-reflective capacity is certainly personal. Without further references, personal conscience become disoriented, especially when it comes to countering imperial, normative and violent teachings, and trainings. Typically, social scientists adopt national knowledge as a prioritary reference and guidance. Society is, without debate, felt by social sciences within national borders. Borders are presented as social skin. Nationalist racism and hierarchy in the concert of nations is a natural consequence of this approach. One can denounced it and contradicted it. Nonetheless, it reproduces.

This nationalist social conscience adopted by most social scientists is a disguise for the imperial conscience, which links Western social scientists to each other, including those who protest ethnocentrism, patriarchy, colonialism, impregnated in global culture and social sciences.

Imperial violence has its effects on people’s conscience, regardless of their political and ideological standing. Denouncing and breaking with imperial violence implies denouncing and breaking with the very modern formation of our collective and personal imperial estados de espírito. One can and must recover from the formation of our conscience prior to the constitution of the empire. One can start to consider human society as accompanying humanity since the beginning of humanity. We can look for this pre-modern awareness in the care practices of producing current identities. We will, of course, must learn to recognize how such practices are mixed in practices of power, which are more radically contaminated by imperial effects.


Damasio, A. (2021) Feeling & Knowing: Making Minds Conscious. New York: Pantheon Books.

Damásio, A. (2020) Sentir e Saber. Lisboa: Círculo de Leitores.

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