A new article in The Atlantic provocatively states that “Violence is Contagious.” Drawing on recent sociological and psychological studies, the article suggests that violence spreads like an epidemic.
Certainly, metaphors frequently compare violence to a disease. Waves of violence are often referred to as a “plague” of violence. Political leaders and police officers refer to “epidemics” of urban gun violence. Rebellion is often described as an “infection” or a “cancer.” Violent attacks may “go viral,” although this phrase now evokes computer viruses more than diseases.
All of these colorful metaphors describe the feelings of fear produced by patterns of violence. Observers of a series of violent acts liken their fear of spreading violence to the fear of contagion.
It is something very different to argue that violence actually is contagious, as the article in The Atlantic suggests. I have not yet read the studies cited in the article, but I am skeptical about this claim.
The Atlantic published “Violence is Contagious” online.