MODERN societies strive, with considerable success, to contain violence and regulate its use.
Physical punishment has been banned from schools and in some countries from the home and, in polite company, overtly aggressive conduct or language has become a serious taboo.
While most Irish people abhor violence and manage to avoid it in their own lives, it is undeniable that over the past 30 years the level and gratuitous nastiness of violence in some areas of Irish life have grown alarmingly.
Violence has become more concentrated, intense and visible at the anarchic margins and among those with non-conformist lifestyles -- the substance abusers, the criminal, the teen gang-members and binge-drinkers.
A number of convergent influences account for these changes, some of which operate on small sectors of society and some of which affect the general culture and have a pervasive influence across most sectors.
In my view, the most important factor of the first type is the fact that in the past 30 years Ireland has witnessed the rapid evolution of organised drug gangs, with each successive generation outdoing the last in recklessness and callous violence. In the past decade, these gangs have embraced an appalling gun culture, based on the worst models from the drug-ravaged ghettos in the US.
These developments have impacted widely on the quality of life in Ireland, with pernicious effects reaching far beyond the drug-infested areas and the people involved with drugs.
As the profits have increased, so have risks and with them the tendency to resort to extreme violence in order to evade detection, protect gains and maintain control over markets.
Strong law enforcement can actually escalate the use of violence. Wider police powers, longer sentences and confiscation of assets, all rachet up the pressure and intensify the paranoia and volatility of drug gangs.
However, even within gangland many killings appear to relate to purely personal issues, often involving retaliation for initial slights or perceived acts of disrespect, which would often appear relatively trivial to an outsider.
This reminds us that a great deal of violence is based in the macho posturing and striving for status of young males.
The second type of change -- general cultural change -- is relevant here, especially the growth of binge-drinking and general excess.
Alcohol is a central problem because it has strong disinhibiting effects which can make men, especially, more sensitive to slights, more aggressive in their response, more likely to use unrestrained violence and more likely to participate in mindless mob action.
The new culture of hedonistic excess and the desire of young people to 'get off their heads' is undoubtedly connected to the lifestyle changes of the Celtic Tiger period.
The boom accelerated the spread of consumerism, self-centredness and alienation. The more frenetic and stressful pace of life and greater educational and workplace competition, have all played a role. But this has gone hand in hand with the growth of moral confusion.
The old restraining bonds of family, church and community have weakened and left young people at a loss. The development of electronic mass media and new forms of communications has to an extent filled the gap.
There is now a globalised popular culture based mainly on the Anglo-American entertainment and celebrity culture which exposes people to many psychologically unhealthy role models and cuts them off from their local communities and the kind of cooperative activities that build the solidarity and mutual trust, on which civilised behaviour depends.
This culture is now so prevalent that it impacts as strongly in rural as in urban areas and on all classes.
This is a culture obsessed with violence which propagates models of inappropriate violence as well as a sense of general paranoia.
Unfortunately, every appalling act of violence that occurs reinforces a vicious cycle by which some people become ever more prepared to use offensive violence as a form of defence against the spreading violence.