The people of a relatively peaceful Zapotec community in Mexico have internalized controls against expressions of aggression, but in a nearby, more violent, community the residents lack similar internal controls. In an article published originally in 1994 and just added to the Archive of this website, Douglas Fry argues that external controls on the expression of aggression work most effectively in a Zapotec community when they are combined with internal controls.
The two communities are superficially similar, at least in terms of their concepts about justice and authority—their external control structures. However, they differ markedly in terms of their attitudes toward violence, fighting, gender relationships, and socialization of their children. The more violent community, dubbed San Andrés, experiences fairly frequent incidents of violence, especially due to jealousy over women. In La Paz, the relatively more peaceful community, people feel that jealousy is not appropriate for adult men. The members of that community think that the jealous attitudes in San Andrés are ridiculous. Fry argues that the individual, internal attitudes and values in La Paz that oppose conflict or any expressions of aggression do not exist in the same way in San Andrés.
The worldviews and images people have of themselves and their communities differ in the two places. People in both communities say they place a high value on respect, but in San Andrés people make excuses for the fact that the ideal is often not practiced. “Men are really jealous here,” one man said. Another commented, “most people are good, but not all.” Another said, “in the old days they had more respect, but not now” (p.140). The people of San Andrés rationalize the notion that aggression may be justified on occasion, that it is understandable when men fight because they are drunk, and that it is honorable to avenge the death of a close relative.
The people of La Paz do not generally accept those rationalizations. They view their town as a peaceful, friendly place. They firmly see themselves as cooperative, friendly, peaceful, and respectful. They believe they act almost as if they are all one family; they are convinced they live in a place where people do not fight. A man from La Paz referred to the people in the neighboring community as “unfriendly, egotistical barbarians, who are always swearing” (p.140). The La Paz people refuse to accept the concept that violence is inevitable, in contrast to their neighbors in San Andrés.
Fry argues that peaceful, pro-social values are effectively internalized in La Paz but they are not in San Andrés. As an example, he cites an incident when an inebriated man in La Paz came pounding on the door of another man because he wanted to fight with him. The other man stayed inside his house and sent his sister to the door to deny that he was home until the drunk went away. The next day both men pretended the incident had never happened and forgot about it. Another man in La Paz, explaining how he lets matters drop, said “it was not good to prolong a dispute and make someone angry at you for a long time” (p.141).
Children are socialized in La Paz to develop internal controls against aggression, and, not surprisingly, they are not in San Andrés. Fry used structured interviews to research child socialization strategies in both communities, and he found that they differed significantly. Parents approve of physical discipline in San Andrés much more often than they do in La Paz. In San Andrés, fathers prefer to administer physical punishment—that is, they socialize their children to accept the idea that control is imposed by external authority. As one San Andrés man commented, “the idea that we have here … is to hit him, give him a blow in order that he then obeys” (p.143).
In La Paz, fathers discipline their children without physical punishment. They advocate talking to children and showing them proper patterns of behavior. Physical punishment was sometimes used in La Paz, but it appears to be a subordinate means of socializing children.
The author used ethnographic observation techniques to gain data on the actual patterns of child discipline in the two communities. The results corresponded with information he had gathered from his structured questioning. In La Paz he observed only two instances when children were threatened physically, though not actually struck, by their mothers; in San Andrés he witnessed 11 different incidents when children were beaten by adults.
Even the patterns of play by the children differed in the two communities. Parents in both places said they did not approve of aggressive play among their children, but the San Andrés parents indicated that fighting and play fighting among children is normal and acceptable. La Paz parents would discourage fighting and play fighting when they observed it.
Fry’s systematic observations showed that even while very little, from three to eight years old, children in La Paz restrained themselves better against both play fighting and real fighting than the children of San Andrés did. The children in La Paz had adopted from their parents their patterns of avoidance and restraint—their internal controls against expressing aggressive feelings. The children of San Andrés did not observe such controls in the adults of their town.