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Things that Yoram knows: Is man cruel by nature?

Yaniv wonders about human nature: "Why did the word humanity take on the meaning of human love, tolerance, patience, etc., are wars, death, cruelty and oppression of the weak less humane?"Yaniv wonders about human nature: "Why did the word humanity take on the meaning of human love, tolerance, patience, etc., are wars, death, cruelty and oppression of the weak less humane?"


The Stanford Prison Experiment. Image:
The Stanford Prison Experiment. Image:

"This is what the red judge said: 'And why is this the murder of this criminal? He sought to rob', but my ego tells you: his soul sought blood and not robbery; His soul thirsted for the happiness of a knife! However, his poor understanding tempted him to say: 'And what is the importance of blood? And wouldn't you like at least a small robbery by the way? Or take revenge?” (Nietzsche, "Thus Spake Zarathustra")

We don't often talk about the "happiness of a knife", it's hard for us to assume that a murderer or rapist does his act simply because it's fun to cause suffering to others. "Humanity" is used by us as a synonym for compassion and kindness. Cruelty: The active or passive pleasure in the suffering of others is considered inhumanity and mainstream psychiatry states that cruelty for its own sake is a deviation, a result of mental illness or difficult childhood experiences. But there are those who dare to suggest that indeed "man's heart was created evil from his youth" cruelty is part of our nature.  

Stanford experiment

In 1971, researcher Zimbardo from Stanford University conducted an experiment in which a group of student volunteers were divided by lottery into "prisoners" and "guards" as the researcher followed the dynamics of prison life. The results shocked the science of psychology: in a short time, the "guards" revealed severe cruelty towards the "prisoners" under their supervision - humiliating punishments, endless counting rituals, forced and arduous "sports" exercises, preventing the use of the toilets and forcing the "prisoners" to sleep on the concrete floor were Part of the prison's existence was created by the "guards". The experiment lasted only six days until it was interrupted out of fear for the lives and health of the "prisoners".

cruelty. Image:
cruelty. Image:

 About a third of the students who were drawn to the position of guards showed clear sadistic tendencies and most of them willingly volunteered to donate hours of their free time to continue the abuse. From this experiment and Milgram's famous experiment in which people from the settlement agreed to give high-intensity "electrical shocks" to other people under the casual instruction of a researcher, it seems that all that is needed for us to agree or even enjoy behaving cruelly is an opportunity.

The evolutionary maze

In a controversial article, psychologist Victor Nell tries to locate the roots of human cruelty in our evolutionary heritage and more precisely in the hunting experience. Nel bothers to mention that the English word for cruelty derives from the Latin word Crudus which means "raw" or "rough", the seeds of cruelty lie, according to Nel, in the raw material from which human consciousness grew. Hunting in mammals is an organized series of actions that include tracking, chasing, subduing the prey and eating it and is controlled by a dedicated neural mechanism and is different from that responsible for other types of aggression for defense or competition.

Predators' brains seem to be designed so that actions associated with this kill are rewarding. From observations of lions, hyenas, wolves and chimpanzees in the wild, it seems that although the preliminary actions: grouping the group of hunters and searching for the prey are done even before the victim is located, routines related to the fear, suffering and death of the prey strengthen the enthusiasm that the predators show for the hunter. Hunting is an arduous, painful and dangerous operation and the predator has to overcome fatigue, pain and injuries caused by the chase or the struggle of the victim and stay focused on his goal. For this purpose, the predator's mind provides "rewards" in the form of the secretion of addictive dopamine and substances from the opiate family, the natural opium, which relieves pain and fatigue. These reward mechanisms are the biological foundations upon which human cruelty will be built at a more advanced stage in evolution.

A lioness brings game to her cubs. Image:
A lioness brings game to her cubs. Image:

The hunter is an action that has all the characteristics of cruelty except that the suffering of the prey is not an end in itself. In mammals, the eating begins while the victim is still alive: the dying convulsions, the wailing sounds, the sobs and gasps of suffocation and of course the bleeding are part of the hunting experience. Hyenas begin to bite and tear off body parts such as the tail and testicles during the chase phase, when the victim kneels, the stomach is split open and death redeems the animal from its agony while its internal organs are eaten. Lions kill their prey by grabbing it by the throat: a slow suffocation that may last about an hour, all the while the predator is exposed to an abundance of sensory input that comes from the suffering of the meal and these stimuli become, like the bell for Pavlov's dog, appetite stimulants. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the first confrontation of the biblical law with cruelty is the refinement of the manner of meat consumption, the prohibition of an animal organ "every creeping thing that lives, you shall have for food: as a vegetable and grass, I have given you everything. It is flesh, but in its soul you shall not eat its blood." (Genesis, Chapter 20). "Animal cruelty" is especially noticeable in our chimpanzee relatives: skilled hunters who like the meat of other baby monkeys. The hunt causes the males intense excitement which they express by running around a lot, shaking branches, shouting, whistling and fighting over the prey. The victims are sometimes eaten alive and the chimpanzees clearly enjoy this type of hunting even though the prey is meager: a group of XNUMX hunters may be content with one kilogram of baby monkey meat at the end of the feast.

to hurt the victim

Man's great mind and the great complexity of the societies he creates allow him what is probably impossible for any other predatory animal: awareness of the victim's suffering. Human cruelty is unique due to the intention to cause pain and therefore requires the ability to empathize: the sadistic pleasure is based on the attacker's understanding that what the victim feels is pain of a type that the abuser can imagine. The transition of cruelty from the hunting ground to the human social world that happened, according to this theory, roughly with the appearance of "Homo erectus" about a million and a half years ago had advantages, chief among them the growth of judicial cruelty. Punishment, an action aimed at the suffering of a member of the group, is the basis of law enforcement systems. The advantages of a policed ​​and disciplined group over its "anarchic" rivals kept the motivation for cruelty. From the crowds that flocked to witness executions in the first civilizations to the surfers who click on any news link about the sentencing of criminals, the punishment fascinates the audience. People enjoy seeing or at least reading about punishments: in addition to the "happiness of a knife", people seek solace in the "happiness of handcuffs" and the talkbackists express great disappointment when this happiness is served to them in too small portions.

The Roman "circus".

We seem to find an audience for acts of cruelty wherever this was possible and permitted. The Roman Empire was a kind of "laboratory of cruelty" because it had a long flow of conquered people to be cruel to and its citizens had the resources and free time to enjoy cruelty. This is how, for example, the philosopher Seneca describes a weekday in Rome: "The incident caused me to enter the circus at noon, I was waiting for entertainment but...only a simple bloodshed remained. The fighters have no protection, their entire bodies are exposed to the blow of death.. The majority of the people choose such plays and how could they not choose them? Why a defense tool? Why art? Don't all these only delay death.. In the morning people are thrown in front of lions and bears, in the afternoon they are thrown in front of the next crowd to see, the one who wins is left to be killed at another time. The end of all warriors is death. This is done with iron and fire and it continues until the arena is emptied." Such a show was a sort of everyday reality show, but on special occasions, shows were held in which hundreds of gladiators met their deaths at once and emperors competed with each other in holding larger blood festivals at the request of the audience. Even emperors as famous for their moderation and gentleness as Augustus and Claudius were avid fans of horror entertainment. Augustus once gouged out the eyes of a criminal with his own hands and his hobby was watching boxers equipped with leather gloves reinforced with lead and iron bars. Claudius was eager to watch executions closely and would turn his thumb down even when gladiators fell by accident because he liked to watch the expressions on their faces at the moment of execution.  

Nell's conclusion is that the ability to enjoy cruelty is inherent in the basic and primitive neural mechanisms that we and our carnivorous relatives share and that all that is required to activate them is simply the opportunity. The journal that published Nell's article also brought a lot of responses from researchers who strongly attacked the idea: in their opinion, cruelty is not a general human trait but rather "inhumanity" or a defect in the ability to feel empathy. One of the critics pointed out, for example, that comedies and not films with a lot of blood and violence consistently win the ratings competition. Abuse in itself will not bring pleasure to the vast majority of people, other researchers claim, and it is often done not as entertainment, but in a social cultural context in which it establishes the position of the abuser in the hierarchy. Some point to great differences between humans in the ability to enjoy causing suffering. It turns out that sadistic characteristics can be found in a distinct group of the population and these people differ in their approach to causing pain and abuse from most people. In an experiment in which the sadistic tendency of subjects was assessed through a questionnaire in which sayings such as "hurting people is exciting" were incorporated, it became clear that those with a sadistic tendency volunteered for tasks such as squashing insects, while most of their friends preferred more difficult and less cruel tasks such as cleaning a bathroom.

Online trolling - an indication of sadism

A sadistic tendency is different from personality disorders such as psychopathy, narcissism or Machiavellianism. A psychopath (a person characterized by antisocial behavior and a lack of empathy) will be cruel to other people to achieve personal goals but will not enjoy suffering in itself. Today, a significant arena of action for those with a sadistic personality is the Internet: a study that examined the personality characteristics of "trolls", that is, people who enjoy bullying, slandering, inciting passions and disrupting discussions on social networks and news sites, found that online trolls have distinctly sadistic characteristics. The statistical significance was clear, sadistic personality characteristics predicted network trolling and "troll" behavior is a reliable indicator of sadism. The fact that we all participate every day in the Internet social experiment and most of us are not trolls perhaps suggests that cruelty is not so universal. The unique human ability to feel empathy and compassion makes man the most supportive creature of his kind and it is hard to understand how the same evolution also made us the inventors of cruelty. Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher who brought human cruelty out of the closet, sums up the riddle in his poetic way "not like the tree of man. As much as he aspires to heaven and to light, his roots will increase their longing for the earth, down, for darkness, for the abyss - for evil."

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More of the topic in Hayadan:

2 תגובות

  1. A person has the ability to choose. If the animals run out in the prairie, a lion will not start eating bananas (if there are any around). Aria has no choice. A person has Can choose compassion or the dark side.

  2. I am afraid that the writer was so enthused by over-detailing the history of human cruelty that he forgot the question for which we had gathered. So I'm not going to answer it, but Wikipedia defines: "Humanism (or humanism[1]) is a central and multi-branched moral philosophical approach, based on the free will of man and emphasizing his being a central agent, influencing his environment as a single person and as a human group" and bothers To state in the next sentence that the origin of the current is in Renaissance Italy. Judaism, for example, is a humanistic religion, because it places the human being at its central point, from the very divine intention, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them descend in the fish of the sea and in the fowl of the sky and in the beast and in all the earth and in all Trample trample on the Orech. It seems that the world was created as a stage on which the main actor - man - will play, and he will choose a moral life and the service of God, or not. That is why he has free will to "do what is bad in the eyes of God".

    In contrast to this, the cults of nature must be contrasted, which see all human actions as fundamentally negative. The extremes in which they seek to reduce the human population to XNUMX million (reduce everyone, of course, except those advocating the method) and return us to dark and cold medieval times when "we were close to nature". For some reason they tend to see their desire as something "humane" even though it contradicts the definition of humanity.

    In this context, of the meaning of the humanist current, it is possible to understand why the word specifically refers to patience and tolerance, and sometimes even to the too early release of criminals, before there is even an iota of deterrence (according to them and others), which causes the dizzying crime wave that is now sweeping the major cities of the USA and Europe.

    Apart from that, as we have seen, someone does bother to distort the meaning of the word "humanity" and use it for very inhumane purposes (did you see what I did here?), and this is just one of the words that have lost their meaning in recent decades, like liberalism. Democracy, racism (especially "anti-racism"), fascism, etc.

    [1] It is a shame that Wikipedia finds it appropriate to direct such a link to an intermediary that is actually a pornographic site of the seventh type instead of actually looking for the pamphlet of the Hebrew Language Academy and directing there.

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