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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Raging Against the Machine

As I gather more years on the planet, I continue to learn. I learn about humans individually. How they think. What motivates them. How they respond in social situations. And, in all of this, I have learned more about myself.

I sometimes ponder whether there is some limit of unfairness or cruelty beyond which I would become violent in order to defend common decency. I’d like to think that I am a nonviolent person, but I’ve probably never been tested like others have.

Recent acts of fatal violence both individual and collective (I won’t glorify events by naming them) may well be a sign of rage. Rage could be the most dangerous of human emotions. In the hands of a man (or woman) with power of any sort, rage is always destructive. Even if only self-destructive.

What seems interesting is that from destruction comes renewal. It may simply be that humankind has developed an evolutionary mechanism that is specifically designed to refresh a stale system that no longer serves the masses in a reasonably equitable manner.

Many of us think that this sort of rage violence is on the rise.This is very unlikely. What we experience today is what Daniel Kahneman (in Thinking Fast and Slow) refers to as reporting bias. I’m pretty sure Kahneman didn’t coin the phrase, but he did do a nice job of explaining it. Essentially, one of the big differences between pre-electronic history and today is anonymity. Today, it is increasingly difficult to do anything significantly destructive in public and have it completely escape public awareness. Back then, it was just a hell of a lot easier to cover bad stuff up. So, when you consider population growth and reporting bias together then we’re probably doing better as a species than we have in the past.

Let’s face it, in the old days, humans probably burnt down the village for a lot less than we get pissed off about now. But, that doesn’t mean we’re over it either. Maybe societies always eventually arrive at an existential tipping point; where the abyss is better than the status quo. Maybe isolated acts of individual and collective violence are a run-up to the “big rage.”

If we are evolving socially, maybe one day we won’t need to burn down the village to salvage our future. Maybe we can tame that inner beast and find the middle way. Halfway between destruction and complete acceptance comes hope. Hope that those who are exploiting the masses (you know who you are) will finally stop deluding themselves into believing what they do is for the greater good. Everyone will know what the “greater good” looks like when they see it. In recent polls, between 28% and 31% of Americans think we’re moving in the right direction. That number is dangerously low.

How low does that number need to get? It doesn’t really measure the intensity with which those people feel the direction is wrong. Intensity is an important part of what fuels an emotion like rage. If we could measure that too, maybe we’d have a better idea of where the tipping point lies. We have seen people take to the streets in other countries. Most of the time, they still resort to burning down the village.

I am reminded of Gandhi admonishing his followers for calling him a pacifist. His actions were anything but passive. However, he always spoke against violence. This seems to be a trait that many “great” people share. Maybe one day we’ll all share it. Just maybe, we could all learn to love each other. \o/

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