Have you thought about (HYTA) how problematic human beings can be?

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There’s much to be fascinated about our species: We have the singular ability to strategically plan beyond the immediate present; from us, we soulfully infuse the contemporary arts and music scene with abstraction and colourful noise; beyond that, and most admired, is our magnum opus – the ability to think and reason. So it comes as no surprise that we regularly view ourselves as special, if not different.

And in the case of most religious themes, we are considered the ‘chosen ones’ – dearly loved or favoured by various divine beings. But over the years, as we understand more of our neighbouring species, and as Psychology becomes a more robust discipline, we know a great deal more about how things can go very wrong with us, and also how other species are by no means as simple as they seem. In certain areas of cognition, they can be far superior.

So not only are we mundane creatures desperately trying to survive on (and make sense of) this dying ball of crust, we are, by our own hands, equal parts inventors, equal parts destroyers. Most assuredly, if we can find a way to do something better, we will rapidly find a way to do far worst. We are the proud inventors of the computer but also the same agents who gave birth to malware and viruses. If given a choice, we are often terribly exploitative – almost disappointingly so.

Imagine a world that’s overrun by diseased rats. Offering a very small reward for killing a rat does appear to be an incentive to keep this pestilence at bay. If the reward was to the tune of a dollar per dead rat, a reasonable majority would do it as a duty or routine, but you can be absolutely certain that there will be those who will start rearing huge rats farms deliberately for no other reason than to cash in on the bounty.

And so it’s disturbing that when developing a system that has nothing but the best of intentions, we spend far more time enforcing countermeasures. Offer healthcare for free, and you will find perfectly healthy people crowding the clinics for no other reason than ‘it’s free and what’s the harm?”. History has a long list of disappointing good intentions.

However, the worst of our behaviour – the most base, the most depraved, the most pathological – manifests itself when we can hide around anonymity. The amount of unbridled hate, the ugliness of the vulgar, the deliberate extent one goes to create misery for others, all these are so loathsome, so demeaning and so toxic that words struggle to fully capture the putrid poison that floats on the anonymous platform of the internet (which to an extent, includes games and chat applications).

Such psychopathy isn’t a surprise. We are a lot nicer in real life because we are directly (and without choice) held accountable for our actions. Our observable behaviour becomes psychological clues for others to decipher what sort of person we are, and the consequences of social rejection are very real. But knowing we can get away with doing anything leads to some very telling behaviour. After all, if exams were held with no invigilators, and hence no accountability, you will be hard pressed to find anyone doing meaningful studying after a while.

Also, after much extensive behavioural studies, there’s more to be disappointed with ourselves: We do not change our beliefs even when the evidence presented is objective and irrefutable. The opposite is true. We tend to become more entrenched in our old beliefs and openly defy any attempts to alter our way of thinking. In a 2006 poll of Americans by Time magazine, when asked about their responses if Science could conclusively prove their faith wrong, 64% said they would reject the findings in favour of their faith.

But it doesn’t have to be seen in a religious context. We have known people (and sometimes through TV shows) who end up marrying someone who’s blatantly a misfit: insincere, having affairs on the sly, or a dishonest rogue. Yet, despite well intended admonishments and various proofs of infidelity, go ahead with the marriage anyway. It makes for a suspenseful plot, a reminder on how acutely difficult it is to sever an emotional connection – and also how slowly we change our beliefs (if at all).

These persistent flaws are not likely to change anytime. They are perhaps a by-product of what it means to be human. But it still doesn’t excuse deliberate hurtful behaviour, nor should we encourage situations where human toxicity can build up. How we choose to act in the absence of authority, in the face of mounting peer pressure, or in the dearth of any incentives, ultimately determine who we truly, truly are. How many would pass the test? Would you?

So have you thought (HYTA) about the problems of being human?

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