As mentioned in the previous Survival of the Fittest : Science Without Animorals post here are more of why Evolutionary Psychology is currently my favorite scientific field.
All people do what they deem good. Whether it is good for the majority of those around them or not is another question, but for their brain to be all “yeah let’s do this,” they must think it’s good. From a white lie about how your date looks in that dress, to genocide. Hitler, Pol Pot, Ghengis Khan and other infamous people truly believed they were in the right.
Here are two examples I thought of over a decade ago. (suggested Bon Iver playlist to accompany the read lightens up the mood, post is at least PG-13)
Imagine you and a friend are enjoying a dinner at your favorite restaurant. You are enjoying your time over a few drinks and feel the need to relieve yourself. The last thing to do would be to urinate in your pants where you sat. You could simply hold it if you did not want to ruin the moment or excuse yourself and go to the bathroom. If you didn’t know where it was you could ask for directions. If you arrived and found it occupied you would wait. If out of order, check if there is another bathroom, or walk to a neighboring establishment and request to use theirs. All these and more would come before sitting in a warm puddle of urine.
Now imagine you were at that same dinner. Gun-totting, masked people run in and proceed to round up everyone that was inside the place. They lock and and secure all entrances and exits. Now a hostage, you and the other unfortunate souls are made to stand in a line. You are roughly in the middle of this line. One of the gunmen walks up to one end and issues a demand to the person standing there. The person complies with the demand and is let go. The next person is asked, they comply, and are let go. The third person is asked, they comply, and are let go. The demands seem random but manageable. The fourth person is asked to recite the mathematical constant of Pi to its 25th digit. They get to the 3.14159, fail to say 2 and are unceremoniously shot in the head.
The gunman continues down the line. The questions seem to be random, You can’t seem to pick up on any pattern. One thing seems to be constant though, everyone who complies is being released, anyone that failed is on the ground, with one or two orifices added to the 7 human heads commonly have. The gunman is close to you. He is saying something to the person standing next to you. You cant quite make it out, but you see them, almost feel them stop trembling. Out of the corner of your eye, you see the person looking around. You see/hear a flash followed by a warm splatter on the side of your face.
You feel something fall limply to the ground next to you. The gunman is in front of you. Whatever splashed on you a second ago, now feels frigid as it begins slowly trickling down the side of your face. His eyes are fixed on yours. The acrid smell that was hanging in the air begins to fade. Why can’t you look away. Why can’t you hear anything else but your heart beat and his steady breathing. Why can’t you look away? He asks you to sit down and piss yourself.
All of a sudden pissing yourself is the not just a ‘good’ idea, but the only thing you want to do. You would choose nothing else.
That was gruesome but its purpose was to show how even horrific situations can change how one evaluates the ‘rightness’ of a choice.
I believe this goes beyond just humans or ‘thinking’ beings, as evidenced by occasions such as Koko the Gorilla blaming her Vandalism on a cat.
Here is my other example. This is not as dark of a trip as the previous example
For whatever reason you find yourself in a swimming pool surrounded by flamethrowers. They are turned on from the outside, encircling the pool. You dive under the surface away form the heat as the jets aproach your location. After about 3–40 seconds you will begin to struggle with the urge to get some air. The discomfort will begin to be unbearable. You look up at the orange yellow glare above the surface and will fight of thoughts such as “maybe as I am covered in water I can stand without getting burnt…too badly.” Your body will try and divert the blood from your extremities and send it to your main organs, brain and heart being the top priorities. All other thoughts will eventually be shut down and your brain will send the signal to your body to stand. Even if it is for a horrific few seconds they would be preferable to imminent death.**
Ok, that was still dark. I even took out the machine guns I used to include around that pool and still… This was going to be a possibly unnerving post regardless, but not sure watching The Following and American Horror Story episodes as I finalized the draft is any help. Listening to Bon Iver as I type this is a help.
Point is we all want to do good. What is considered good can be subjective. But as living beings continuing the condition of being alive is our core program of what is good, we build all else on that.
Or is it?
During a Genetics course, the professor was telling us about Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome. This condition’s defining characteristic is that it afflicts one with an uncontrollable urge to destroy themselves and others. The professor said explained that if given a pair of scissors, someone suffering from this, would shortly begin to stab and gouge their own body. A straight jacket may be the best recourse to keep them form constantly biting themselves and others. I raised my hand and when called upon asked what would happen if the subject had been raised in a community where gouging and stabbing oneself was a social norm and considered good. Were their genetics coded to do what was considered destructive and painful, going against what was taught as good, or was it somehow wired for actual destruction of it’s own life?
Prof said they were not sure and added that I should write books or something.
Good school, good course, good prof.
- * If in Italy you could walk into essentially any establishment and ask c’e lai un bagno and they would let you use the bathroom without having to purchase a thing. I really did not get that about the States. there are more public bathrooms in general but the whole buy something to use…well I don’t know if that’s how it is everywhere but it seems implied outside of some places such as Fast Food etc. This could have changed.
- **Suicide fascinates me in this regard. Overriding this base instinct, though almost all that attempt it have said they regretted it after the attempt had begun (albeit some go on to repeat the attempt as regret does not mean the initial reasons have been solved)
- Audiobook Suggestion : Currently working my way through the Audiobook of Plato’s dialogue “The Republic.” If I was asked to make a list of required material to be considered an adult this would be one of them. It is good foundational material to better try and understand the world.
- Video of the Post : “Bad” by Micheal Jackson since my answer to his question of whose bad? No one if you ask them. Or in the context of the song would it be everyone?