We are not as Good as we Think we are

This Just In: Humans Are Bad at Everything That’s Important

A minority of our news stories cover what’s truly new: scientific discoveries, thriving business startups, or groundbreaking legislation. But most of our news stories are about some human being (or group of human beings) failing, in a very familiar way, to be kind, fair, or honest. Politician caught lying! Violence erupts between Group A and Group B! Company misleads customers for profit! Details at 6.

If we sat down to think about what’s really important to us, we might come up with qualities like fairness, kindness, responsibility, loyalty, and mutual respect. It seems like all of the major problems in the world are caused by a small contingent of bad apples, who simply shun these important qualities and ruin it for kind, responsible, honest and fair people like ourselves.

I think this is wishful thinking. The truth is that all of us — even those of us who feel like good people — are almost comically terrible at achieving these qualities, yet we expect them as a matter of course from each other and ourselves. Our incredulous response to scandal and selfishness suggests that we believe any of us could, at any moment, snap out of our self-interest and dysfunction, and make the world the place it should have been all along.

What makes us distinct from other species, more than anything, is that we’re able to move beyond being impulse-driven, self-interested animals, at least a little bit. We can reflect, we can refrain, we can empathize, we can plan. We can feel our impulses while at the same time understanding that they aren’t always leading us to good things.

In the relatively short time we’ve been able to explore this higher territory, we’ve come to really value these lofty qualities, and we’ve become preoccupied with public figures failing to achieve them. After all, we know it is virtues like fairness, honesty, discipline and kindness that are going to make it easier to be human, to deal with suffering and loss and all the stark realities that come with knowing you’re a vulnerable, animated bag of meat. We desperately want to get ourselves (but especially others) to embody these higher human qualities, which promise to save us from cruelty and misery. But as much as we covet them, we forget that these new capacities are in fact skills, and that as a species we’re generally not very good at them.

Essentially, this higher territory is what we call morality, and I think we tend to greatly overestimate how good we are at it. We’re a species who, as I point out frequently, can barely uphold our New Year’s commitments to ourselves, yet we seem to expect everyone else to be more or less upstanding and incorruptible. Why am I so frequently appalled by how thoughtlessly other people park their cars, when I don’t think twice about spending thirty dollars on beer instead of feeding the starving?

You can make up excuses for this kind of behavior — cognitive dissonance, meritocratic economics, drop-in-the-bucket syndrome — but I think all of that is avoiding the truth about human beings, which is that we are pitifully underdeveloped when it comes to morality. We just happen to be living in that awkward and painful stage where we recognize its supreme importance to our well-being, yet we’re so bad at it we can barely stand ourselves.

So what am I suggesting we do about this? Two things:

1) That we recognize how hard it is for human beings to be what they aspire to be.

Why are we so shocked that a politician would lie? That a company puts profits ahead of compassion? That everyday people harbor prejudices? That we have such a hard time saving enough for retirement, or giving enough to charity, or not eating too much?

For one thing, it’s so much easier to identify the right thing to do than to actually do it, and when we’re assessing the behavior of others, we only have to do the former. But even with our own selves, we trivialize the difficulty of living up to our moral standards.

To quit smoking, you only have to do one simple thing: avoid putting cigarettes in your mouth. How hard is that? Somehow, very.

How hard is it to treat others as yourself? So incredibly difficult we are bound to spend our lives failing at it.

I’m not suggesting we downplay or deny the harm that our moral failings cause, but to become more accepting of human failing in general, particularly our own. We are too quick to condemn people for not living up to what are actually extremely lofty standards, at least for a creature whose motivations are still largely reptilian.

You might think, “Well, I know I should give more to charity than I do, but I would never lie to my spouse! Only a monster could do that!” That much may be true; you may have the wherewithal to succeed (so far) at Lofty Moral Standard X, but not at Lofty Moral Standard Y. And perhaps you would argue that the standards you meet are more important than the ones you don’t — but maybe you are just lucky in that regard, and can’t really explain why something is straightforward for you that seems nearly impossible for someone else. We should be grateful for the moral wherewithal we do have, and never lose sight of how easy it is to fall short of Complete Moral Upstandingness, and how often we do so ourselves.

The name for this particular combination of empathy and gratitude is forgiveness, which is itself another lofty aspiration of human beings that we are generally terrible at. One crucial understanding we must come to, as a species that is struggling to transcend its amoral animal past, is that we can’t expect our progress to be evenly distributed across individuals of our species. That means you may know how to do the right thing at times others don’t, and for that you should be grateful instead of vindictive.

Read it all at: Raptitude.Com – http://www.raptitude.com/2015/03/this-just-in-humans-are-bad-at-everything-thats-important/

Stacy McCain speaks of Rights, Choices, and Equality

The Errors of ‘Democracy’

Posted on | February 1, 2015

We are heirs of a tradition. Each of us is born into circumstances that were created by our parents, by our grandparents, by our ancestors, and by the civilization in which they lived. Human life existed before we born and will continue after our deaths. As children we inherit the past. As parents we create the future. Wisdom requires us to understand ourselves as a single link in an infinite chain of human existence, rather than to imagine ourselves as free-floating atoms unconnected to others.

Popular ideas of “democracy” — the modernistic idolatry that speaks the language of “rights,” “choice” and “equality” — obscure the truth of human existence, trapping us in the present tense, isolating us as rootless individuals removed from the authentic traditions of our inheritance. Children are taught that the past is not merely useless, but actually harmful, because human history is nothing but a catalog of oppression, atrocities and victimhood. Thus, the modern child cannot be allowed to believe that his grandparents were wise or virtuous, that the great achievements of our civilization are worthy of respect.

The great idol of modernity is Progress. Everything that happened prior to today is “old-fashioned” and obsolete, and nothing is more obsolete than yesterday’s ideas. Whatever your parents or grandparents believed in 1980 or 1950 or 1920 is presumed to be wrong. Your ancestors were all racist sexist homophobes enslaved by patriarchal religious bigotry. Never mind that their beliefs enabled your ancestors to survive hardship that would be unimaginable for most Americans in the 21st century. In a remarkable span of six decades, America survived the Great Depression, triumphed in World War II and destroyed the Evil Empire of Soviet tyranny. Yet the American child today is taught to despise the values of the people who accomplished all that. The child cannot cherish his own inherited tradition or respect his own ancestors, and is instead commanded to bow down at the altar of Progress.

“To live for the moment is the prevailing passion — to live for yourself, not for your predecessors or posterity. We are fast losing the sense of historical continuity, the sense of belonging to a succession of generations originating in the past and stretching into the future. . . .
“Narcissism emerges as the typical form of character structure in a society that has lost interest in the future.”
Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (1979)

What has resulted from this modernistic idolatry of democratic Progress — the utopian fantasy of an imagined future where we all live in absolute equality, free of “old-fashioned” beliefs — is a sort of social epidemic of bipolar hysteria, in which minds unmoored from cultural tradition constantly shift between utter confusion and radical certainty. Anyone who paid close attention to the “Occupy” protests of 2011 saw evidence of what kind of disordered personalities this progressive epidemic has produced. Young people who were clearly incompetent to manage their own lives nevertheless felt themselves entitled to dictate to the rest of us how “society” must be changed so as to “empower” these mobs of emotional unstable misfits. Refusing to take responsibility for their own failures, the Occupiers believed they were supremely qualified to pass judgment on the “system” that served as an all-purpose scapegoat onto which they could externalize blame for their misfortunes.

Duke: The lights are growing dim Otto. I know a life of crime has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am.
Otto: That’s bullshit. You’re a white suburban punk just like me.
Duke: Yeah, but it still hurts.

Great art speaks great truths and the death of Duke in Repo Man is an under-appreciated highlight of 20th-century cinematic art. Whatever the authorial purpose behind Alex Cox’s 1984 cult classic, that scene speaks eternal truth. Duke and his girlfriend Debbie try to rob a liquor story, and Duke laughs in psychopathic glee as he points his pistol at one of the clerk: “I’m going to kill him! I’m going to kill him! I’m going to kill everybody!” Unfortunately for Duke, there is a thing called karma in the world, and when Duke is momentarily distracted, the store clerk gets his shotgun and fatally wounds Duke. Debbie responds by shooting the clerk dead and it is then that Duke’s death scene plays out. Breathing his last gasps and spitting up blood, Duke speaks his own epitaph, expressing the worldview of every worthless punk who ever lived: “I blame society.”

Irresponsible people always need a scapegoat to blame for their faults and failures. They can never be satisfied to let their own shortcomings or disappointments be blamed on bad luck. Other people may be unlucky — indeed, many millions are far more unfortunate in their circumstances than the punk — but bad luck won’t do for him. No, the punk must always have someone to blame. His own failures and the problems that he has caused for himself? Not his fault. Blame society.

A punk’s entire life is basically one long quest for revenge, an attempt to even the score with “society,” to get back at the people he blames for whatever it is that has made him unhappy or unsuccessful.

The Cult of Progress has spawned a Punk Generation of people with no system of values except intellectual abstractions — “democracy,” “rights,” “equality” and so forth. They have learned nothing of sturdy virtue, nothing of classic Stoicism, nothing of the Calvinist ethos of enduring life’s hardships with a spirit of reverent gratitude.

We are told that democracy is synonymous with freedom, but we see how a false belief in “equality” between the wise and foolish, between the evil and the good, must ultimately enslave us all.

“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”
Romans 1:22 (KJV)

From:     http://theothermccain.com/