Buzzing for Appeasement

Well, the French have reminded us that Miligram’s test still holds true even today.  In some ways, it’s not entirely surprising; in other ways, it makes us deeply uncomfortable with “human nature.”

So what’s the break down here?  We as a human species seem to be in large part (though not entirely) easily given over to authority, so much so, that we’re willing to put to death other people when told to by authorities or motivated by self-interested outcomes (winning the game show).   In this case; the mixture of prize (read: resources) and authority (read:  acceptance from higher powers) wield dubious results for what we generally deem “humanity.”   That shouldn’t come as any surprise to people who look at the ways in which our evolutionary instinct still influences us today in a variety of ways.  Take food (though not mine; I’d have to shock you!).  Humans have a natural tendency towards fatty, sugary, salty foods.  In our evolutionary history, these are rare, comparatively, but they supply a lot for a body that lives off the land with little but animals skins, handmade tools and unstable shelter (the world that humans lived in for the vast majority of their existence) for protection.   Because of that evolutionary record, whenever we come across them, we’re apt to feast on them; our body desiring and our food-processors in our brain not sure when they will come again.  Therefore, it’s no surprise that even after we get our fill, we continue to fill upon them and we see the rise of obesity in modern industrialized societies with an overabundance of such foods.  (It’s worth noting that “such foods” in the modern food industry gives us the salt, fat, and sugars but rarely the same ranges of vitamins, minerals, and other useful nutrients; therefore, it works against historical precedence).  But the food isn’t all here.  We have an overabundance of industries, sponsored celebrities, and other authorities encouraging the consumption to eat said food.

Ok, so we’re evolutionarily programmed for certain preferences and to privilege certain outcomes.  No surprise there.  But our evolution doesn’t dominate us, right?  Our supposed greatest attribute as humans is our adaptability; the possibility of using conscious thought to think through, predict, and speculate outcomes of our actions; to not just be in the moment but to see long term pictures.  Realizing this bigger picture and a desire to procure it, we become communally invested with other humans.  This builds an insular network and range of habits, rules, and acceptable behaviors.  We tell ourselves that we are imbued with moral integrity from our family, culture, and spiritual upbringing, we’re able to overcome instinct, pre-modern approaches to the world or any real external influence.  The video proves us wrong to some degree.

The most interesting part was that not just the contestants’ actions but also, the crowd chanting “Punishment.”  It seems to be a call back to the gladiator days of the Roman Empire that crowds always seem to want blood.  Stephen King perceived the same with his novel, Running Man and certainly the film Series 7:  The Contenders followed suit with a phenomenal satire of bloodlust and human nature.  Below is a preview of that film; I highly recommend seeing the entire film.



This train of thought reminds me of a recent conversation with a student.  The student recommended the documentary: Whale Warrior, though warned about some of the graphic violence of humans on animals.  This brought to mind another documentary called Earthlings; also with a significant amount of human on animal violence.  Granted, some would see no difference between this and the animal on human violence made so popular by FOX and other shows famous slew of TV specials “When Animals Attack” captured best by a top 10 list on Discovery Channel website (http://animal.discovery.com/videos/untamed-uncut-animal-attacks/).

Our natural tendency towards violence is troubling.  I’m not sure I would say we’re worse than our ancestors; after all, the Inquisition could still teach the writers of the Saw series a few things.  However, it’s still disappointing to see our tendency towards violence of both human and nonhuman lifeforms.  We still seem to get immense pleasure from violence and continually find ways of promoting this through clear visible forms:  sports (hockey; football as key examples of orchestrated group violence), films (Saw and other torture-porn films), television (The Chair or The Chamber) or even other circumstances as well.  Granted, some of those forms are more extreme than others and undoubtedly, we need some sense of exertion for ourselves, but our propensity to take it too far is still a challenging issue.    

QUESTIONS

What other times and places do the ideas discussed herein play a role in history?  What do the lessons herein show us about particular events in history?  How does it explain

How do authors grapple with this issue of group condoned/enacted violence?  What are some of the ways that it’s rationalized or denounced?

Who are the monsters in these cases?  The crowd?  The person pressing the button?  The authority figure (game show host)?  The show’s creator for showing us how low humans can go?  The viewers at home enjoying the show?

Is this the sole product of Western (and/or American) culture?  Or is the group mentality something part of all humans; in some ways replicable?



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Comments

  1. One example of how violence is used for entertainment even though lives are on the line were when the gladiator battles in Rome occurred. These battles were gruesome and to the death but many spectators showed up and chanted "kill" when it was time for the other to die. It is believed that at this time, it was rationalized by saying that it was entertainment for the people. Yes, in some circumstances there were criminals used as gladiators that were on death row, but this does not take away from the fact that many people were dying during these events. I am not sure if there is a true monster in these cases. However, I believe the closest considered monster would be the collective of human beings watching the show at home. As a society, we create the enjoyment of watching horror films and that it is fun and entertaining (even though we know they're not real people) for people of our own kind to be killed for no reason. This concept is the product of both culture and our genetics. The combined influences of our past survival instincts, as well as societies' exploitation of it has created it. It is only replicable to the point where society allows it, considering most people would have to not like horror films for it to be seen as unacceptable which isn't likely in the near future.

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  2. This blog post describes present day human life in a perfect sense. Food and violence are the two things that could describe the United States, or this whole world for that matter.
    Food is used to describe cultures in today's world. Italy is known for its great style of food like pasta, whereas Mexico is known for tacos, and China/Eastern Asia for sushi. Places are known for the foods they have there. However when you get to America and the food it is known for putting into the world is perfectly described in the blog, fatty sugary and salty. Where can you get all this at once? Fast food places of course. We are looked at as the slobs of the world from the food we create and eat.
    Violence is not a category the United States looks much better in. We are looked at as one of the most violent countries, but we as people always have an urge to be violent, it is basically in our DNA. However as Americans, we are looked at as so violent since we are in so many wars and also almost all of our movies and shows promote violence.
    In the eyes of the rest of the world, we are basically bringing down the evolution of man. We are looked at as the stereotype explained from this blog. We are the people that enjoy the salty, fatty, sugary food most because we are the most obese. We are the people that start violence more than anyone else. If anything, this article could be aimed as a wake-up call to Americans to clean up their act.

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