This week I wish to discuss cruelty for there are many forms of this nasty vice that currently infect almost everything we encounter. Whenever I turn on a Cable News Network, no matter which one, there is one message always conveyed—it is the message of us verses them. It seems that news as we used to know it a decade or more ago has died. There appears to be an agenda that accompanies the news and colors it accordingly. Question: Is the us against them a form of cruelty?
Obviously I think so. There are many psychological experiments that have repeatedly demonstrated the abuses possible with this mentality. Take for example the infamous Robbers Cave Experiment. Muzafer Sherif is a social psychologist who carried out this experiment. His main contribution is known as Realistic Conflict Theory. He demonstrated that conflict between groups occurs when two groups are in competition. “The events at Robbers Cave mimicked the kinds of conflict that plague people all over the world. The simplest explanation for this conflict is competition. Assign strangers to groups, throw the groups into competition, stir the pot, and soon there is conflict. There is a lot of evidence that when people compete for scarce resources (e.g. jobs, land, [political choices], etc.) there is a rise in hostility between groups. For example, in times of high unemployment there may be high levels of racism among white people who believe that [non-white people] (or asylum seekers) have taken their jobs.”1
Is competition therefore cruel?—and that’s a fair question. From my perspective, there is always competition and it in and of itself is not cruel, but how we respond may be.
Lord of the Flies
Let’s look at another in and out group, the classic story told in Lord of the Flies. This is the story of two groups of boys who war with one another over questions of rule and morality. “At an allegorical level, the central theme is the conflicting human impulses toward civilization and social organization—living by rules, peacefully and in harmony—and toward the will to power. Themes include the tension between groupthink and individuality, between rational and emotional reactions, and between morality and immorality.”2
Stanford Prison Experiment
Then we have the classic study known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. Again we see a division among students occur and brutality ensue. I could go on, but is it anything but cruel when we so divide ourselves against another group that we no longer think of them as worthy of our respect?
Our current political landscape is tearing our nation apart and we aid in this every time we distinguish ourselves as separate, belonging to the preferred group. In a sense this is not much different than the behavior of youngsters who mock other children, deriding them with ridicule, shaming them for being a little different, and so forth. Have we forgotten this lesson and fail to recognize that our behavior may not be too much different today?
Many Forms of Cruelty
Cruelty comes in many forms but it always begins by setting ourselves above another. Oh, there are always rationalizations such as “They deserve it!” But a rationalization is just that, it is not permission to be cruel and hateful.
A poll on FB that I responded to this past week asked a simple question: “What is the one thing that you think is wrong with our world?” The answer for me was quick and easy: HATE! Cruelty is a form of hate and it begets itself on all if we say nothing, do nothing, and allow its infectious nature to metastasize.
So I may sound like a broken record sometimes, but once again I urge you to set aside the hate and find a better way. For as Seneca once stated, “All cruelty springs from weakness.”
My thoughts anyway, what are yours?