Why do “certain people” do cruel things?*
Gosh, it is so easy to assume that this question is about other people, isn’t it? Do we imagine ourselves incapable of doing little cruelties throughout the day?
How often do you downplay, ignore, or rationalize the various “little” humiliations and hurts we cause other people?
On Quora, how often does your sarcastic answer, angry question, or callous comment hurt somebody?
In thinking about cruelty, I tend to have several hypotheses or questions about people (including myself):
Were they raised, trained, conditioned into a habit of experiencing pain (as recipient or giver) as pleasurable?
Do they have misinformation, or an anomalous worldview, that justifies causing pain?
Do they believe that pain may be beneficial, redemptive, salvific, etc., for the recipient(s)?
Do they believe that there are occasions to cause pain for the sake of justice (or the Good), so they derive pleasure from the overall movement toward a just and good world?
Do they have some kind of mental illness? (Do you consider sadism or masochism as illnesses or preferences?)
I also see several complicated aspects of the question:
Do we mean “cruel” in the eyes of the agent or the recipient(s)? Or various recipients? If the agent does not consider it cruel, then should we label it something else?
How often do people act with intent — but not realize that an action causes pain, or not realize its level?
How often do we overlook or fail to anticipate the hurts caused by our actions? How often do we think that any pain people might experience from our words is de minimus? Do we deny that the discomfort or offense taken by readers is a form of pain?
How often do our inadvertent actions, our off-the-cuff wording or flip remarks, cause more hurt than we intended? Are these little cruelties?
Are we getting pleasure from our clever sarcasm or teasing? Is this pleasure partly from making the other person squirm, or throwing them off balance, or winning the exchange?
Can we be so sure that our little cruelties are utterly different than serious cruelty? Why is there a disjuncture, between us and Those cruel persons, rather than a continuum? Why do we forgive ourselves so readily?
It’s hard to think about this stuff clearly.
I guess I’m mostly asking questions, maybe I can reformulate this answer into a more systematic statement.
But I already sense that there’s an edge to my tone, a kind of resentment, that may offend people.
And I do not want that…
* Since cruelty is typically defined as deriving pleasure from causing pain, the pleasure aspect of the question is redundant.
So, the question is why do certain people do cruel things?
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Via Diane Meriwether.
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