Thursday, October 4, 2012

Humanity Desperately Wants Monsters to Be Real- Part 2

Continued from part 1.....

#2. Hatred of Monsters Brings Us Closer to Our Own People

The next time you're at a sporting event and the home team scores, reach over to the guy next to you and grab his crotch. Feel that boner? It's perfectly normal -- experiments show that testosterone goes up 25 percent in guys when their team wins. And that was with scientists watching.
Unrelated: The team they're cheering for is called the "Redskins."
Humans are social animals, and by that I of course mean we are bred by evolution for group murder. Natural selection has awarded you with a brain that loves everything your team does and hates everything the other team does, regardless of what it happens to be. That's because our ancient ancestors figured out at least 3.5 million years ago that we could kill things better when we ganged up on them. And when it came to survival, unity trumped logic, morality and everything else. If the group was wrong, you went along anyway, because the alternative was trying to go solo against a Velociraptor.*

*The author is not a trained scientist.

This "loyalty or death" instinct is why you didn't feel bad about all the people who were blown up in the Death Star. It's why the football team didn't hang around the D&D club in high school, it's why you had completely forgotten about that terrible earthquake in Haiti until I mentioned it just now. Your brain functions in a completely different way when looking at the people outside your group -- they might as well be a different species.
"-- And really, what's up with the 'no penis' thing? Bunch of freaks, if you ask me."
Or monsters. You've gotten the idea by now.

Now combine what we know about the addictive nature of hate with the biological need to see our team "win" and you have what might be the most addictive human emotion possible: self-righteous indignation. The feeling that we are in the right, and that the bad guys have wronged us.
Why else would we love a good revenge movie? We sit in a theater and watch Liam Neeson's daughter get kidnapped. We're not sad about it, because we know he's a badass and he finally has permission to be awesome:

"I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have is a particular set of skills, skills I've acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you. I will find you. And I will kill you."

And theeeere's my boner again. I've got that speech memorized, and I swear to God someday I will convince someone to kidnap my wife just so I have an excuse to use it. Not a single person in that theater was rooting for it to all be an innocent misunderstanding. We wanted Liam to be wronged, because we wanted to see him kick ass. It's why so many people walk around with vigilante fantasies in their heads.
Not Liam Neeson.
We need to believe we're under siege at all times; no amount of evidence can talk us out of it. That's why, while the crime rate in America has been falling for 20 years, somehow 70 percent of Americans think it's getting worse. It's easy to blame the news media for pumping us full of stories of mass shootings and kidnapped children, but that's stopping one step short of the answer: The media just gives us what we want. And what we want is to think we're beset on all sides by monsters.

It's not that there isn't real crime and awfulness in the world. I've seen it first-hand -- a lot of my closest friends and most loyal fans are violent criminals. But we always want it to be worse than it actually is. How many of you remember the stories of rampant rapes and murders and chaos in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but fail to remember the follow-up stories pointing out that most of it never actually happened?
"Oh, I thought you meant 'N(ew)O(rleans) rapes reported'."
Do you have family who still insist that there is a "War on Christmas" despite the fact that every square inch of the USA celebrates it for three straight months? Do your hardcore Christian grandparents still believe there was an outbreak of rampant Satan worship and child sacrifice in the 1970s and '80s and that devout Satanists still run major U.S. corporations, no matter how many times you forward them the Snopes link debunking it? The facts are irrelevant -- the monsters must exist.

Hey, you remember those anti-Japanese propaganda posters from before? Here, take a gander at how Americans are portrayed in North Korea. Here's one of us shooting a little girl in the head:
Man, we must have blacked out hard that weekend.
Here we are burying families alive in mass graves:
And here we are chucking babies down a well, just for the hell of it:
And yeah, they start in early over there:
Seeing it from the other side, it's insane to the point of almost being comical. There are millions of people there who believe Americans want to invade and throw their babies down wells, as firmly as they believe the sun will rise. What would we possibly have to gain from an invasion of North Korea? For what rational reason would we spend billions of dollars to ...

Oh, right. Because we're not rational. Because we're monsters.

Of course, from the outside you can easily see how it's all a ploy to prop up a failed regime in a country where the populace is impoverished and oppressed: Only monsters can make North Korea's government look good by comparison.

The problem is, we all do it. Which brings us to the heart of the matter:

#1. Believing in Monsters Gives Us an Excuse to Be Dicks

Have you ever been mugged? Or been in a car accident that was someone else's fault? Or at the very least, have you had a run-in with really horrible customer service? When you told the story later, did you find yourself spicing it up a little? You know, making the mugger a little bigger and scarier, making the other driver more reckless? It's only natural -- danger equals excitement, and a scarier story gets more attention (fun fact: science says that negative experiences impact your brain about five times harder than positive ones). But get this: As we tell our inflated, scarier version of the story over and over again, we eventually start to remember the bullshit version as the truth. The mugger/drunk driver/Verizon customer service rep who wronged you will, in the telling, become a monster. And all human culture is just a series of stories we tell over and over.
And of course, the reason you tell that story to everyone you run into isn't to show how perfectly horrible the bad guy was; it's to show how horrible he was compared to you. Making them worse makes you look better. It's our own personal version of that Korean propaganda.

The worst part was after he finished and yelled "Can you hear me now?" down the well.
For instance, journalist and blogging great Fred Clark tells a bizarre story about the day his newspaper ran a gruesome article about some local kids who killed a kitten by burning it to death. The bizarre part is all of the messages that poured in from people proudly announcing that they, for one, did not approve of kitten burning. As if that was the minority opinion:

"If you jumped into the comments thread and started reading at any random point in the middle, you'd get the impression that the comments immediately preceding must have offered a vigorous defense of kitten-burning. No such comments offering any such defense existed, and yet reader after reader seemed to be responding to or anticipating this phantom kitten-burning advocacy group."
"Wait, just hear us out about their flavor ..."
It wasn't enough to know that some disturbed kids tortured kittens; they needed to believe everyone but them were kitten torturers. You can see why; think about how goddamned easy life would be if the only moral hurdle we had to clear was "didn't burn a kitten today." That's why we need to believe in kitten-burning monsters to lower that bar for us. This is why Maury Povich exists -- as we previously mentioned, people watch shows like that and Jersey Shore because it gives them a boost in self-importance. You didn't need a scientist to tell you that; you watched Snooki literally playing a flute with her vagina and realized that compared to her, you're the goddamned Dalai Lama. "Sure, I'm unemployed and I'm mean to my kids and fewer than 50 percent of my urinations have been into toilets, but you'd never catch me acting like that."
American Freedom Defense Initiative
An actual ad running in NY subways as we speak.
And that, friends, is why you can tell so much about a society by looking at their monsters. The really popular stories will always feature monsters that are as different from us as possible. Think about Star Wars -- what real shithead has ever referred to himself as being on "the dark side"? In Harry Potter and countless fantasy universes, you have wizards working in "black magic" and the "dark arts." Can you imagine a scientist developing some technology for chemical weapons or invasive advertising openly thinking of what he does as "dark science"? Can you imagine a real world leader naming his headquarters "The Death Star" or "Mount Doom"?
"Even I wasn't that tacky."
Of course not. But we need to believe that evil people know they're evil, or else that would open the door to the fact that we might be evil without knowing it. I mean, sure, maybe we've bought chocolate that was made using child slaves or driven cars that poisoned the air, but we didn't do it to be evil -- we were simply doing whatever we felt like and ignoring the consequences. Not like Hitler and the bankers who ruined the economy and those people who burned the kittens -- they wake up every day intentionally dreaming up new evils to create. It's not like Hitler actually thought he was saving the world.

So no matter how many times you vote to cut food stamps and then use the money to buy a boat, you could still be way worse. You could, after all, be one of those raping/murdering/lazy/ignorant/greedy/oppressive monsters that you know the world is full of and that only your awesome moral code prevents you from turning into at any moment. And those monsters are out there. They have to be. Because otherwise, we're the monsters.

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