blood diamonds

Four things I just don’t understand. I’ve Googled in search of answers, I’ve spent hours in books and bookstores and reading between the lines in movies, and talking to people who are supposed to know, and still I don’t understand. Can anyone please tell me:

  1. The cause of human cruelty: What is it that causes people to take pleasure in, or even to be knowingly indifferent to, the suffering of other people and of animals? I’ve seen small children kick dogs. I’ve seen bosses take delight in watching their staff squirm. I’ve seen women enthralled at stories of other women victimized and abused. I don’t understand.
  2. The cause of intellectual poverty: When there are so many excellent, highly entertaining documentaries and remarkably informative non-fiction books written, why are the best-sellers in both media always shallow, throw-away stuff that does nothing for the brain whatever? The people I know, from all walks of life with all levels of education, are intellectually curious and love to learn, so who are these people that watch and read nothing but crap?
  3. The reason for the popular length of art and entertainment: Why don’t collections of short stories and short films sell as well as novels and ‘feature-length’ films? And if the best concertos and symphonies are an hour long, why is most popular music no more than five minutes long? And why are television comedies almost always twenty minutes (sans commercials) and television dramas almost always forty minutes, when the history of film and theatre suggests the ideal length is at least twice that?
  4. What makes people crave power: I’ve spent time with lots of politicians and business leaders, some of whom I like, most of whom I don’t, but they all have this thirst for authority, the ability to control, to influence, to wield power. I can kind of understand the desire to be rich, but I just don’t get the desire to be powerful. It comes with so much responsibility, it makes me uncomfortable. When I’ve had it, my instinct is to share it. But most of those I know who have it are insatiable in their desire for more. It’s unhealthy, and it corrupts, and it seems to be addictive.
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  1. hans says:

    psykopath (4% of the populion are that..) gret kick of it and they dont understand that they do anything wrong becuse they dont think just take evrything lirtacy

  2. hans says:

    why do history of flims sugest that? (many houer long dramas get cut up into 40 minuts then… maybe becuse foks choose enteranmen becuse spombody have to tell them tha they beenfits more from info then entariment know many wisful smart foks that just watch enteraminet becuse they just havnt thuget abut info can be intrestng and maybe you need 2 bbc like channels to infom the foks btw a quastin ou forgot why do ppl watch boring tv when they can lisen to intresting radio or at øeast do somthing useful when lsien to ok radio ppl say they are tired thast why but the worst thing that happen when you lsien to radio inste are that youi start to sleep and wale up ealyer next moring and can get more things done maybe becuse many of the politcans are just pysopaths that have had luck ? but is not that what the realy point for a state or goverment to get power (if not why is it state schooles and no govemnet that want anarchism or rhig wing anarchism?

  3. steven says:

    TV length: most likely because the viewers aren’t the customers. TV producers know that their customer is an advert agency, that the show they’re producing is really just way to draw in the agency’s target audience. TV writers and directors would probably (I’m just guessing here, not being one myself) love to have free-form control over time, to tell a “real” story, but they know they have to fit into the stations’ schedule and leave enough room for the ads.I’m not really telling you anything you don’t already know though, right Dave?

  4. Jim Elve says:

    Great set of questions, Dave. Perhaps some guru on a distant mountaintop could give definitive answers to these and to that nagging ‘meaning of life’ issue. I suspect that the questions are meant to be largely rhetorical and that simply pondering them is valuable in and of itself. Thanks for the mental stimulation! After doing a little pondering, though, I can’t help spouting off. It’s in my nature, I guess.Perhaps the reason for cruelty is that we haven’t really evolved from the caveman stage as much as we’d like to believe. While it’s no longer necessary that we go out and kill our own food, some vestige of that killer instinct still exists hardwired in our brain. Intellectual poverty? Just plain laziness is my guess. Why do all that hard thinking when you can just sit back and be entertained? Especially, after a hard day out on the veldt killing supper. The entertainment timespan thing has intrigued me, too. I contend that feature length films should be made from short stories more often than novels. Invariably, the film skips or glosses over material in the novel. Steven’s explanation of who’s paying makes sense. Movie goers are paying their $8 and demand 90 minutes or more. TV sponsors are calling the shots on the airwaves.Those who crave the accoutrements of power like lavish lifestyles, servants, etc. are easier to figure than the austere power-for-the-sake-of-it fiends. Whenever I can’t figure these things out, I like to just chalk it up to something that didn’t quite work out when homo sapiens evolved. Coming up with a nice easy answer that doesn’t cut into my prime-time TV pap keeps me from kicking the cat.

  5. Likely answers for majority of cases:I believe a prior poster mentioned laziness; this (and apathy) can explain many unfortunate circumstances; but there’s also other possibilities1: Fear (reasonable or not), ignorance, mental aberrations, past cruelties they themselves experienced, how they were raised and educated, local circumstances and behavior of others (mob behavior/peer pressure) and feelings of social superiority/status/power over others which may be related to basic survival, esteem and sexual issues.2: It can be hard to find the really good works in literature– and time and patience are often in short supply. People also don’t seek enlightenment as often as they do comforting, or distraction from their own lives, or reinforcement of their own existing beliefs. Actual learning usually involves encompassing and accepting surprises in information, and then making significant changes in our perspectives/worldviews/mental models to accomodate them. These are not necessarily easy or comfortable steps to take, and may also increase (at least temporarily) the uncertainty and mental instability the learner must endure. Such a state can be uncomfortable, scary, and undesirable just as often as it can be exhilarating. That’s one reason many folks tend to be better learners when young than old– for the old people get to dreading the possible downsides more, both consciously and unconsciously.3: Cost-effectiveness of investment, and attention spans folks are willing to spend under various scenarios. I myself want to get hours of entertainment or learning from a book if I go to the trouble of finding it, buying it, and reading it. Short stories don’t usually offer the same ‘bang for the buck’, plus can be much more inconsistent in quality than a whole book-size story or theme usually is. I’ve rarely come across a book which was excellent in the first half and terrible in the second. But such contrast is routinely encountered in a series of short stories.On the supply-side, you have the flip-side of the investment cost-effectiveness and available attention span for a work, on the part of its creators. So the different entertainment spans you see are a consequence of the balancing of both the demand side and supply-side here. Note that changes in technology and society can alter certain variables and so the time spans observed. But the biological values of human nature will still determine the absolute limits (for now).(There’s a lot of ‘apples and oranges’ comparisons suggested in your question, due to the widely varying circumstances and content of your examples)4: Stone Age human nature. Power is related to social status, which means sexual prowess and control of your group. Wealth is related to this, and often (but not always) equivalent to the same thing.Many of those who crave power do NOT crave responsibility: note how many elites caught in bad behavior or mistakes try to escape responsibility, NOT accept it.This thirst for power seems much worse in men than women, on average. See for references.I feel much the same as you do in regards to power and responsibility. Based on my own experience, I’m come to think that NOT desiring power may actually be one of the best qualifications for having it– for when I myself have had it, I seemed to be a pretty good leader, getting much accomplished, with both those above and below me happy with the results. Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that I’m a fan of eastern philosophies like the I Ching, either.

  6. judith says:

    homo sapiens vs homo noeticus?

  7. 1. The source of human crueltyis the human disconnection from the heart.When we others are no longer as real to usas we are to ourselveswe have not obligation of mutualityand we can become cruel.2.As humans we are blessedwith minds in which the entire universe dwells.Some of usaren’t ready to unleashall the potential that involves.But some are.3.We avoid quietudewe wire ourselves to expect changeevery hour.But we fear it so much,that we have to change the channel.Listening to Beethoven’s fifth symphonyis a transcendent experience.(See answer to number two.)4.Humans thirst for spacesthat they don’t occupy.Those who have no real power, crave it, but are only capable of graspingthe false illusion of power.Unless you klnow what real power is,you cannot have it. The Presidentfor example,is not powerful.He just scares a lot of people.But not everyone.(See answer to number two.)

  8. Dave Pollard says:

    Steven: You’re probably right, though I would have thought that if a 2-hour (every week) drama was a commercial success, advertisers and networks would figure out how to accommodate it.Jim: When I was a kid (yeah, I know, I’m ancient) you generally had a ‘short’, often two, before the main feature, which could therefore be as short as 70 minutes and still give you value for your $. In fact I sometimes went just to find out what happened next in the shorts, which were often serials. Does anyone here remember (no groans please) ‘The Iron Claw’, a flaky horror series in the 50s that was a huge cult hit with kids?JR: The fact that men are most often crueler (at least physically) and more power-hungry than women would suggest that it’s chemical, related to testosterone or the addictive rush of adrenaline. But despite what Fox’s trashy shows might suggest, violence in other species is rare and short — competition is just a short pissing contest to determine pecking order, and then peaceful cooperation prevails, and even in tribal human cultures ‘war’ is usually just to quickly and firmly establish tribal borders, which serves to teach each tribe to live within its means, and allows the borders to enhance human diversity, which has all kinds of Darwinian advantages.

  9. Dave Pollard says:

    Judith: God ain’t getting us out of this mess, and the old salvationist saw that we’re somehow ordained to rise above today’s problems with the help of some inherent or imposed enlightenment just smacks to me of cop-out. I think that cruelty and megalomania are manifestations of severe psychological illness, caused by the terrible self-created world we live in. Maybe my saying that I don’t understand the causes of these things is as foolish, or meaningless, as saying I don’t understand why someone would suddenly be struck dead in the prime of a productive and selfless life. Diseases have causes, symptoms are just symptoms.Chris: I guess another way of asking #2 is ‘what is it that kills human curiosity’? I don’t think it’s a lack of awareness or readiness (because surely we’re born curious) as much as we are numbed, beaten down, until much of what makes us human has been driven out or sublimated. In fact massive, ubiquitous human mental illness may be the answer to three of my four questions.

  10. Tom Grey says:

    1 & 4 are related. See Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land) about the Middle Monkey: ‘A little boy throws a peanut to a middle sized monkey. A bigger monkey comes, hits the mid-sized monkey, takes the peanut. The mid-sized monkey sees a little monkey, goes over and beats it up. [Mike, the human/martian, understands humans and laughs]’Everybody, at some time in their life, is a middle monkey.

  11. David Jones says:

    Perhaps one of the fundamental questions that needs to be raised and addressed is why so many people believe that conflict is both inevitable, and a fundamnetal characteristic of “human nature.” Personally, I disagree withy all of that. And I have the documentation to prove my point.

  12. Dave:I stand by my lines about not being ready to unleash our own creativity and curiosity. Fact is, it’s easier most days to just go with the flow and accept the browbeaten, downtrodden results that society hands us. I think we choose intellectual poverty for the most part. We can look for the casues in the external world, but as you yourself just said, God ain’t getting us out of this mess. Until you or I choose to really use the gifts we have been given in this preciuous human life (as the Buddha says) then we aren’t going to go anywhere. No angel will come dopwn and kick start us.

  13. Kev says:

    ADD and ADHD (attention deficit disorder) can cause items 1 through 3. I have ADHD. I can read a blog if it’s very interesting and brief. I love your blog, by the way. I can’t read a novel to save my life. Well, I could, and I did it as much as I had to in college. But, it took forever and was painful to read any fiction longer than a page. I am sure you cannot understand this. But, many many people have, at least mild, ADD. I look around and see it everywhere. It obviously applies to #3. If you look at the studies on ODD and ADHD, it can explain some of #1 as well. Having low levels of stimulating neurotransmitters (or a lack of sensitivity to them), as I understand it, makes people do seemingly crazy things. Volence, and other life-threatening activities, give you a natural hit of norepinephrine.

  14. Jane C says:

    the “over powering” need is an avoidance of realizing powerlessness. It’s not that one does not recognize powerlessness, they just refuse. It’s a distinct internal poverty.

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