Edited by Steve Erdmann
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Two quick stories, and an overall point.
I have recently experienced a resurgence of interest in all things Nature. I have been having a lot of fun trying to identify all the trees in my neighborhood and in all the parks I go to. So, the other day I gave myself the task of seeing how many willow trees I could observe along the winding country road near my house. I observed many Carolina and Black Willow trees. Then I came upon one willow that was completely covered over by a climbing vine. It draped over this rather tall tree like a blanket. At first I didn’t even realize there was a tree there, it was so well covered. The tree resorted to sending out a medium size branch with some leaves on it out from under the vine, pitifully trying to reach for some sunlight to keep it alive. That’s one story.
One more quick story. My backyard looks over a nice well-kept pond where a pair of Canadian Geese made their home. Just a couple weeks ago, the female had a gosling, and momma and daddy were showing the cute little thing all around the pond and grazing and walking all around the surrounding grass. I am working from home these days and one afternoon, a couple days ago, I heard the two geese wildly honking and flapping. I quickly looked out back at the pond and caught the very end of a neighborhood dog attack. That dog went right for the little gosling. I didn’t see the actual attack, only the family owners of the dog chasing him off the poor little guy. So, he escaped with his parents. He tried swimming along with his parents but couldn’t make it across the pond. He had to turn back. He was obviously hurt badly. He slowly made his way back to the edge of the pond and after about an hour, right there at the shallow waters edge, he died. It seemed to me his parents were just confused; why wasn’t the little one following, why was he motionless. They kept trying to scare him into action, back to life. After an hour and a half, they finally walked off, and in fact, I haven’t seen them around this pond ever since.
My point in all this is — I went from loving the beautiful things in nature to being depressed and almost confused. The ugly side of nature just threw cold water in my face.
Does anyone have any comments on how we should understand these types of experiences?
It’s life don’t dwell on it. Horrible things happen all the time it is just life. I for example when i see a drowning insect always save them, or if i see a beetle or something with one or two ants attacking it i save it from the ants. Horrible things are a fact of life. I would continue further but my thoughts probably aren’t what you’re looking for.
I’m sorry you had to experience those things. While they are a natural part of the world, it’s still distressing.
For what it’s worth, know that the gosling will go on to feed another animal, or at minimum flies and fungi, and nearby plants.
As for the vines, I like to turn it around and admire the tenacity of the plant and admire how alive they are.
I admit I too am saddened by nature sometimes, though usually when I see an invasive species smothering out native life.
Nature is beautiful but it’s not pretty. In the UK an over-sentimental view of nature has led to much destruction of habitats and reduction of biodiversity. Killing ivy which people think is “strangling” trees is one example, and the ivy which would have supported an enormous amount and variety of wildlife is removed to leave bare tree trunks.
Very interesting post.
I can completely empathize with you confusion/depression. Nature is FULL of unimaginable waste and suffering, and we could sit here all-day citing examples without even scratching the surface. I’ll refrain from doing that, but we could.
I don’t really have any good comments/advice, but here are just a couple of thoughts that came to mind now:
- Plants almost certainly don’t feel pain or suffer. I don’t just say this just because they don’t have the structures/mechanisms that we animals have to perceive pain or to suffer (although they don’t), but also because it just wouldn’t be beneficial for them. I don’t think they have evolved different mechanisms to do the same thing, since pain/suffering are very complex and specific adaptations that have evolved to lead to certain outcomes in animals. That doesn’t really apply to plants, or to a lot of other organisms.
- Nature is FULL of unimaginable waste and suffering, but it is also FULL of unimaginable beauty, complexity, intricacy, and other good things. So, if you can do something to improve the situation, do so… but when you can’t, there is nothing wrong with a sort of “willful avoidance” or with intentionally ignoring the bad to focus on the good. If you think about it, being depressed, angry, or feeling bad about the things you can’t do anything about only increases the amount of suffering in the world. So don’t make things worse, it is fine (and good) to find the good in the situation.
- The ugly side of nature is what creates the good side. We simply would not have the good side without the bad. Every beautiful, complex, and amazing adaptation that you see in the natural world, the very fact that anything more complex than self-replicating nucleic acids exists, is directly because competition, parasitism, exploitation, and death exist. Ultimately, it is those interactions which are the driving force for the evolution of complexity, cooperation, altruism, and every other good thing that has evolved.
The ugly side of nature is what creates the good side.
I know someone who supports a butterfly conservation charity but sprays their garden plants to kill caterpillars.
If I have learned anything in my years it’s that there is no inherent dignity in a Death of any kind. Sure, we try to inject some into the process but we never really succeed because there wasn’t any there to begin with. Nobility maybe, compassion probably, but dignity…no.
As the gardeners of this great big Garden that was gifted to us we can address the different injustices that we perceive. In fact, I would encourage you to address it to the best of your ability. Tear down some of the vine if you wish to give the tree a fighting chance. Perhaps erect a small fence or other barrier around the property to reduce the chance of predation by domesticated animals.
I can see how you might feel discouraged by these things but that can be used as a motivation instead of a defeat. Predation is a constant act in a world where competition is the natural order and modern humans aren’t used to losing in that game even though bacteria/viruses, exposure, accidents, and predation are taking us out all the time too. Please remember, nay believe, that Life(in all its forms) is worth protecting, learning about, and propagating even though Death exists.
If you’re looking for some consolation, I’m not sure this is it, but I’ll tell you something my undergraduate physics professor tells his students: The second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that entropy, the inherent disorder in the universe, is always increasing. Every action we take creates disorder. Even when we try to create ordered systems, the cost in entropy is always higher than the order we create. Eventually, the entropy of the universe will be so great that there is no longer any matter. It will all have been converted to radiant energy and scattered to the farthest reaches of the universe where it can no longer interact with anything. Life itself is an incredibly complex ordered system. There are so many different chemicals that must bind together in just the right order and so many different systems that must work together in just one simple organism, the fact that anything as complex as a cell, or a plant, an animal or a person even exists in the first place is nothing short of impossible. The only reason that this can occur at all is the fact that these incredibly ordered systems only exist for an infinitesimal fraction of a second in the lifetime of the universe. So be glad that you are here to experience it in all its variety and complexity. Life and death, good and bad, beautiful, and ugly are not concepts that will exist forever.
Very sorry to hear your experience, I’ve had a few experiences like this but I believe that we as humans react this way to seeing other animals morn and have grief for them. But as others are saying it’s the cycle of life, not as much being a domestic dog attacking wildlife or invasive plants killing out natives, but ultimately it’s nature the repeating cycle of life. But it’s best to not catch yourself on the negatives and focus on the positives.
the responses here kind of relate to one of the reasons I´ve been particularly interested in parasitic wasps and flies since I started exploring entomology…
my knee-jerk response to the notion of parasitism is that its abhorrent… that one creatures lays its babies inside another…and that their baby then eats said creature from the inside out while it’s still alive …is hard to wrap your head around from a human perspective!
but that’s a positive challenge to overcome IMO, to discard more traditional perceptions of these actions as good / evil …and see it as the cycle of life as those above mention
and more than that, to connect and in a sense, care for these creatures and value them as well! …is just absolutely fascinating to me. 🙂
it’s a powerful experience to gaze into the eyes of a parasitic bee-grabber when photographing it!
spending time with these creatures really shakes my worldview.
Though I am sorry for your distress, but, as the others have noted, there are no good or evil guys in nature. They’re all part of ecosystems and have their own functions. The only evil guy is us, humanity, who import invasive species by trying to beautify the nature or make it more useful for us, trying to eradicate “evil guys” (sparrows, wolves, insects, etc.). Even in your gosling story there is a human hand – it is letting their pet loose with the birds in the vicinity. As for nature – I have recently witnessed the cannibalism of a squirrel, when a male squirrel kills and eats young ones sired by another male. Yes, it’s cruel and seemingly unnecessary (not from the point of view of a killer squirrel, who later mates with a mother squirrel and will guard his offspring well), but this is nature, we must accept it.
I’ve struggled with this, too. Nature doesn’t do good/evil. It doesn’t do pretty/ugly. It doesn’t salve the sting of death and it doesn’t believe in death with dignity – natural death is often horrible. It does do tenacity, and creativity, and diversity. It accepts and transforms everything.
The consolation is that we who sort things into good and evil and beautiful and ugly can feel and shape these things. We can choose where to cast our gaze and what to cultivate around us, and we can feel deeply the goodness and beauty and respect the harshness, pain and sorrow that brings it all into such sharp relief.
It’s not easy, but it is real. The only goodness and beauty that exists is the goodness and beauty we find and cherish. Good luck.
If you study Nature long enough and deeply enough, it will eventually show you everything that exists. This can be a tough learning process because you will get to see things you would rather not see and learn things you would rather not learn.
But, as is true of life in general, we do need to know the whole picture, not just the pretty and uplifting parts. Life is not here to entertain us, and nature is not here to soothe us.
Even in the people we love the most and admire the most, we will sometimes see a glimpse of something repugnant or disappointing; that’s the way things are.
We are all under pressure right now with the pandemic rolling over us, and we wish there was something out there which was composed entirely of comforting loveliness.
But the truth is always your friend, so embrace it, don’t shy away from it. Try not to judge nature as “good” or “bad”, just observe it with an open mind.
Nature is the ultimate teacher. In fact, nature is our original mother – we were born from her. There is an overall beauty and magnificence in nature, despite it being “red in tooth and claw”.
Nature is not something separate from us and different from us, it is what we are made of too. We must come to terms with it, with all it, otherwise we won’t be able to come to terms with what it is to be human, what it is to be “me”.
I reckon you are feeling sad and a bit defeated, as I think we all do from time to time, especially during this pandemic. But if you do love nature, go back out there, and keep looking. Look smaller and look bigger too. Give nature a chance to show you how it all makes sense, and what you can do to make things better if there are issues for which humans are primarily responsible.
Welcome to the forum! Your mention of the gosling reminded me of this recent essay on the same topic which coincidentally features goslings:
I think one of our more insidious traits as humans is our tendency to anthropomorphize nature. Growing up in relative comfort, under the jurisdiction of laws and human rights, with abstract views on life and morality that are very foreign to this world (when compared to the rest of life on Earth), it’s easy to impress our human views upon nature and see things through our lens. And while it’s perfectly normal and natural to feel uncomfortable at the brutality nature has to offer, it shouldn’t taint your view of nature, because nature doesn’t give a damn about our human misconceptions.
Many of us here have asked the same question. Seeing all the compassionate and empathetic replies you’ve gotten shows another side of nature. We can choose to build rather than destroy. In Romans 8:22 The Apostle Paul made the same observation as you did “For we know the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” I feel sad with you and I feel some comfort too.
I see parasitic wasps as a mercy. Too many caterpillars can devastate crops leading to starvation.
because nature doesn’t give a damn about our human misconceptions.
“nature” is a human concept that doesn’t really exist out there. A goose isn’t “nature”, it is just a goose. And a goose, like a lot of different animals, CAN feel pain and to suffer horribly. It DOES care that it is being attacked by an eagle and half of its intestines are currently hanging out of its body. That is NOT a misconception, it does not constitute “anthropomorphizing”, or “judging nature”, it is a real, objective, biological fact.
To reply more broadly (not just to Nick): if there is ANYTHING objective in the universe, it is that pain and suffering are inherently and objectively bad. That is true. Even though sometimes they can be a part of something that is overall good that outweighs them (such as feeling some pain/suffering to obtain a larger reward later, or to achieve a goal), the feelings themselves ARE indeed bad. There’s no judgment or subjectivity involved in acknowledging that. As such, I think it is missing the point to say that we shouldn’t “judge nature”, “anthropomorphize”, or “look at nature through our human lenses”. While the good may outweigh the bad (let’s say the eagle in the scenario above is a beautiful, endangered keystone species on which an entire ecosystem depends, and the goose belongs to an invasive species that is destroying that ecosystem), that fact doesn’t make the bad disappear. The gosling being ripped apart alive by an eagle is still suffering horribly. I think it’s a little flippant* to ignore this fact and pretend that it’s all just a matter of interpretation, that there is no objectively ugly side of nature.
*that’s not exactly the word I’d like to use, it’s a bit too strong/negative, but I can’t think of a better word
Domestic dogs are not part of nature, so there should be a long tlk with those owners about how to walk with a dog.
All situation is not even ugly, it’s the actual side of the life, you too kill thousands of creatures every day and don’t even notice it, to live an organism must kill something or find something dead, as euchroites are not bacteria’s and can’t survive without it. And I’m glad that dead gooseling is what brought you those thoughts, there’re far more brutal things happening.
A glance to the question from the other side: how many ecosystems were erased, plant communities damaged, wildlife killed or drawn to starvation and died by creating crop fields? There is no correct answer to the good and the bad nature even from an anthropomorphic point of view.
Dark Side of Human Consciousness Concept
Authored by Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D. (2006)
“Dark Psychology is both a human consciousness construct and study of the human condition as it relates to the psychological nature of people to prey upon others motivated by psychopathic, deviant or psychopathological criminal drives that lack purpose and general assumptions of instinctual drives, evolutionary biology and social sciences theory. All of humanity has the potentiality to victimize humans and other living creatures. While many restrain or sublimate this tendency, some act upon these impulses. Dark Psychology explores criminal, deviant and cybercriminal minds.” Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D. 
Dark Psychology is the study of the human condition as it relates to the psychological nature of people to prey upon others. All of humanity has this potential to victimize other humans & living creatures. While many restrain or sublimate this tendency, some act upon these impulses. Dark Psychology seeks to understand those thoughts, feelings and perceptions that lead to human predatory behavior. Dark Psychology assumes that this production is purposive and has some rational, goal-oriented motivation 99.99% of the time. The remaining .01%, under Dark Psychology, is the brutal victimization of others without purposive intent or reasonably defined by evolutionary science or religious dogma.
Within the next century, iPredators and their acts of theft, violence and abuse will become a global phenomenon and societal epidemic if not squashed. Segments of iPredators include cyber stalkers, cyberbullies, cyber terrorist, cyber criminals, online sexual predators and political/religious fanatics engaged in cyber warfare. Just as Dark Psychology views all criminal/deviant behavior on a continuum of severity and purposive intent, the theory of iPredator follows the same framework, but involves abuse, assault and online victimization using Information and Communications Technology. The definition of iPredator is as follows:
iPredator: A person, group or nation who, directly or indirectly, engages in exploitation, victimization, coercion, stalking, theft or disparagement of others using Information and Communications Technology [ICT]. iPredators are driven by deviant fantasies, desires for power and control, retribution, religious fanaticism, political reprisal, psychiatric illness, perceptual distortions, peer acceptance or personal and financial gain. iPredators can be any age or gender and are not bound by economic status, race, religion or national heritage. iPredator is a global term used to distinguish anyone who engages in criminal, coercive, deviant or abusive behaviors using ICT. Central to the construct is the premise that Information Age criminals, deviants and the violently disturbed are psychopathological classifications new to humanity.
Whether the offender is a cyberstalker, cyber harasser, cybercriminal, online sexual predator, internet troll, cyber terrorist, cyberbully, online child pornography consumer/distributor or engaged in internet defamation or nefarious online deception, they fall within the scope of iPredator. The three criteria used to define an iPredator include:
- A self-awareness of causing harm to others, directly or indirectly, using ICT.
- The usage of ICT to obtain, exchange and deliver harmful information.
- A general understanding of Cyberstealth used to engage in criminal or deviant activities or to profile, identify, locate, stalk and engage a target.
Unlike human predators prior to the Information Age, iPredators rely upon the multitude of benefits offered by Information and Communications Technology [ICT]. These assistances include exchange of information over long distances, rapidity of information exchanged and the seemingly infinite access to data available. Malevolent in intent, iPredators habitually deceive others using ICT in the abstract and artificial electronic universe known as cyberspace. Therefore, as the internet naturally offers all ICT users anonymity, if they decide, iPredators actively design online profiles and diversionary tactics to remain undetected and untraceable.
Cyberstealth, a sub-tenet of iPredator, is a covert method by which iPredators attempt to establish and sustain complete anonymity while they engage in ICT activities planning their next assault, investigating innovative surveillance technologies or researching the social profiles of their next target. Concurrent with the concept of Cyberstealth is iPredator Victim Intuition [IVI], an iPredator’s IVI is their aptitude to sense a target’s ODDOR [Offline Distress Dictates Online Response], online & offline vulnerabilities, psychological weaknesses, technological limitations, increasing their success of a cyber-attack with minimal ramifications.
The Arsonist is a person with an obsessive preoccupation with fire setting. These individuals often have developmental histories filled with sexual and physical abuse. Common among serial arsonists is the proclivity to be loners, have few peers, and absolutely fascinated by fire and fire setting. Serial arsonists are highly ritualistic and tend to exhibit patterned behaviors as to their methodologies for setting fires.
Preoccupied by fire setting, Arsonists often fantasize & fixate upon how to plan their fire setting episodes. Once their target is set ablaze, some arsonists experience sexual arousal and proceed with masturbation while watching. Despite their pathological and ritualistic patterns, the serial arsonist feels pride in his actions.
Thanatophilia, Necrophilia and Necrologies all define the same type of disordered person. These are people, and they do exist, who have a sexual attraction to corpses. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, by the American Psychiatric Association, classifies necrophilia as a paraphilia. A paraphilia is a biomedical term used to describe a person’s sexual arousal and preoccupation with objects, situations or individuals that are not part of normative stimulation and may cause distress or serious problems for the person. Hence, a Necrophile’s paraphilia is sexual arousal by an object, a deceased person.
Experts who have compiled profiles of Necrophiles indicate they have tremendous difficulty experiencing a capacity for being intimate with others. For these people, sexual intimacy with the dead feels safe and secure rather than sexual intimacy with a living human. Necrophiles have divulged in interviews feeling a great sense of control when in the company of a corpse. A sense of connection becomes secondary to the primary need for perceived control.
A serial killer is a true human predator typically defined as someone who murders three or more people over a period of 30 days or greater. Interviews with most serial killers have revealed they experience a cooling off period between each murder. The serial killer’s cooling off period is a perceptual refractory period whereby they are temporarily satiated with their need to cause pain to others.
Criminal Psychology experts have hypothesized their motivation for killing is the pursuit for an experience of psychological gratification only achieved via brutality. After they murder, these individuals feel a sense of release combined with egotistical power. The experience for them brings such gratification that they become wanton of feeling the experience of release and gratification once again.
“The term ‘serial killings’ means a series of three or more killings, not less than one of which was committed within the United States, having common characteristics such as to suggest the reasonable possibility that the crimes were committed by the same actor or actors.” FBI
Sexual assault, rape, humiliation and torture are often involved during the course of their murders. Experts at the Federal Bureau of Investigations have outlined other motivations in addition to anger, rage, attention seeking, thrill seeking and monetary gain. Often, serial killers exhibit similar patterns in their choice of victims, how they murder their targets, and methods for disposal of the body. Criminal experts trained in behavioral analysis concur serial killers have a history of significant emotional, behavioral and social pathology. Although not absolute, serial killers tend to be loners who have trouble engaging in functional relationships.
Provided above are four examples of offenders and offender groups who commit abusive and/or violent bizarre acts sharing the common bond of having deep psychological deficits with distorted worldviews. These serious psychiatric and/or personality constructs, which may metastasize throughout their being, defies reason. What is it about these human predators, how do they function and socialize in their day-to-day lives? These brief profiles speak volumes about the dark nature of the human condition. In addition to all sharing mild to severe psychopathology, they all are perceptual loners with deep-seated forces governing their decision-making capacities.
The serial arsonist may not assault other people or find gratification from being a human predator as does the serial killer, but he actually experiences joy and elation from his fire setting. In addition to joy, he feels a sense of accomplishment from the devastation he has caused. His episodes of fire setting are extremely dangerous given he can cause harm to others, but the goal of inflicting pain or bodily harm is not his modus operandi.
For the serial arsonist, the big payoff is his sense of pride and distorted perception of accomplishing a brilliant feat of genius. His perverted sense of achievement, at times, lead him to become sexually aroused and masturbation ensues. The arsonist’s behavior is reprehensible, illegal and dangerous, but typically does not involve premeditated murder. They live within an abyss of infernal obsession.
Although the Necrophile is not causing pain to another person or victimizing others, his actions are extraordinarily bizarre and absent of any sense of logic. The Necrophile’s need for perceived control is so insidious that he develops a sexual attraction to a corpse. Imagine what the experience must be for him. He is sexually aroused by a lifeless body that is expressionless and absent of warmth. Most people yearn for connection during sexual intimacy, but the Necrophile does not require this. He becomes aroused by the experience of a total and complete disconnect. Clearly, his mind has entered a very dark realm.
The serial killer is one of the most despotic characters that manifests from the dark side. In films, court cases and news coverage, the serial killer is frequently a subject of intrigue. The essence of this epitome of deviant evil echoes a part of the human psyche that only the serial killer himself can realistically experience. Just as an alcoholic craves his next drink or an opiate addict yearns for his next fix, the serial killer becomes addicted to murder.
The serial killer speaks of the gratification and elevated sense of release once his murder has come to fruition. Unlike the necrophile or serial arsonist, the serial killer’s sole endeavor is to extinguish life. For many of these assailants, sexual arousal by torturing their victims is a common theme. Although a common theme, there are other equally disturbing drives causing them to torture their victims.
These four examples are illustrations of the extent to which humans will go for the experience of power, pleasure and/or goal attainment. All of the criminal profiles described, involve assailants feeling a sense of gratification from their abusive and/or heinous actions. The reality is that these examples are merely basic profiles of four segments of the population of men and women who participate in criminal, abusive or deviant acts. The extent to which humans will go for sexual gratification, perceived control or financial gain is quite extensive and elaborate.
Before the advent of scientific advancements and the capacity of society to explain deviant human behavior, monsters and demons were the cause of such chaos. Unable to understand how people could commit such atrocities, metaphysical beings were the only logical explanation. Instead of fearing their neighbors, early civilizations concocted legends and tales of demonic beings. Werewolves, Vampires and Ghouls prowled the night stalking their prey.
Although contemporary society deems itself as advanced in its ability to comprehend the potential for humans to commit violent and heinous acts, learning how to reduce and/or prevent bizarre and deadly actions perpetrated by humans remains elusive. Our species is the only group of living organisms that participate in actions antithetical to our survival.
Dark Psychology is both the study of criminal & deviant behavior and a conceptual framework for deciphering the potential for evil within all human beings. This writer does not claim to have the proverbial “holy grail” of defining deviant human behavior, but rather a framework for inquiry and further investigation.
Many years ago, when this writer first became interested in the study of forensic and criminal psychology, he posited that aberrant deviant behaviors were part of a psychiatric illness not yet determined. With the passing of time and research, intrigue followed from the vast array of theories and explanations for why humans maintain a capacity to prey upon other humans.
The idea of Dark Psychology entered this writer’s theoretical exploration and he began to formalize a set of concepts he believed plausible. The sum of his attempts ended in narrow concepts aimed at trying to explain the psychopath and sexual predator. Four years ago, this writer experienced his first paradigm shift pertinent to his present theory.
“A psychopath, as described by psychologists, is emotionally flat, lacks empathy for the feelings of others and is free of remorse. Psychopaths behave as if the world is to be used for their benefit, and they employ deception and feigned emotion to manipulate others.” Bill Steele, Chronicle Online (2011)
The construct that follows is this writer’s best attempt at defining why humans are predators with the potential to prey on others for reasons that seem to lack purpose and/or understanding. This writer presents to you, Dark Psychology.
Dark Psychology Defined
Dark Psychology is the study of the human condition as it relates to the psychological nature of people to prey upon other people motivated by criminal and/or deviant drives that lack purpose and general assumptions of instinctual drives and social science theory. All of humanity has this potential to victimize other humans and living creatures. While many restrain or sublimate this tendency, some act upon these impulses.
Dark Psychology seeks to understand those thoughts, feelings, perceptions and subjective processing systems that lead to predatory behavior that is antithetical to contemporary understandings of human behavior. Dark Psychology assumes that criminal, deviant and abusive behaviors are purposive and have some rational, goal- oriented motivation 99.99% of the time. It is the remaining .01%, Dark Psychology parts from Adlerian theory and the Teleology. Dark Psychology postulates there is a region within the human psyche that enables some people to commit atrocious acts without purpose. In this theory, it has been coined the Dark Singularity.
Dark Psychology posits that all humanity has a reservoir of malevolent intent towards others ranging from minimally obtrusive and fleeting thoughts to pure psychopathic deviant behaviors without any cohesive rationality. This is called the Dark Continuum. Mitigating factors acting as accelerants and/or attractants to approaching the Dark Singularity, and where a person’s heinous actions fall on the Dark Continuum, is what Dark Psychology calls Dark Factor. Brief introductions to these concepts are illustrated below. Dark Psychology is a concept this writer has grappled with for fifteen years. It has only been recently that he has finally conceptualized the definition, philosophy and psychology of this aspect of the human condition.
“Dark Psychology is not just the dark side of our moon, but dark side of all moons combined.”
Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D.
Dark Psychology encompasses all that makes us who we are in relationship to our dark side. All cultures, all faiths and all humanity have this proverbial cancer. From the moment we are born to the time of death, there is a side lurking within us all that some have called evil and others have defined as criminal, deviant, and pathological. Dark Psychology introduces a third philosophical construct that views these behaviors different from religious dogmas and contemporary social science theories.
“It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring.“ Alfred Adler
Dark Psychology posits there are people who commit these same acts and do so not for power, money, sex, retribution or any other known purpose. They commit these horrid acts without a goal. Simplified, their ends do not justify their means. There are people who violate and injure others for the sake of doing so. Within in all of us is this potential. A potential to harm others without cause, explanation, or purpose is the area this writer explores. Dark Psychology assumes this dark potential is incredibly complex and even more difficult to define.
Dark Psychology assumes we all have the potential for predator behaviors and this potential has access to our thoughts, feelings and perceptions. As you will read throughout this manuscript, we all have this potential, but only a few of us acts upon them. All of us have had thoughts and feelings, at one time or another, of wanting to behave in a brutal manner. We all have had thoughts of wanting to hurt others severely without mercy. If you are honest with yourself, you will have to agree you have had thoughts and feeling of wanting to commit heinous acts.
Given the fact, we consider ourselves a benevolent species; one would like to believe we think these thoughts and feelings would be non-existent. Unfortunately, we all have these thoughts, and luckily, never act upon them. Dark Psychology poses there are people who have these same thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, but act upon them in either premeditated or impulsive ways. The obvious difference is they act upon them while others simply have fleeting thoughts and feelings of doing so.
Dark Psychology posits that this predator style is purposive and has some rational, goal-oriented motivation. Religion, philosophy, psychology, and other dogmas have attempted cogently to define Dark Psychology. It is true most human behavior, related to evil actions, is purposive and goal oriented, but Dark Psychology assumes there is an area where purposive behavior and goal-oriented motivation becomes nebulous. There is a continuum of Dark Psychology victimization ranging from thoughts to pure psychopathic deviance without any apparent rationality or purpose. This continuum, Dark Continuum, helps to conceptualize the philosophy of Dark Psychology.
Dark Psychology addresses that part of the human psyche or universal human condition that allows for and may even impel predatory behavior. Some characteristics of this behavioral tendency are, in many cases, its lack of obvious rational motivation, its universality and its lack of predictability. Dark Psychology assumes this universal human condition is different or an extension of evolution. Let us look at some very basic tenets of evolution. First, consider we evolved from other animals and we presently are the paragon of all animal life. Our frontal lobe has allowed us to become the apex creature. Now let us assume that being apex creatures does not make us completely removed from our animal instincts and predatory nature.
“The greater the feeling of inferiority that has been experienced, the more powerful is the urge to conquest and the more violent the emotional agitation.” Alfred Adler
Assuming this is true if you subscribe to evolution, then you believe that all behavior relates to three primary instincts. Sex, aggression, and the instinctual drive to self-sustain are the three primary human drives. Evolution follows the tenets of survival of the fittest and replication of the species. We and all other life forms behave in a manner to procreate and survive. Aggression occurs for the purposes of marking our territory, protecting our territory and ultimately winning the right to procreate. It sounds rational, but it is no longer part of the human condition in the purest sense.
Our power of thought and perception has made us both the apex of species and the apex of practicing brutality. If you have ever watched a nature documentary, this writer is sure you cringe and feel sorrow for the antelope ripped to shreds by a pride of lions. Although brutal and unfortunate, the purpose for the violence fits the evolutionary model of self- preservation. The lions kill for food, which is required for survival. Male animals fight to the death, at times, for the rite of territory or the will to power. All these acts, violent and brutal, evolution explains.
“Defiant individuals will always persecute others yet will always consider themselves persecuted.” Alfred Adler
When animals hunt, they often stalk and kill the youngest, weakest, or females of the group. Although this reality sounds psychopathic, the reason for their chosen prey is to reduce their own probability for injury or death. All animal life acts and behaves in this manner. All their brutal, violent and bloody actions relate to the theory of evolution, natural selection and instinct for survival and reproduction. As you will learn after reading this manuscript, there are no Dark Psychology applications when it comes to the rest of life on our planet. We, humans are the ones to possess what Dark Psychology attempts to explore.
Theories of evolution, natural selection and animal instincts, and their theoretical tenets, seem to dissolve when we look at the human condition. We are the only creatures on the face of the earth that preys on each other without the reason of procreation for the survival of the species. Humans are the only creatures that prey upon others for inexplicable motivations. Dark Psychology addresses that part of the human psyche or universal human condition that allows for and may even impel predatory behavior. Dark Psychology assumes there is something intrapsychic that influences our actions and is anti-evolutionary. We are the only species that will murder one another for reasons other than survival, food, territory or procreation.
Philosophers and ecclesiastical writers over the centuries have attempted to explain this phenomenon. We will delve into some of these historical interpretations of malicious human behavior. Only we humans can harm others with a complete lack of obvious rational motivation. Dark Psychology assumes there is a part of us because we are human, which fuels dark and vicious behaviors.
As you will read, this place or realm within all our beings is universal. There is no group of people walking the face of the earth now, before, or in the future who do not possess this dark side. Dark Psychology believes this facet of the human condition lacks reason and logical rationality. It is part of all of us and there is no known explanation.
Dark Psychology assumes this dark side is also unpredictable. Unpredictable in the understanding of who acts upon these dangerous impulses, and even more unpredictable of the lengths some will go with their sense of mercy completely negated. There are people who rape, murder, torture, and violate without cause or purpose. Dark Psychology speaks to these actions of acting as a predator seeking out human prey without clearly defined purposes. As humans, we are incredibly dangerous to ourselves and every other living creature. The reasons are many and Dark Psychology attempts to explore those dangerous elements.
It is this writers aim to examine the nature of Dark Psychology and to understand the origin and development of psychological phenomena motivating human beings to exhibit predatory behavior in the absence of any apparent rational motivator. This writer realizes his endeavor to succeed at this is next to impossible, but he hopes Dark Psychology will foster an interest in further exploration.
As mentioned above, there have been a plethora of philosophers, great thinkers, religious figures, and scientists who have attempted to conceptualize in a cogent way Dark Psychology. For this writer, Dark Psychology encapsulates all previous theories and explanations for human brutality.
It is this writer’s assertion that Dark Psychology exists universally throughout the human species and manifests itself as predatory behavior (inclinations) without apparent rational motivation. He suggests that examination of Dark Psychology and its evolutionary foundation is vital. He does not suggest Dark Psychology is part of our evolutionary heritage, but he does believe it is vital to investigate the evolutionary foundation of Dark Psychology.
To be exact, this writer means the basis or rudimentary constructs we all possess. Throughout this manuscript, you will read how redundant this writer is when it comes to reinforcing the basic tenets of Dark Psychology. He does this not only for the reader, but also for himself in order to remain focused on the core constructs. Remember, Dark Psychology is like a spider’s web attempting to capture all previous theories of human victimization and communicate them to others inspiring awareness, and encouraging self-awareness.
The more readers can visualize Dark Psychology, the better prepared they become to reduce their chances of victimization by human predators. Before proceeding, it is important to have at least a minimal comprehension of Dark Psychology. As you proceed through future manuscripts expanding this construct, this writer will go into detail about the most important concepts. Following are six tenets necessary to fully grasp Dark Psychology as follows:
1. Dark Psychology is a universal part of the human condition. This construct has exerted influence throughout history. All cultures, societies and the people who reside in them maintain this facet of the human condition. The most benevolent people known have this realm of evil, but never act upon it and have lower rates of violent thoughts and feelings.
2. Dark Psychology is the study of the human condition as it relates to people’s thoughts, feelings, and perceptions related to this innate potential to prey upon others devoid of clear definable reasons. Given that all behavior is purposive, goal oriented, and conceptualized via modus operandi, Dark Psychology puts forth the notion the nearer a person draws to the “black hole” of pristine evil, the less likely he/she has a purpose in motivations. Although this writer assumes pristine evil is never reached, since it is infinite, Dark Psychology assumes there are some who come close.
3. Because of its potential for misinterpretation as aberrant psychopathy, Dark Psychology may be overlooked in its latent form. History is replete with examples of this latent tendency to reveal itself as active, destructive behaviors. Modern psychiatry and psychology define the psychopath as a predator devoid of remorse for his actions. Dark Psychology posits there is a continuum of severity ranging from thoughts and feelings of violence to severe victimization and violence without a reasonable purpose or motivation.
4. On this continuum, the severity of the Dark Psychology is not deemed less or more heinous by the behavior of victimization but plots out a range of inhumanity. A simple illustration would be comparing Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Both were severe psychopaths and heinous in their actions. The difference is Dahmer committed his atrocious murders for his delusional need for companionship while Ted Bundy murdered, and sadistically inflicted pain out of sheer psychopathic evil. Both would be higher on the Dark Continuum, but one, Jeffrey Dahmer, can be better understood via his psychotic desperate need to be loved.
5. Dark Psychology assumes all people have a potential for violence. This potential is innate in all humans and various internal and external factors increase the probability for this potential to manifest into volatile behaviors. These behaviors are predatory in nature, and at times, can function without reason. Dark Psychology assumes the predator-prey dynamic becomes distorted by humans. Dark Psychology is solely a human phenomenon and shared by no other living creature. Violence and mayhem may exist in other living organisms, but humanity is the only species that has the potential to do so without purpose.
6. An understanding of the underlying causes and triggers of Dark Psychology would better enable society to recognize, diagnose and possibly reduce the dangers inherent in its influence. Learning the concepts of Dark Psychology serves a twofold beneficial function. First, by accepting we all have this potential for evil allows those with this knowledge to reduce the probability of it erupting. Secondly, grasping the tenets of Dark Psychology fits our original evolutionary purpose for struggling to survive.
This writer’s goal is to educate others by increasing their self-awareness, creating a paradigm shift of their reality for the better, and inspiring them to educate others to endeavor upon the path of learning to reduce the probability of falling victim to those possessed by the forces explored by Dark Psychology. If you have been a victim of the Dark Psychology guided predator, do not feel humiliated, because we all experience some form of victimization at one time or another in our lives.
We all have a dark side. It is part of the human condition but agreed not to be well understood. An unpleasant reality, Dark Psychology surrounds us waiting patiently to pounce. As this writer has previously mentioned, Dark Psychology encompasses all forms of cruel and violent behaviors. We need only look at the senseless cruelty to animals. Being a dedicated pet lover, animal abuse to this writer is both vicious and psychopathic. As recent studies have suggested, animal abuse correlates with a higher probability to commit violence against humanity.
On the milder side of the Dark Continuum is vandalism of others property or the increasing levels of violence in video games children and teens plead for during the holiday season. Vandalism and a child’s need to play violent video games are mild compared to overt violence but are explicit examples of this universal human feature this writer’s theory illustrates. Most of humanity denies and hides its presence, but still the elements of Dark Psychology quietly lurk beneath the surface in all of us.
It is universal and everywhere throughout society. Some religions define it as an actual entity they call Satan. Some cultures believe in the existence of demons as being the culprits causing malicious actions. The brightest of many cultures have defined Dark Psychology as a psychiatric condition or spawned by genetic traits passed down from generation to generation.
This writer attempts to examine Dark Psychology’s origin and nature to understand how the average, well-socialized person can wind up in the news, having committed an atrocity no one could have predicted. At any point during the day and throughout the night, since the beginning of recorded history, atrocities inflicted by one human on another are infinitely occurring. Although macabre, it is amazing how apparently decent people could participate in or allow such horrors to occur.
Thousands of these atrocities are evident throughout history. The holocaust during World War II and ethnic cleansing presently occurring in neighboring countries are a few examples. History, with the remnants of what Dark Psychology has caused, abounds with examples. As described above, Dark Psychology is alive and well and requires a serious inspection. As you continue to explore the tenets and foundation of Dark Psychology, a cognitive framework of understanding will slowly develop.
The Dark Continuum is an essential element to comprehend in your passage through the dark side of humanity. The Dark Continuum is an imaginary conceptual line or concentric circles that all criminal, violent, deviant and sadistic behaviors fall. The Dark Continuum includes thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and actions experienced and/or committed by humans. The continuum ranges from mild to severe and from purposive to purposeless.
Obviously, physical manifestations of Dark Psychology fall to the right of the Dark Continuum and more severe. Psychological manifestations of Dark Psychology lie to the left of the continuum but can be equally as destructive as physical acts. The Dark Continuum is not a scale of severity, in terms of range from bad to worse, but defines typologies of victimization in the thoughts and actions involved. When this writer further expands his thesis of the Dark Continuum, you will have a conceptual illustrated line depicting all forms of Dark Psychology ranging from mild and purposive to severe and purposeless.
The Dark Factor is defined as the realm, place and potential that exist in all of us and is part of the human condition. This concept is one of the more abstract terms of Dark Psychology, because it is so hard to illustrate via the written expression. According to an online dictionary, a factor is anything that contributes causally to a result i.e., a number of factors determined the outcome. This writer will attempt to extrapolate for you in a cogent manner how Dark Factor resembles an equation.
The Dark Factor is not a mathematical equation, but a theoretical one. The Dark Factor is a set of events that a person experiences, which increases their probability for engaging in predatory behavior. Although research has suggested that children who grow up in abusive households become abusers themselves, this does not mean all abused children grow to become violent offenders. This is merely only one facet of a multitude of experiences and circumstances that contribute to the Dark Factor.
The number of elements that are involved in the Dark Factor equation is large. It is not the quantity of elements causing Dark Factor to become extreme, but the impact those experiences have on a person’s subjective processing that makes the Dark Factor dangerous. Some of these facets include genetics, family dynamics, emotional intelligence, peer acceptance, subjective processing and developmental milestones and experiences.
The Dark Singularity is a theoretical concept similar to the definition of singularity at the center of a black hole. When this writer attempts to illustrate the concept of the Dark Singularity, he uses astronomy and cosmology as a metaphor to describe this concept. In astrophysics, the singularity is the absolute center of a black hole that is incredibly small, but dense in mass beyond mathematical comprehension. The theory suggests that the singularity is so dense and powerful, modern laws of physics and their mathematical equations become entangled.
A black hole is the huge expanse of space surrounding the singularity and so dense light cannot escape its grasp. At the center of all galaxies as well as ours, the Milky Way, is an all-powerful black hole with an infinitely small singularity at its center chock full of awesome energy. The Dark Singularity, as it applies to Dark Psychology, is the absolute center of the Dark Psychology universe. Simply put, the Dark Singularity is made of pristine evil & unadulterated pure malevolence. Farthest to the right of the Dark Continuum is the Dark Singularity. Also, part of the human condition is the Dark Singularity that no one ever reaches. The person who comes closest to the Dark Singularity is the advanced & severe psychopath who victimizes others with minimal motivation or purpose for his actions.
Because all behavior is purposive, the Dark Singularity is a theoretical destination never reached. The Dark Singularity is approached, but without arrival. The center of Dark Singularity is best explained as “Predators Who Prey Without Purpose.” The closer a person approaches the Dark Singularity, the more heinous and malevolent their behavior becomes. At the same time, their modus operandi becomes less purposeful. As stated, this is an abstract concept that this writer will outline in his later writings.
A psychological and philosophical tenet to comprehend when venturing to visualize cognitively, the Dark Singularity, is that all behavior is purposive. This writer was blessed to have completed his doctoral degree in the mid 1990’s at the Adler University in Chicago, Illinois. What he learned in those four years of academic studies was the theories and philosophies of Alfred Adler. Alfred Adler was a turn of the century medical doctor and psychologist who was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and an incredible philosopher as well.
Through this writer’s studies, he grasped hold of many of Adler’s theories. To this day, this writer interprets his world as defined by Alfred Adler, this great medical doctor and psychologist. Adler had many theories of human behavior and this writer integrated many of them during his construction of Dark Psychology. The three most valuable concepts from Adler for developing the theory of are as follows.
Adler believed that all behavior was purposive. From the moment we are born to the day we die, everything we think, feel, and do has a purpose. Nothing we initiate during our life span occurs haphazardly. Although his philosophy may initially sound simplistic, it actually is quite complex. With this premise in mind, the reason why people are benevolent is that it serves that person to be so because they reap the rewards of acceptance by their peers, loved ones and community.
Children taught to be kind, caring, and contributory have greater levels of feeling accepted and being part of a group. For Adler, feeling part of or a strong need for acceptance by others was the purpose for healthy functional behavior. Taking his theory of all behavior being purposive to the opposite end of the spectrum, malevolent behaviors serve a purpose as well.
Adler posited that people who behave in hostile or non-accepting ways were responding to a deep sense of inferiority. When people perceive they are not part of or not accepted by a social group, they move into negative directions. As they move further away from their innate purpose to be part of a social construct, the further away they move from treating others with kindness, respect and dignity. Under this tenet, Dark Psychology assumes that 99.99% of all behavior is purposive. Like Freud and Jung, Adler subscribed to the philosophy of Teleology.
Furthermore, as humans increasingly become discouraged, isolated and his social environment becomes increasingly fragmented, the more they lash out towards others in volatile ways. A prime example and quick illustration would be the narcissistic psychopath. The narcissistic psychopath is incredibly selfish, finds delight in victimizing others and purposely takes advantage of others without remorse. The concept of purposive behavior is paramount to the understanding of Dark Psychology.
As mentioned above, this writer strongly believes all human behavior is 99.99% purposive. The left over .01% is where he differs from Adler. This .01% is the Dark Singularity. Of all Adler’s theories, the assumption of all behavior as purposive is vital to understanding Dark Psychology but varies slightly in the severest form of malevolent human behavior(s).
The second theoretical tenet Adler defined central to Dark Psychology is the concept of subjective processing. We all have thoughts, feelings and actions, in which cognitions and affective states influence behavior. Conversely, a person’s behavior influences his cognitions and emotions. Defined as a system or what Adler called a constellation, the triad or trinity of human experience is comprised as an orbiting system of thoughts, feeling and behaviors. Adler added subjective processing to this system of human experience.
He believed that childhood experiences, birth order positioning, family dynamics, quality of social acceptance and the dynamics of inferiority vs. superiority worked in a manner to create a person’s perceptual experience and trajectory of interacting with his world.
The easiest way to understand subjective processing and the perceptual framework is by visualizing a pair of sunglasses. These shaded glasses filter light and protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. Your eyes represent true reality and the sunglasses represent your filtering mechanism distorting the reality of the harsh sun light. Hence, your “perceptual sunglasses “filter, distort and alter how you interpret information and respond accordingly.
This is how our subjective processing works but applied to the human condition. Reality exists and occurs every moment all around us. Subjective processing filters our reality to both protect and shield us from what we feel may be counter indicated to our purposive goals. If the human develops in an environment where he perceives being part of, belonging to, and accepted, his subjective processing filtering mechanism allows input that is much more accurate. A person socialized in what he perceives as a discouraging environment, their subjective processing becomes distorted and convoluted with selfishness and narcissism.
Regarding Dark Psychology, the goal is to assume that all people filter their world using subjective processing. Those people who are aggressive, violent or abusive are wearing a pair of proverbial sunglasses that are myopic and blurry. These people perceive others are out to harm them and move to assault or manipulate them first. Their subjective processing distorts their common decency, charitable acts and selflessness. Acts of kindness become foreign experiences or used to manipulate their social environment guided by a selfish modus operandi.
The third tenet valuable to understanding Dark Psychology is Adler’s theory of Social Interest. Social Interest, postulated by Adler, is the compilation of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings translated into benevolent behaviors. Simply stated, the greater a person feels accepted by others, the more they feel part of, and the higher sense of belonging directly links to a person’s Social Interest. People with high Social Interest are inherently kind, selfless, giving and receptive. All of these qualities of Social Interest further solidify their subjective processing to be positive and compassionate. High Social Interest equals low Dark Psychology impact.
Given that, we all have a Dark Factor within us; the person with high Social Interest keeps his Dark Factor subdued. The lower the Social Interest, the higher the probability the Dark Factor manifests. When a person feels discouraged, does not feel part of, does not experience a sense of acceptance and perceives his world as isolating, he is at a higher risk for exhibiting dysfunctional hostile reactions. Related to Alfred Adler & purposive behavior, subjective processing and Social Interest are central to understanding Dark Psychology.
Dark Psychology is a theoretical construct made up of a compilation of the philosophical tenets of Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, this writer’s clinical experience as a psychologist, his academic and professional experiences as a forensic/criminal psychologist, and the many discussions with loved ones and colleagues over the years regarding deviant behavior.
As mentioned earlier in this manuscript, this writer’s goal is to take fifteen years of thoughts and observations and translate them for others to investigate. The second goal, and most important, is this writer’s hope that others will read his work, investigate his postulations and use them to defeat those that walk-through life looking to harm, victimize and brutalize.
Others postulate an entirely different tenet that is not psychiatric but defined as a depletion of conscience. This writer does not spend much time going into clinical studies or academic explanations, given the massive quantities of work compiled by those studying deviant behavior. The approach is to cast a wide net to cover relevant theories that this writer feels are highly valuable to understanding Dark Psychology.
A portion of the information relevant to understanding Dark Psychology is an overview exploring child development, family dynamics and other factors that work to formalize Dark Psychology. Although there is no way to exactly define why and how some people turn to the dark side, there are areas for exploration that help to explain how the “laws of probability” exist in the development of the antisocial personality construct. Other areas discussed include psychiatric illness, personality disorders and alcohol/drug addiction as catalysts to deviant behavior. Psychiatric and alcohol/substance abuse do not explain violent behavior, but this writer concurs these disturbances contribute to the understanding of Dark Psychology.
Contemporary social sciences investigate the areas of psychopathy, narcissism and personality disorders. These profiles are very intriguing and fuel much of the interest in the field of forensic and criminal psychology. Based on this writer’s investigation, there seems to be an intricate combination of these three-character disordered constructs that that create truly despotic people. Once this writer has presented Dark Psychology thoroughly, provided will be alternative explanations for violent behavior. Another element of Dark Psychology discussed will include rapists, pedophiles and sadistic sexual offenders.
In the concluding manuscripts to follow, this writer will move into the most important themes defining Dark Psychology. It is within these arenas this writer offers advice on how to insulate oneself from becoming a future target for the human predator. Once you have a grasp of Dark Psychology, you will then have the ability to assess other people’s actions as being potentially dangerous.
Employed in mental health for the last 25 years, working as a psychologist and forensic examiner for 10 years treating patients, evaluating court entangled defendants, and learning as much as he can as a forensic psychologist has given this writer the opportunity to offer those not involved in the pursuit of Dark Psychology, a set of tools for protection.
Remember, Dark Psychology includes all criminal and deviant behaviors committed upon other people. Although many people are intrigued by the discussion of the serial killer and psychopath, the vast majority of predators hunting human prey are not engaged in murder or sexual deviance. If this writer were to make an estimate, he would put the percentage of human predators at roughly 70% of the total pool of people who are out to victimize others, but who are not involved in murder or sexual deviance. 30% have been estimated to include criminal, deviant and violent offenders where physical contact is planned.
At the beginning of this introduction, this writer presented what he believes is a sound theory of the human predator. Dark Psychology assumes what lives within all of us is a potential reservoir of violent malicious energy. All humanity lies somewhere on the Dark Continuum with most being in the category of subtle, mild and with fleeting thoughts and minor shortfalls. The reality though is Dark Psychology is a universal phenomenon, and there is no dispute all of us, at times in our lives, have had at least thoughts of sheer violence and predatory fantasies.
The difference is most of humanity has never acted upon those thoughts. The reason is that we have a low Dark Factor equation compared to the predators. For them, their Dark Factor is elevated; influencing them to move in a direction towards what many define as evil and this writer defines as a trajectory accelerating towards the Dark Singularity.
Carl Jung and Alfred Adler’s theories were a powerful influence in this writer’s creation of Dark Psychology. He strongly adheres to Adler’s philosophy that behavior is purposive. The only slight philosophical divergence from Adler is this writer’s belief that all behavior is 99.99% purposive. He holds the remaining .01% as being within the realm of the black hole of the Dark Singularity. The black hole of the singularity is the area of evil that the predator comes close to, but never reaches.
The Dark Singularity is the potential in all of us to behave as a predator, hunting human prey completely and utterly devoid of purpose. This writer also strongly subscribes to Adler’s theory of subjective processing. Dark Psychology and the human predator have a highly distorted perceptual filtering mechanism. For them, it is no longer about being compassionate and kind. Their subjective processing colors all of their thoughts, emotions and perceptions with blackness and venom.
At some point in the development of the human predator, he/she actuates his thoughts and feelings and starts down the long road of what contemporary criminologist call psychopathy. Within time, their subjective processing filter becomes divorced from experiencing remorse. They come to perceive that the victimization of others is deserved by those who are too naive to protect themselves.
Given that, a large portion of human development surrounds social acceptance, the predator somehow moves into the arena where his Dark Factor becomes an active force fueling an urge for the destruction of others. Once touched by the realm of psychopathy, he has entered the point of no return. Just as light cannot escape a black hole, the human predator cannot escape the path towards the Dark Singularity. Interviews conducted by forensic profilers and research scientists with convicted notorious psychopaths have proven the theory of accelerated movement towards the Dark Singularity.
Not only have psychopaths divulged a perception of experiencing a sense that their evil acts accelerate in frequency, but also their experience of acting as predator takes on an addictive quality. Using cosmology once again as a metaphor for Dark Psychology, the closer matter approaches a black hole, the faster mass accelerates and can never swing away from the black hole’s awesome gravity. Interviews with psychopaths almost exactly mimic this universal law of astrophysics.
As society moves further into what is defined as the Information Age filled with digital technology and cyberspace, Dark Psychology and its impact on humanity will be tested at greater rates. Given the veil of anonymity cyberspace offers all humanity, the question remains is if the nefarious aspects living within all of us will recognize there is a realm of free reign called the digital universe.
“Dark Psychology is the study of the chasm within us all, which only few enter, and even fewer ever exit. Without a natural predator to cause humans to rally, we prey upon one another.” Michael Nuccitelli Psy.D.
Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D.
Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D. is a NYS licensed psychologist, cyberpsychology researcher and online safety educator. In 2009, Dr. Nuccitelli finalized his dark side of cyberspace concept called iPredator. Since 2010, he has advised those seeking information about cyberbullying, cyberstalking, cybercriminal minds, internet addiction and his Dark Psychology concept. By day Dr. Nuccitelli is a practicing psychologist, clinical supervisor and owner of MN Psychological Services, PLLC. After work and on the weekends, he volunteers helping online users who have been cyber-attacked. Dr. Nuccitelli’s is always available to interested partied and the media at no cost. This website and everything created by Dr. Nuccitelli is educational, free and public domain.
Copyright © 2021 iPredator Inc., All Rights Reserved.
About Dr. Nuccitelli
Psychology: the man who studies everyday evil
By David Robson30th January 2015
Why are some people extraordinarily selfish, manipulative, and unkind? David Robson asks the scientist delving into the darkest sides of the human mind.
If you had the opportunity to feed harmless bugs into a coffee grinder, would you enjoy the experience? Even if the bugs had names, and you could hear their shells painfully crunching? And would you take a perverse pleasure from blasting an innocent bystander with an excruciating noise?
These are just some of the tests that Delroy Paulhus uses to understand the “dark personalities” around us. Essentially, he wants to answer a question we all may have asked: why do some people take pleasure in cruelty? Not just psychopaths and murderers – but school bullies, internet trolls and even apparently upstanding members of society such as politicians and policemen.
It is easy, he says, to make quick and simplistic assumptions about these people. “We have a tendency to use the halo or devil framing of individuals we meet – we want to simplify our world into good or bad people,” says Paulhus, who is based at the University of British Columbia in Canada. But while Paulhus doesn’t excuse cruelty, his approach has been more detached, like a zoologist studying poisonous insects – allowing him to build a “taxonomy”, as he calls it, of the different flavours of everyday evil.
Paulhus’s interest began with narcissists – the incredibly selfish and vain, who may lash out to protect their own sense of self-worth. Then, a little more than a decade ago, his grad student Kevin Williams suggested that they explore whether these self-absorbed tendencies are linked to two other unpleasant characteristics – Machiavellianism (the coolly manipulative) and psychopathy (callous insensitivity and immunity to the feelings of others). Together, they found that the three traits were largely independent, though they sometimes coincide, forming a “Dark Triad” – a triple whammy of nastiness.
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It is surprising how candid his participants can often be. His questionnaires typically ask the subjects to agree with statements such as “I like picking on weaker people” or “It’s wise not to tell me your secrets”. You would imagine those traits would be too shameful to admit – but, at least in the laboratory, people open up, and their answers do seem to correlate with real-life bullying, both in adolescence and adulthood. They are also more likely to be unfaithful to their spouses (particularly those with Machiavellian and psychopathic tendencies) and to cheat on tests.
Even so, since Paulhus tends to focus on everyday evil rather than criminal or psychiatric cases, the traits are by no means apparent on the first meeting. “They are managing in everyday society, so they have enough control not to get themselves into trouble. But it catches your attention here or there.” People who score particularly high on narcissism, for instance, quickly display their tendency to “over-claim” – one of the strategies that helps them boost their own egos. In some experiments, Paulhus presented them with a made up subject and they quickly confabulated to try to appear like they knew it all – only to get angry when he challenged them about it. “It strikes you that yes, this fits into a package that allows them to live with a distorted positive view of themselves.”
Once Paulhus had begun to open a window on these dark minds, others soon wanted to delve in to answer some basic questions about the human condition. Are people born nasty, for instance? Studies comparing identical and non-identical twins suggest a relatively large genetic component for both narcissism and psychopathy, though Machiavellianism seems to be more due to the environment – you may learn to manipulate from others. Whatever we’ve inherited cannot take away our personal responsibility, though. “I don’t think anyone is born with psychopathy genes and then nothing can be done about it,” says Minna Lyons at the University of Liverpool.
You only need to look at the anti-heroes of popular culture – James Bond, Don Draper or Jordan Belfort in the Wolf of Wall Street – to realize that dark personalities have sex appeal, a finding supported by more scientific studies. Further clues to the benefits might come from another basic human characteristic – whether you are a morning or evening person. Lyons and her student, Amy Jones found that “night owls” – people who stay up late but can’t get up in the morning – tend to score higher on a range of dark triad traits. They are often risk-takers – one of the characteristics of psychopathy; they are more manipulative – a Machiavellian trait – and as narcissists, they tend to be exploitative of other people. That might make sense if you consider our evolution: perhaps dark personalities have more chance to steal, manipulate, and have illicit sexual liaisons late while everyone else is sleeping, so they evolved to be creatures of the night.
Whatever the truth of that theory, Paulhus agrees there will always be niches for these people to exploit. “Human society is so complex that there are different ways of enhancing your reproductive success – some involve being nice and some being nasty,” he says.
Recently, he has started probing even further into the darkest shadows of the psyche. “We were pushing the envelope, asking more extreme questions,” he says – when he found that some people will also readily admit to inflicting pain on others for no other reason than their own pleasure. Crucially, these tendencies are not simply a reflection of the narcissism, psychopathy or Machiavellianism, but seem to form their own sub-type – “everyday sadism”. For this reason, Paulhus now calls it a “dark tetrad”.
The “bug crushing machine” offered the perfect way for Paulhus and colleagues to test whether that reflected real life behaviour. Unknown to the participants, the coffee grinder had been adapted to give insects an escape route – but the machine still produced a devastating crushing sound to mimic their shells hitting the cogs. Some were so squeamish they refused to take part, while others took active enjoyment in the task. “They would be willing not just to do something nasty to bugs but to ask for more,” he says, “while others thought it was so gross they didn’t even want to be in the same room.” Crucially, those individuals also scored very highly on his test for everyday sadism.
Arguably, a rational human being shouldn’t care too much about bugs’ feelings. But the team then set up a computer game that would allow the participants to “punish” a competitor with a loud noise through their headphones. This wasn’t compulsory; in fact, the volunteers had to perform a tedious verbal task to earn the right to punish their competitor – but, to Paulhus’s surprise, the everyday sadists were more than happy to take the trouble. “There wasn’t just willingness to do it but a motivation to enjoy, to put in some extra effort to have the opportunity to hurt other individuals.” Importantly, there was no provocation or personal gain to be had from their cruelty – the people were doing it for pure pleasure.
He thinks this is directly relevant to internet trolls. “They appear to be the internet version of everyday sadists because they spend time searching for people to hurt.” Sure enough, an anonymous survey of trollish commentators found that they scored highly on dark tetrad traits, but particularly the everyday sadism component – and enjoyment was their prime motivation. Indeed, the bug-crushing experiment suggested that everyday sadists may have more muted emotional responses to all kinds of pleasurable activities – so perhaps their random acts of cruelty are attempts to break through the emotional numbness.
More immediately, his discoveries have attracted the attention of police and military agencies, who want to collaborate with Paulhus to see if his insights might explain why some people abuse their positions. “The concern is that these people might deliberately select jobs where you are given the mandate to hurt individuals,” he says. If so, further work might suggest ways to screen out the dark personalities at recruitment.
He’s also excited about new work on “moral Machiavellianism” and “communal narcissists” – people who perhaps have dark traits but use them for good (as they see it). In some situations, ruthlessness may be necessary. “To be prime minister, you can’t be namby pamby – you need to cut corners and hurt people, and even be nasty to achieve your moral causes,” he says. After all, the dark personalities often have the impulse and the confidence to get things done –even Mother Theresa apparently had a steely side, he says. “You’re not going to help society by sitting at home being nice.”
All of which underlines the false dichotomy of good and evil that Paulhus has been keen to probe. In a sense, that is a personal as much as a professional question. He admits to seeing a dark streak in his own behaviour: for example, he enjoys watching violent, painful sports like Mixed Martial Arts. “It didn’t take long to see I would stand above average on these dark traits,” he says. “But given my abiding curiosity as a scientist and my enjoyment of investigating such things – I thought that perhaps I was in a good position to take a closer look at the dark side.”
By Alex O’Brien17th May 2021
When amateur player Alex O’Brien unexpectedly won an online poker tournament, little did she know that she’d be pitted against one of the game’s most controversial players. A stellar team of poker pros offered to train her, and she discovered how poker can transform how you see the world.
One dark December afternoon, a message on my phone lit up like a warning signal.
“Are you in?”
This was the third time in two days that Philipp Kiefel, my poker coach, had asked me to sign up to play in a specific online tournament. It had a whopping first prize of $10,000 (£7,000/€8,250), and he thought it would be good practice. I’m a science writer, not a professional player, and had taken up the game initially as a hobby, but then started to study it in earnest to help me research a non-fiction book about how poker can enhance your critical thinking.
However, I was out collecting my daughter from school, and nowhere near my laptop.
“Picking up Ava,” I replied.
I felt guilty, but I had no interest in playing that day.
“You have 26mins before late registration closes,” he insisted.
“Will make it,” I capitulated.
Walking home was no longer an option, so Ava and I jumped in a cab and got home with just a few minutes to spare. She went to her room to play with her Lego and I sat down at the kitchen table to play with some strangers online – totally unaware of the impact it was about to have on my life.
That day, I would beat 1,666 other players to win the tournament and take the $10,000 prize.
My unexpected victory was just the beginning. Over the course of the following months, I would be pitted against a controversial player I had never met, notorious for his bombastic Instagram lifestyle and negative comments about women. I would be thrust into 15 minutes of fame in the poker media, drawn into the wider issue of sexism in the game. And I would be offered training by some of the world’s best poker coaches – idols of mine who have won millions of dollars through their skills, and who would go on to become friends. Along the way, the experience taught me how to think differently about the game – and the wider world, too. It elevated my mindset in a way that I started to see everything differently. And it all began at my kitchen table that December afternoon.
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For the past few years, I’ve been working on a book about the mental upsides of playing poker. In the process of writing, I realised that I would need to include my own experiences, and show my reader I know what it takes to play and win. But I’m just an amateur player. I enjoy the game the way some people love yoga or running. So, like many of those people, I got myself a coach – Kiefel, a German online poker pro.
The online tournament that he had encouraged me to play was called a “freeroll” – and this was one reason why I had been reluctant to sign up. Since there’s no entry fee, what tends to happen in a freeroll is that most players will undervalue their chips, play with little care and just spew off their stack. They perfectly display human psychology in action: give people something for free and they will value it less than something that they paid for. I had no desire to waste my time playing in what I believed would be a game of chance. Kiefel however had a different view. Playing with players who were less invested, he said, was a good thing: “Play your game and you will crush them”. And crush them I did.
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The author of this article, Alex O’Brien, playing poker before the pandemic (Credit: partypoker)
Ten seconds and four high-pitched OhMyGods after the win, I was on the phone to him. The grin stretched all over his words: “See what happens when you play rested and with focus?” He deserved to gloat. This victory was as much his as it was mine. He had never given up on me even though for nearly a year I repeatedly kept breaking his cardinal rule – don’t play when tired, stressed or distracted. I had been all of those things, just like any working parent during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The tournament was over within three and a half hours, in time for bedtime stories. The story that night was called “How Mommy won”, which concluded with us both jumping up and down on the bed and her getting the Ninjago Lego set she’d had been asking for. Tonight we were both going to sleep happy – or so I believed.
We are told not to check our email before bedtime, but I did. Later that night, there was an email from GGPoker, the online platform that had hosted the tournament: “What an incredible achievement, beating such a huge field of players!” They’d be in touch to arrange the “heads-up match” with Dan Bilzerian. Wait, what? Who? What heads-up match? When? Kiefel was baffled too. What we did know was a heads-up game can be a bigger deal. These are essentially aggressive duels, played one-to-one, and usually involve high stakes.
Just what had I let myself in for? And who even was Dan Bilzerian?
I didn’t have to wait long for answers. They came at me in a Twitter storm. One post that particularly stood out was from a female online poker pro called Vanessa Kade. She wrote that it was “hilarious and perfect” that a woman (me) had won the tournament to face Bilzerian, given his past comments on social media about female poker players. In a now-deleted tweet in 2017, he had told the poker pro Cate Hall that: “I want to bet against you because you are a woman and women can’t play poker.”
Another tweet, from a poker coach based in the US, was directly addressing me:
“..sincere congrats, and NOT a dig on you personally in any form. Hoping that you can use this opportunity for the good in the efforts for decency, respect, and systemic inclusion for women in poker.”
Just what had I let myself in for? And who even was Dan Bilzerian?
In all the years of watching poker, reading up on events and learning about players, I had never heard his name, let alone met him. Yet just a few days before the tournament he had been made one of the ambassadors for GGPoker. I was also unaware of the controversy that had unfolded with his appointment. It had been set off by an online spat between him and Kade. “The idea that this guy is being validated as the face of poker really sucks,” Kade had tweeted. Bilzerian, bolstered by the might of his tens of millions of followers, fired back: “Quiet hoe, nobody knows who you are.” So ensued a contentious narrative that would repeatedly flare up and take hold of the poker world for months.
Dan Bilzerian poses with a cigar and six women at a casino in Las Vegas (Credit: Alamy)
Bilzerian is not a professional poker player and his claims of winning tens of millions playing poker are hard to verify. In fact browsing through his Instagram feed you’d be hard pushed to find much poker content. What you will see is a display of guns and girls. In one shot he is standing bare-chested in a red car wearing red shorts and a Santa’s cape surrounded by seven women in boudoir lingerie. In the next, he’s posing with military style weaponry, and in another, playing chess with giant wads of cash either side of the board – a post he captioned “A game of kings”. But it’s his words that have attracted the most criticism. “Women are like dog shit, the older they get the easier they are to pick up,” he once tweeted. And in 2017, he posted on Twitter: “It’s national Women’s Day, be thankful, they are good for so many things!” alongside an image of him in a hot tub with four barely clad women and a half-naked fifth bent over while he ate a meal from her back. The backlash was significant enough to be picked up in the UK tabloids. (Bilzerian did not respond to BBC Future’s requests for comment about the views expressed in his social media posts and the criticisms that followed.)
So when the news broke that a woman was now due to face Bilzerian in a heads-up match, it travelled like wildfire and the narrative took off on its own. Within days of my freeroll tournament win, I was profiled by PokerNews.com. But I wasn’t sure if I wanted any of it.
I also had a bigger problem: I didn’t know how to play heads-up poker. It’s a completely different game. You can’t hide in heads-up play. You either fold and lose, or you have to try to win the hand. In multi-player games, you can be more selective, but in heads-up you are forced to play all types of hands – even those that you’d normally discard without a second thought. If you are not aggressive, you will have a tough time. And crucially, it requires you to have a much more precise understanding of the game and its subtleties.
While I was worrying about my lack of skill, the online chatter continued and expectations grew. One person suggested I give the money back. This sudden exposure made me feel like a trapped animal.
Professional poker player Jennifer Shahade is also grandmaster chess player (Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Sometimes when you’re in trouble, others will leap in to help. And that is exactly what Jennifer Shahade did. I had met the grandmaster chess player a year prior in her home city of Philadelphia, where I interviewed her about pattern recognition and strategic thinking for my book. We had known each other for only two hours, yet she took the leap that declared: “I am on your team”. Shahade, who is also an ambassador for the poker website PokerStars, had seen the news but hadn’t weighed in publicly as she didn’t want to give Bilzerian even more attention, especially when many other strong voices had pointed out the negative. She told me she had been inspired by my story, and wanted me to enjoy and learn from the opportunity to play on a big stage, rather than see it as a burden or risk of getting heckled.
So, she explained, she would introduce me to a good friend of hers: a heads-up specialist and genius, who would be happy to dedicate some time to prepare me for the match. To my shock, that person was Olivier Busquet – one of the best heads-up coaches in the world. His name may not be familiar outside poker, but I can tell you that when I heard this, I felt my body contract, forcing me to take a deep breath. This was a pro I did not need to look up. I had watched him play on TV numerous times, listened to him commentate poker games and had seen him win big – he has made millions of dollars. And now Busquet was going to coach me. Even Kiefel was stunned (and thankfully also excited).
Training with Busquet would show me how the most successful poker players think – and along the way, I would learn a few things about my own mindset too.
With a perfect mathematics SAT score, an aptitude for numbers, a thrill for risk-taking and a highly competitive spirit, Busquet had all the requirements for becoming a successful financial trader. He had started playing poker to develop his trading skills, but became obsessed with the game instead.
Olivier Busquet, pictured earlier in his career, is now one of the best heads-up coaches in the world (Credit: Shane Gritzinger/WireImage)
It is not unusual for traders to become poker players, and vice versa. The co-author of the Mathematics of Poker Jerrod Ankenman, for example, was a poker player before he got into trading. He found the perfect fit with Susquehanna, an international financial trading company founded by poker players. The company has an entire gaming blog dedicated to strategy, probability, science, and data analytics. The core skills traders and poker players need are practically the same, Akerman told me. Both have to diversify risk and maximize expected value by evaluating risk-to-reward, free from emotions, all while paying attention and noticing behaviors in environments of imperfect information. (Note I didn’t say “incomplete information”. That is because game theorists regard information that you don’t have, but others do as imperfect if the rules and payoffs are known to all players or incomplete if the rules or payoffs are unknown. Trading markets can sometimes be seen as games of incomplete information.) Ultimately, what both successful traders and poker players must be good at is probabilistic thinking.
What does that mean? Say I have a coin and I am going to flip it and ask you to make a prediction. In this situation, what most of us think of as a “prediction” is “heads” or “tails.” However, a trader or poker player would say “equally likely to be either” and act accordingly. Even though probability is a mathematical framework that is key to decision making in poker, and maths is important in the game, you don’t need to have a PhD in it to succeed in poker.
Ask Busquet what he thinks it takes to excel in poker over the long-term, and he will tell you of three core competencies you need to have: strategic thinking, emotional resilience and psychological awareness.
Perhaps the most prevalent output from this trifecta is that poker players are less results orientated. Instead, they focus on the process. I have heard this from other professionals too. Poker pro Jamie Kerstetter told me how this mindset has benefitted her: “It means being less hard on myself when something turns out poorly, as long as I did everything I could to achieve a good outcome.”
To poker players, losing is part of a winning strategy. This may seem paradoxical, but real life is not too dissimilar to a poker game. In life, too, we can do all the right things and still lose. When Shahada and I talked over lunch in Philadelphia, she had told me that poker has taught her to think more in probabilities in all aspects of her life. The biggest risk in life, she told me, is to take no risk at all.
Professional poker player Jamie Kerstetter argues that, in poker, the process matters more than results (Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
I heard a similar message from the poker pro David Lappin about the parallels to real life. Poker can provide a lesson in humility and is a good metaphor for the sort of chaotic randomness of the world, he told me. Just like life, poker isn’t rigged, even though it could feel like that sometimes. You realize your role in all the proceedings isn’t central, except to you. Lappin suggested that the grand error most people make is that they apply some sort of cosmic meaning onto events: “I think you become really kind of familiar with the idea that you don’t matter much and that’s really good because we don’t matter as a species either.” He told me he used to be a more temperamental person before poker, but through the game he has learnt to stay in control and emotionally take a middle ground, “even if everything’s going wrong”. Successful poker players don’t get distracted by their own emotional state and instead can focus on that of their opponents, and so strategize accordingly.
A second vital thing I learnt from Busquet, in my first lesson, was a mistake I was making that was stopping me building an effective strategy. Unlike chess, many people struggle to see poker as a strategic game. Non-poker players tend to assume that the main requirements for winning are to be a body language expert and good at bluffing. I blame how popular culture often uses poker as a prop to describe scenes of distress and high tension, associated with gambling. Yet there are plenty of strategic similarities between chess and poker, which is why many chess players like Shahade pick up poker and vice versa.
In our first lesson, Busquet told me of a specific move I am never to make, after I had made a bet when I shouldn’t have.
“OK. Will do,” I replied.
“Aren’t you going to ask me why?”
This felt like a test I had failed, which made me want to hide under a rock. What I learnt was that I wasn’t asking enough questions. Poker players ask themselves a series of questions for every single hand they play, trying to gauge “range”, which essentially means the scope of possibilities in the game ahead. What is my range? What is my opponent’s range? How do those ranges interact? And how does it affect the value of my hand? At what frequency would I bet, call or fold with my hand?
Based on the concept that you only have partial information; poker players consider the range of all possible things that could happen. They then tally this thinking with risk assessments and the evaluation of risk and assign probabilities to it.
I realized that being able to ask the right questions when we have little information to hand, while also operating under duress, is a real skill we could all use – and not just in poker. This has been particularly clear during the Covid-19 pandemic when we all became risk assessors. All activities required us to evaluate the risk to our health, as well as gauging what risk we are willing to accept.
Dan Bilzerian looks at a branded racing car bearing his image in Richmond, Virginia (Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
No-limit Texas Hold ‘em is the most popular form of poker and it’s the one I play. In this game, each player is dealt two cards (pocket or hole cards) face down. Next there is a round of betting when players can decide to play or fold their cards. Players still remaining will see the flop. These are the first three cards of a total of five (community cards) that are dealt out face up in the middle. After that a further round of betting. Then the 4th card, called the turn is revealed. Once again, a round of betting, after which the final and 5th card, the river is revealed. Finally, one more round of betting before players still remaining in the hand will show their two cards. The winner at showdown is the player who has made the best hand using the hole cards and the cards in the middle to make the best possible five card poker hand.
The two cards a player is dealt are also referred to as starting hands. There are 169 starting hands in No-limit Texas Hold ’em. The playability and equity of the hands you play changes depending on several variables which dictate your actions. To help with their first strategic or betting decision, some poker players refer to charts. These are models that have been mathematically calculated by a computer for every position on the poker table and the corresponding chip stack size. They are visualized as grids of 169 squares and the ranges are color coded. Memorizing these is key to understanding your own position vs your opponent’s. Understanding ranges is key to winning.
An example of the kind of chart that poker players use to study strategies (Credit: Pokercode)
Following our initial conversations, Busquet started me off with 10 charts to study that are specific to heads-up play. A lot to learn, but there was absolutely no reason to panic. I had plenty of time.
This wasn’t the first time I would be wrong. A couple of days after my first lesson, I got a call from Mel Moser, who was the marketing manager at GGPoker. She had “great news”. They would be sponsoring my entry into the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Heads-up tournament – a $10,000 buy-in event. “I hope you are excited!”, she said.
I was not. What I felt was unprepared, and out-of-my-depth. My attempt to throttle the rise of panic was futile. My attempt to feign excitement even more so. “Oh… wow… this is …. amazing… thank you,” I replied.
Poker’s World Series is a series of tournaments that takes place over six-to-eight weeks in Las Vegas each year. In terms of importance, it’s the “Wimbledon” of poker. Thousands of players. One goal. To win the bracelet at the WSOP main event. It’s the ultimate prize in poker. If you love this game, this is what you dream about. Never did I imagine I’d be playing my first ever WSOP event online, let alone in a format I knew nothing about. Poker figured it would be good experience to play at this level to help prepare me for the match with Bilzerian. The list of players in that tournament was a “who’s who” in high-stakes poker. These were gods. I felt like a sacrifice.
I no longer had several weeks to prepare; I had a few days.
“You have barely scratched the surface of poker pain” – Olivier Busquet
I threw myself into training, devoting as many hours as I could, all the while juggling the pressures of work, parenting and the pandemic. Sometimes it got too much. One night in the middle of the UK’s winter lockdown, just before my daughter fell asleep, it became clear she had picked up on fears of the coronavirus: “Mommy, I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want you to die,” she said. I comforted and held her until she fell asleep, breathing calmly. I let the tears break free. Then I walked down into the kitchen and made coffee. It was 8pm. Time to study.
The next time I cried was when I crashed out of the WSOP Heads-up online event in the first round. The tournament was on 3 January, which is why, instead of joining a Zoom party with friends, I spent New Year’s Eve studying my charts until early hours in the morning. After I lost, I don’t remember how long I sat staring at the screen after I had played my final hand. The tears didn’t come straight away. First came exhaustion – I hadn’t slept more than four hours a night in days. After that came pain – I had been battling the fear of failure for days and failure had won. It hurt.
“You have barely scratched the surface of poker pain,” Busquet told me. Professionals encounter it all the time. “If I was playing the same tournament and had the same result. I would not have felt badly,” he said. It was comforting to hear him explain that losing in the first round is always possible and never unthinkable. This, I would learn, is because a professional player’s edge is intimately connected to a concept they call “variance”.
You will often hear poker players use the term “variance” and “luck” to explain outcomes. In poker these two words signify important aspects. When you sit down at the tables, you sign up to achieve a certain distribution of outcomes. Your win or loss is akin a random draw from that distribution. “Variance” is a statistical computation on the (theoretical) distribution of outcomes, while “luck” is the draw from that distribution that is realized. This distribution can be influenced by several variables such as the structure of the game, your opponents’ strategy and skill, and your own. Even though I had studied intensely for days I still hadn’t covered the basics of heads-up play, let alone started thinking about this.
The 27-year-old Fedor Holz has amassed tens of millions in poker earnings (Credit: Pokercode)
The value that your hand has against that of your opponents is called “equity distribution”, the poker pro Fedor Holz told me. Holz has a reputation as a wunderkind – a title the 27-year-old deserves, given that he has amassed $40m (£28m/€33m) in earnings. He was sitting in his flat in Austria and speaking to me over Zoom for a one-on-one post game analysis session that GG had arranged for us. “The way you are thinking right now, is how most players think. It isn’t how most of the best players think,” he said.
We talked about the downsides of focusing too much on an opponent’s playing habits. Holz sees this as a weakness because it’s not based on a theoretical understanding of the perfect play. The mindset that he asked me to adopt instead is to always assume that my opponent is a very good player and therefore to always play optimal strategy. And only then am I allowed to shift from the theoretical approach to respond to the information I pick up about who I’m up against.
“The way you are thinking right now, is how most players think. It isn’t how most of the best players think” – Fedor Holz
To build a strategy to beat Dan Bilzerian, once again I needed to ask questions: how is my range plotted against his? What are the strongest hands I have and what are the strongest hands he could have? For whom is this board better? Is this card better for him or me? And by how much? Crucially, these questions are independent of an opponent’s style, and they are independent of Bilzerian. In short, his approach matters far less than my own.
Before the end of our session Holz invited me to join Pokercode, a poker coaching community he set up where players meet to discuss hands, learn from one another, and attend interactive online coaching sessions run by high-profile pros. I was blown away. The repeated generosity and support by the poker community humbled me and I didn’t know how to thank Holz. He did and told me: “Just win!”
Throughout my training, I had met so many supportive professionals like Holz, Busquet and Shahade, who were rooting for me to beat Bilzerian. For them, my experience spoke to deeper problems with gender attitudes within the industry, which many of its players have been facing up to in recent years. I realized that these poker pros who donated their time were not simply focused on how to play their own best game – they also wanted to make poker itself better.
Setting aside that this complex game is super fun to play, one of the main reasons that drew me to poker in the first place was that it is a male-dominated field. I have spent my life proving that my gender doesn’t define or inhibit my abilities and skills. I intentionally use the gender-neutral form of my first name because in science writing, too, female writers encounter negative bias.
There is no reason why poker should be dominated by men. The cards are gender blind. It’s stereotypes, sexism and misperceptions that keep women from the tables, rather than ability.
Kara Scott (left) and Maria Ho, who present a poker show (Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Poker still has a long way to go, but there has at least been some progress. When Kara Scott started out her career in poker and broadcasting back in 2005, poker was heavily marketed towards men in a way that left women out of the conversation completely. During the WSOP main event it wasn’t uncommon to see strip clubs set up stands outside the hall, with strippers pillow-fighting inside, and poker magazines such as Bluff would hold their annual party at a strip club. It was pretty standard for the many printed poker magazines that existed then to use women as a visual prop for men, often pictured with cards between their cleavage or poker chips on their nipples lying on a poker table.
Women have proven they not only can play, but they can win
In those days, women were used as decorative objects. In Bilzerian’s images on social media, Scott says she sees flashbacks of a time she thought poker no longer lived in. As an anchor for WSOP, who is also a sideline reporter for the event, she now presents her own poker show with fellow poker pro Maria Ho. “Nobody fell over in a faint because two women were doing a poker show together,” she told me, and is glad that today this is seen as pretty standard.
Female voices are far more prevalent and less decorative today. What’s more, women have proven they not only can play, but they can win. If you are still wondering if poker is a skill-based game, Vanessa Kade is that proof. A few weeks ago, she delivered the poker world a Cinderella story no one saw coming. Kade, who had devoted time and effort to study, was rewarded by winning the biggest online poker tournament this year and pocketing $1.5m (£1m/$1.2m) in the process. Now everyone knows who she is – including Dan Bilzerian.
If this was a fictional sports movie, this story would end with a blow-by-blow account of my match against Bilzerian. You’d see me struggle, battle and beat him, despite the odds, then the credits would roll. But that’s for another day, and it’s not how I choose to end my story today. Instead, I find myself reflecting on where this path had led me. When I started, it seemed like the most important thing was beating a man I’d never met, in a match I didn’t know how to play. But along the way, I’ve learnt so much more about myself, and what I value.
I know that if the cards go my way, I can beat Bilzerian. If the game goes the other way, that’s OK too. What I’ve actually won is bigger than a heads-up match: a group of poker friends who have my back and a new way of thinking about my life. From now on, I’ll always remember the lessons of my tutors: curiosity is everything, losing is a part of playing, and our opponents in life are less important than the choices we make ourselves. And you know what? I’m ready.
Alex O’Brien is a writer, and her upcoming book about the mental benefits of poker, called The Truth Detective, will be published in early 2022.
It’s a question that’s reverberated through the ages – are we humans, though imperfect, essentially kind, sensible, good-natured creatures? Or deep down are we wired to be bad, blinkered, idle, vain, vengeful and selfish? There are no easy answers and there’s clearly a lot of variation between individuals, but this feature post aims to shine some evidence-based light on the matter. Here in the first part of a two-part feature – and deliberately side-stepping the obviously relevant but controversial and already much-discussed Milgram, Zimbardo and Asch studies – we digest 10 dispiriting findings that reveal the darker and less impressive aspects of human nature:
We view minorities and the vulnerable as less than human
Through history humans have demonstrated a sickening willingness to inflict cruelty on one another. Part of the explanation may be that we have an unfortunate tendency to see certain groups – especially outsiders and vulnerable people perceived as low status – as being less than fully human. One striking example of this “blatant dehumanization” came from a small brain-scan study that found students exhibited less neural activity associated with thinking about people when they looked at pictures of the homeless or of drug addicts, as compared with higher-status individuals. Many more studies have since demonstrated subtle forms of dehumanization (in which we attribute fewer mental states to outsiders and minorities) and there have been further demonstrations of blatant dehumanization – for instance, people who are opposed to Arab immigration or in favor of tougher counter-terrorism policy against Muslim extremists tended to rate Arabs and Muslims as literally less evolved than average. Among other examples, there’s also evidence that young people dehumanize older people; and that men and women alike dehumanize.
What’s more, the inclination to dehumanize starts early – children as young as five view out-group faces (those belonging to people who live in a different city or who are of a different gender than the child) as less human than in-group faces.
We already experience schadenfreude at the age of four
That last finding is particularly dispiriting since we often look to young children to give us hope for humankind – they are seen as the sweet and innocent ones who have yet to be corrupted by the grievances of adulthood. And yet many other studies show that very small kids are capable of some less-than-appealing adult-like emotions. For instance, a study from 2013 found that even four-year-old’s seem to experience modest amounts of Schadenfreude – pleasure at another person’s distress, especially if they perceived the person deserved it (because they’d engaged in a bad deed). A more recent study found that by age six children will pay to watch an antisocial puppet being hit, rather than spending the money on stickers. Oh, and maybe you should forget the idea of children offering you unconditional kindness – by age three, they are already keeping track of whether you are indebted to them.
We believe in Karma – assuming that the downtrodden of the world must deserve their fate
On a related note, so strong is our inherent need to believe in a just world, we seem to have an inbuilt tendency to perceive the vulnerable and suffering as to some extent deserving their fate (an unfortunate flip-side to the Karmic idea, propagated by most religions, that the cosmos rewards those who do good – a belief that emerges in children aged just four). The unfortunate consequences of our just-world beliefs were first demonstrated in now classic research by Melvin Lerner and Carolyn Simmons. In a version of the Milgram set-up, in which a female learner was punished with electric shocks for wrong answers, women participants subsequently rated her as less likeable and admirable when they heard that they would be seeing her suffer again, and especially if they felt powerless to minimize this suffering. Presumably derogating the woman made them feel less bad about her dismal fate. Since then, research has shown our willingness to blame the poor, rape victims, AIDS patients and others for their fate, so as to preserve our belief in a just world. By extension, the same or similar processes are likely responsible for our subconscious rose-tinted view of rich people.
We are blinkered and dogmatic
It’s not just that we are malicious and unforgiving, we humans are worryingly close-minded too. If people were rational and open-minded, then the straightforward way to correct someone’s false beliefs would be to present them with some relevant facts. However a modern classic published in 1967 showed the futility of this approach – participants who believed strongly for or against the death penalty completely ignored facts that undermined their position, actually doubling-down on their initial view. This seems to occur in part because we see opposing facts as undermining our sense of identity. It doesn’t help that many of us are overconfident about how much we understand things, and that when we believe our opinions are superior to others, this deters us from seeking out further relevant knowledge.
We would rather electrocute ourselves than spend time in our own thoughts
Maybe if we spent a little more time in contemplation we would not be so blinkered. Sadly, for many of us, it seems the prospect of spending time in our own thoughts is so anathema we’d actually rather electrocute ourselves. This was demonstrated dramatically in a 2014 study in which 67 per cent of male participants and 25 per cent of female participants opted to give themselves unpleasant electric shocks rather than spend 15 minutes in peaceful contemplation. Although others questioned the interpretation of the results, at least one other study has shown people’s preference for electrocuting themselves over monotony, and another found cross-cultural evidence for people’s greater enjoyment of doing some activity alone rather than merely thinking (also replicated here). The gist of these findings would seem to back up the verdict of the French philosopher Blaise Pascal who stated that “All of man’s troubles come from his inability to sit quietly in a room by himself”.
We are vain and overconfident
Our irrationality and dogmatism might not be so bad were they married with some humility and self-insight, but actually most of us walk about with inflated views of our abilities and qualities, such as our driving skills, intelligence and attractiveness – a phenomenon that’s been dubbed the Lake Wobegon Effect after the fictional town where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”. Ironically, the least skilled among us are the most prone to over-confidence (the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect). This vain self-enhancement seems to be most extreme and irrational in the case of our morality, such as in how principled and fair we think we are. In fact, even jailed criminals think they are kinder, more trustworthy and honest than the average member of the public. Our vanity manifests in other ways too: for instance, researchers believe that our preference for donating to charities that share our initials is a form of “implicit egotism”.
We are moral hypocrites
Not only do we tend to overestimate our own virtuousness, we are also inclined to moral hypocrisy. Findings in this area suggest it may pay to be wary of those who are the quickest and loudest in condemning the moral failings of others – the chances are the moral preacher is as guilty themselves, but of course they happen to take a far lighter view of their own transgressions. In one study to show this––suitably titled “The duality of virtue: Deconstructing the moral hypocrite”––researchers found that people rated the exact same selfish behaviors (giving oneself the quicker and easier of two experimental tasks on offer) as far less fair when perpetuated by others, than by themselves. Similarly, there is a long-studied phenomenon known as actor-observer asymmetry, which in part describes our tendency to attribute other people’s bad deeds, such as our partner’s infidelities, to their characters, while attributing the same deeds performed by ourselves as due to situational influences. These self-serving double-standards could even explain the common feeling that incivility is on the increase – recent research showed how we view the same acts of rudeness far more harshly when they are committed by strangers than by our friends or ourselves.
We are all potential trolls
Unfortunately, as anyone who has found themselves in a spat on Twitter will attest, social media may be magnifying some of the worst aspects of human nature, no doubt in part due to the online disinhibition effect, and the fact that anonymity (easy to achieve online) is known to increase our inclinations for immorality. While research has suggested that people who are prone to everyday sadism (which is a worryingly high proportion of us) are especially inclined to online trolling, a study published last year revealed how being in a bad mood, and being exposed to trolling by others, together double the likelihood of a person engaging in trolling – in fact, these situational factors were a stronger predictor of a person’s trolling behaviors than their individual traits, leading the researchers at Stanford and Cornell to conclude “that ordinary users will also troll when mood and discussion context prompt such behavior”. Of course this implies that initial trolling by a few can cause a snowball of increasing negativity, which is exactly what the researchers found when they studied reader discussion on CNN.com, with the “proportion of flagged posts and proportion of users with flagged posts … rising over time”.
We favor ineffective leaders with psychopathic traits
One way for us to mitigate against our human failings would be if we were inclined to choose leaders with rare virtuousness and skill. Sadly, we seem to have the opposite knack. Consider for a moment President Donald Trump. In seeking to explain his voter appeal, Dan McAdams, a professor of personality psychology, recently concluded that Trump’s overt aggression and insults have a “primal appeal”, and that his “incendiary tweets” are like the “charging displays” of an alpha male chimp, “designed to intimidate”. Trump’s supporters will disagree, but if McAdams’ assessment is true it would fit into a wider pattern – the finding that psychopathic traits are more common than average among leaders. Take a survey of financial leaders in New York that found they scored highly on psychopathic traits but lower than average in emotional intelligence. In fairness, there have been some null and contradictory findings on this topic too, but a meta-analysis (an overview of prior evidence) published this summer concluded there is indeed a modest but significant link between trait psychopathy and leadership emergence, and that this has practical implications – especially since psychopathy also correlates with poorer leadership performance.
We are sexually attracted to people with dark personality traits
To worsen the situation, not only do we elect people with psychopathic traits to become our leaders, evidence suggests that men and women are sexually attracted, at least in the short-term, to people displaying the so-called “dark triad” of traits – narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism – thus risking further propagating these traits. One study found women’s physical attraction to a man was increased when he was described as having dark traits (as self-interested, manipulative and insensitive) compared with being described in the same way (in terms of his interests and so on), but with reference to the dark traits removed. One theory is that the dark traits successfully communicate “mate quality” in terms of confidence and the willingness to take risks. Does this matter for the future of our species? Perhaps it does – another paper, from 2016, found that those women who were more strongly attracted to narcissistic men’s faces tended to have more children.
Are we doomed? One comforting caveat – most of the dating research relevant to that last item was based on European American samples and may not generalize to other cultures (in fact a study out this year found that among Asian Americans, it was those men and women with more pro-social traits who were more successful at speed dating). But then again, there is a lot more depressing research that I could not fit into this article, such as the studies showing we’re more motivated by envy than admiration, the shocking prevalence of lying (a habit we start at age two), and the manipulativeness of babies – they fake cry you know!
There seems be an attractive quality to things that are ostensibly unhealthy or dangerous. Alisusha/Shutterstock.com
What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?
January 8, 2019 6.39am EST
Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Indiana University
Professor of Psychology, Indiana University
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.
And how many times have we learned of someone – a celebrity, a friend or a loved one – who committed some self-destructive act that seemed to defy explanation? Think of the criminal who leaves a trail of evidence, perhaps with the hope of getting caught, or the politician who wins an election, only to start sexting someone likely to expose him.
Why do they do it?
Edgar Allan Poe, one of America’s greatest – and most self-destructive – writers, had some thoughts on the subject. He even had a name for the phenomenon: “perverseness.” Psychologists would later take the baton from Poe and attempt to decipher this enigma of the human psyche.
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In one of his lesser-known works, “The Imp of the Perverse,” Poe argues that knowing something is wrong can be “the one unconquerable force” that makes us do it.
It seems that the source of this psychological insight was Poe’s own life experience. Orphaned before he was three years old, he had few advantages. But despite his considerable literary talents, he consistently managed to make his lot even worse.
He frequently alienated editors and other writers, even accusing poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarism in what has come to be known as the “Longfellow war.” During important moments, he seemed to implode: On a trip to Washington, D.C. to secure support for a proposed magazine and perhaps a government job, he apparently drank too much and made a fool of himself.
According to Edgar Allen Poe, knowing something is wrong can make it irresistible. Wikimedia Commons
After nearly two decades of scraping out a living as an editor and earning little income from his poetry and fiction, Poe finally achieved a breakthrough with “The Raven,” which became an international sensation after its publication in 1845.
But when given the opportunity to give a reading in Boston and capitalize on this newfound fame, Poe didn’t read a new poem, as requested.
Instead, he reprised a poem from his youth: the long-winded, esoteric and dreadfully boring “Al Aaraaf,” renamed “The Messenger Star.”
As one newspaper reported, “it was not appreciated by the audience,” evidenced by “their uneasiness and continual exits in numbers at a time.”
Poe’s literary career stalled for the remaining four years of his short life.
Freud’s ‘death drive’
While “perverseness” wrecked Poe’s life and career, it nonetheless inspired his literature.
It figures prominently in “The Black Cat,” in which the narrator executes his beloved cat, explaining, “I…hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart…hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin – a deadly sin that would so jeopardise my immortal soul as to place it – if such a thing were possible – even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.”
Why would a character knowingly commit “a deadly sin”? Why would someone destroy something that he loved?
Was Poe onto something? Did he possess a penetrating insight into the counterintuitive nature of human psychology?
A half-century after Poe’s death, Sigmund Freud wrote of a universal and innate “death drive” in humans, which he called “Thanatos” and first introduced in his landmark 1919 essay “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.”
Many believe Thanatos refers to unconscious psychological urges toward self-destruction, manifested in the kinds of inexplicable behavior shown by Poe and – in extreme cases – in suicidal thinking.
In the early 1930s, physicist Albert Einstein wrote to Freud to ask his thoughts on how further war might be prevented. In his response, Freud wrote that Thanatos “is at work in every living creature and is striving to bring it to ruin and to reduce life to its original condition of inanimate matter” and referred to it as a “death instinct.”
To Freud, Thanatos was an innate biological process with significant mental and emotional consequences – a response to, and a way to relieve, unconscious psychological pressure.
Toward a modern understanding
In the 1950s, the psychology field underwent the “cognitive revolution,” in which researchers started exploring, in experimental settings, how the mind operates, from decision-making to conceptualization to deductive reasoning.
Self-defeating behavior came to be considered less a cathartic response to unconscious drives and more the unintended result of deliberate calculus.
In 1988, psychologists Roy Baumeister and Steven Scher identified three main types of self-defeating behavior: primary self-destruction, or behavior designed to harm the self; counterproductive behavior, which has good intentions but ends up being accidentally ineffective and self-destructive; and trade-off behavior, which is known to carry risk to the self but is judged to carry potential benefits that outweigh those risks.
Think of drunk driving. If you knowingly consume too much alcohol and get behind the wheel with the intent to get arrested, that’s primary self-destruction. If you drive drunk because you believe you’re less intoxicated than your friend, and – to your surprise – get arrested, that’s counterproductive. And if you know you’re too drunk to drive, but you drive anyway because the alternatives seem too burdensome, that’s a trade-off.
Baumeister and Scher’s review concluded that primary self-destruction has actually rarely been demonstrated in scientific studies.
Rather, the self-defeating behavior observed in such research is better categorized, in most cases, as trade-off behavior or counterproductive behavior. Freud’s “death drive” would actually correspond most closely to counterproductive behavior: The “urge” toward destruction isn’t consciously experienced.
Finally, as psychologist Todd Heatherton has shown, the modern neuroscientific literature on self-destructive behavior most frequently focuses on the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with planning, problem solving, self-regulation and judgment.
When this part of the brain is underdeveloped or damaged, it can result in behavior that appears irrational and self-defeating. There are more subtle differences in the development of this part of the brain: Some people simply find it easier than others to engage consistently in positive goal-directed behavior.
Poe certainly didn’t understand self-destructive behavior the way we do today.
But he seems to have recognized something perverse in his own nature. Before his untimely death in 1849, he reportedly chose an enemy, the editor Rufus Griswold, as his literary executor.
True to form, Griswold wrote a damning obituary and “Memoir,” in which he alludes to madness, blackmail and more, helping to formulate an image of Poe that has tainted his reputation to this day.
Then again, maybe that’s exactly what Poe – driven by his own personal imp – wanted.
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3. Humanity is at a precipice; its future is at stake
The following sections share selections of comments from technology experts and futurists who elaborate on the ways internet use has shaped humanity over the past 50 years and consider the potential future of digital life. They are gathered under broad, overarching ideas, rather than being tied to the specific themes highlighted above. Many of the answers touch on multiple aspects of the digital future and are not neatly boxed as addressing only one part of the story. Some responses are lightly edited for style and readability.
The cautious optimism expressed by many of the experts canvassed for this report grew out of a shared faith in humanity. Many described the current state of techlash as a catalyst that will lead to a more inclusive and inviting internet. Some of these comments are included below.
Micah Altman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and head scientist in the program on information science at MIT Libraries, wrote, “The late historian Melvin Kranzberg insightfully observed, ‘Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.’ In the last 50 years, the internet has been transformative and disruptive. In the next 50, information, communication and AI technology show every sign of being even more so. Whether historians of the future judge this to be good or bad will depend on whether we can make the societal choice to embed democratic values and human rights into the design and implementation of these systems.”
Juan Ortiz Freuler, a policy fellow, and Nnenna Nwakanma, the interim policy director for Africa at the Web Foundation, wrote, “Unless we see a radical shift soon, the internet as we know it will likely be recalled as a missed opportunity. History will underline that it could have been the basis for radically inclusive societies, where networked communities could actively define their collective future. A tool that could have empowered the people but became a tool for mass surveillance and population control. A tool that could have strengthened the social fiber by allowing people to know each other and share their stories, but out of it grew huge inequalities between the connected and not-connected, both locally and across countries.”
Steven Miller, vice provost and professor of information systems at Singapore Management University, said, “Overall, the future will be mostly for the better. And if it is not mostly for the better, the reasons will NOT be due to the technology, per se. The reasons will be due to choices that people and society make – political choices, choices per how we govern society, choices per how we attend to the needs of our populations and societies. These are people and political issues, not technology ones. These are the factors that will dominate whether people are better off or worse off.”
Paul Jones, professor of information science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, responded, “While the internet was built from the beginning to be open and extensible, it relies on communities of trust. As we are seeing this reliance has strong downsides – phishing, fake news, over-customization and tribalism for starters. Adding systems of trust, beginning with the promises of blockchain, will and must address this failing. Will the next internet strengthen the positives of individualism, of equality and of cooperation or will we become no more than Morlocks and Eloi? I remain optimistic as we address not only the engineering challenges, but also the human and social challenges arising. All tools, including media, are extensions of man. ‘We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us,’ as McLuhan is credited for noticing. Nothing could be more true of the next internet and our lives in relation to information access. Can we create in ways now unknown once we are less reliant on memorization and calculation? Will we be better at solving the problems we create for ourselves? I answer with an enormous ‘Yes!’ but then I’m still waiting for the personal jetpack I was promised as a child.”
Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois, Springfield, wrote, “On the scale of the discovery of fire, the wheel and cultivation of crops, the interconnection of humans will be judged as a very important step toward becoming the beings of the universe that we are destined to be.”
Charlie Firestone, communications and society program executive director and vice president at the Aspen Institute, commented, “Fifty years from now is science fiction. There really is no telling with quantum computing, AI, blockchain, virtual reality, broadband (10G?), genetic engineering, robotics and other interesting developments affecting our lives and environments…. It’s just too far ahead to imagine whether we will be in a digital feudal system or highly democratic. But I do imagine that we could be on our way to re-speciation with genetics, robotics and AI combined to make us, in today’s image, superhuman. I understand that there are many ways that the technologies will lead to worse lives, particularly with the ability of entities to weaponize virtually any of the technologies and displace jobs. However, the advances in medicine extending lives, the ability to reduce consumption of energy, and the use of robotics and AI to solve our problems are evident. And we have to believe that our successors will opt for ways to improve and extend the human species rather than annihilate it or re-speciate.”
Edward Tomchin, a retiree, said, “Human beings, homo sapiens, are a most remarkable species which is easily seen in a comparison with how far we have come in the short time since we climbed down out of the trees and emerged from our caves. The speed with which we are currently advancing leaves the future open to a wide range of speculation, but we have overcome much in the past and will continue to do so in pursuit of our future. I’m proud of my species and confident in our future.”
Garland McCoy, founder and chief development officer of the Technology Education Institute, wrote, “I hope in 50 years the internet will still be the Chinese fireworks and not become the British gunpowder.”
Angelique Hedberg, senior corporate strategy analyst at RTI International, said, “If we choose a future we want in 50 years, and work toward creating it, there is a nonzero probability we will reach a version of that future. In that vein of thought, we will see waves of platform companies that change the way we live and enjoy our lives. The platform companies that exist today will fade, as will the ones that follow. This is not because they fail, but rather, because they succeed. We will find a way to make decisions in a network of decisions. In 50 years, multiple generations of a family will gather for dinner and share sights, smells, sounds, tastes and touches, even if they are in different hemispheres, countries and time zones. You’ll be at a child’s social activity and they will hear the voices [of] all of those who love (and critique) him. You will say goodbye to aging loved ones, even if they cannot hear you. This will all happen with the assistance of technology (some embedded in our brain) that know our wants and needs better than we know our own. The definition of what it means to be human will evolve and the laws and regulation will follow, albeit in a less than direct manner. We will value governments in new and different ways, and we will expect more from our technology platforms. The deluge of data will provide new inputs into the decision models for platforms, bringing greater clarity to the short-term benefits and long-term risks, in return making the financial decisions more social, environmental and moral. Where laws and regulations can put a bottom line, they will. Where law and regulations cannot, the planet will step in and regulate the excess.”
Daniel Riera, a professor of computer science at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, commented, “Everything will be connected; automation will be everywhere; most of the jobs will be done by machines. Society will have fully changed to adapt to the new reality: Humans will need to realize the importance of sustainability and equality. In order to reach this point, technology, ethics, philosophy, laws and economics, among other fields, will have done a big joint effort. We have a very good opportunity. It will depend on us to take advantage of it. I hope and trust we will. Otherwise, we will disappear.”
Geoff Livingston, author and futurist, commented, “This is a great period of transition. The internet forced us to confront the worst aspects of our humanity. Whether we succumb or not to those character defects as a society remains to be seen.”
Brad Templeton, chair for computing at Singularity University, software architect and former president of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, responded, “It’s been the long-term arc of history to be better. There is the potential for nightmares, of course, as well as huge backlashes against the change, including violent ones. But for the past 10,000 years, improvement has been the way to bet.”
Mary Chayko, author of “Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Techno-Social Life” and professor in the Rutgers School of Communication and Information, said, “The internet’s first 50 years have been tech-driven, as a host of technological innovations have become integrated into nearly every aspect of everyday life. The next 50 years will be knowledge-driven, as our understandings ‘catch up’ with the technology. Both technology and knowledge will continue to advance, of course, but it is a deeper engagement with the internet’s most critical qualities and impacts – understandings that can only come with time, experience and reflection – that will truly come to characterize the next 50 years. We will become a ‘smarter’ populace in all kinds of ways.”
Yvette Wohn, director of the Social Interaction Lab and expert on human-computer interaction at New Jersey Institute of Technology, commented, “Technology always has and always will bring positive and negative consequences, but the positives will be so integral to our lives that going back will not be an option. Cars bring pollution, noise and congestion but that doesn’t mean we’re going back to the horse and buggy. We find newer solutions, innovation.”
Bob Frankston, software innovation pioneer and technologist based in North America, wrote, “For many people any change will be for the worse because it is unfamiliar. On the positive side, the new capabilities offer the opportunity to empower people and provide solutions for societal problems as long as we don’t succumb to magical thinking.”
Matt Mason, a roboticist and the former director of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote, “The new technology will present opportunities for dramatic changes in the way we live. While it is possible that human society will collectively behave irrationally and choose a path detrimental to its welfare, I see no reason to think that is the more likely outcome.”
Stuart A. Umpleby, a professor and director of the research program in social and organizational learning at George Washington University, wrote, “In the future people will live increasingly in the world of ideas, concepts, impressions and interpretations. The world of matter and energy will be mediated by information and context. Already our experiences with food are mediated by thoughts about calories, safety, origins, the lives of workers, etc. Imagine all of life having these additional dimensions. Methods will be needed to cope with the additional complexity.”
John Markoff, fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and author of “Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots,” wrote, “Speculation on the nature of society over timespans of half a century falls completely into the realm of science fiction. And my bet is that science fiction writers will do the best job of speculating about society a half century from now. As someone who has written about Silicon Valley for more than four decades I have two rules of thumb: technologies aren’t real until they show up at Fry’s Electronics and the visionaries are (almost) always wrong. I actually feel like the answer might as well be a coin toss. I chose to be optimistic simply because over the past century technology has improved the quality of human life.”
An executive director for a major global foundation wrote, “The internet will rank among the major technology movements in world history – like gunpowder, indoor plumbing and electricity. And like all of them (with the possible exception of indoor plumbing), its eventual weaponization should have been less of a surprise.”
Bryan Johnson, founder and CEO of Kernel, a leading developer of advanced neural interfaces, and OS Fund, a venture capital firm, said, “Humans play prediction games, but the exercise is inherently unproductive. A more useful exercise would be to think about what deeply influential technology can we invest our current time in that will give us the tools we need to thrive in such a highly complex future. Forecasting to 2050 is thought junk food. It is what people most like to daydream about, but is not what we should think about for the health of the species and planet.”
Ethics and the bigger picture loom large in the digital future
Optimistic and pessimistic respondents alike agree that human agency will affect the trajectory of digital life. Many respondents said their biggest concern is that everyone’s future in the digital age depends upon the ability of humans to privilege long-term societal advancement over short-term individual gain.
William Uricchio, media scholar and professor of comparative media studies at MIT, commented, “‘Changes in digital life’ are human-driven; technology will only amplify the social structures that created it. My pessimism ensues from the polarization of power, knowledge and wealth that characterizes much of the world at the start of the 21st century, and by the rapidly growing pressures evident in population growth and ecological degradation. Digital technologies have the capacity to be terrific enablers – but the question remains, enablers of what? Of whose vision? Of what values? These, it seems to me, are the defining questions.”
Jonathan Swerdloff, consultant and data systems specialist for Driven Inc., wrote, “In the first 50 years of connected internet, humanity rose from no access at all to always-on, connected devices on their person tracking their life signs. I expect the next 50 years will see devices shrink to tiny sizes and be integrated within our very persons. Then there will be two inflection points. The first will be a split between the technology haves and have-nots. Those who have the technology will benefit from it in ways that those who do not are unable to. The more advanced technology gets the more this will be the case. While I would like to believe in a utopic vision of AI fighting climate change and distributing food and wealth so that nobody goes hungry – the ‘Jetsons’ future, if you will – history doesn’t support that view. The second will be a moral evolution. Privacy as conceived in the era before the advent of the internet is nearly dead despite attempts by the European Union and California to hold back the tide. The amount of information people give up about their most private lives is growing rapidly. A commensurate evolution of morals to keep up with the technological developments will be required to keep up or chaos will ensue. Moral structures developed when people could hide their genetics, personal habits and lives at home are not aligned with an always-on panopticon that knows what someone is doing all day every day. Human nature is nearly immutable – morals will need to catch up…. Anything that happens in society can be magnified by technology. I hope that my pessimism is wrong. There is some evidence of the moral evolution already – Millennials and the generation behind them freely share online in ways which Boomers and Gen X look at as bizarre. Whether that will lead to a significant moral backlash in 50 years remains to be seen.”
Susan Mernit, executive director, The Crucible, and co-founder and board member of Hack the Hood, responded, “I am interested in how wearable, embedded and always-on personal devices and apps will evolve. Tech will become a greater helping and health-management tool, as well as take new forms in terms of training and educating humans. But I wonder how much humans’ passivity will increase in an increasingly monitored and always-on universe, and I wonder how much the owners and overlords of this tech will use it to segment and restrict people’s knowledge, mobility and choices. I want to believe tech’s expansion and evolution will continue to add value to people’s lives, but I am afraid of how it can be used to segment and restrict groups of people, and how predictive modeling can become a negative force.”
Charles Ess, a professor expert in ethics with the Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo, Norway, said, “My overall sense of the emerging Internet of Things and its subsequent evolutions is of an increasing array of technologies that are ever more enveloping but also ever more invisible (advanced technology is magic, to recall Arthur C. Clarke), thereby making it increasingly difficult for us to critically attend to such new developments and perhaps re-channel or obviate them when ethically/socially indicated.”
Stavros Tripakis, an associate professor of computer science at Aalto University (Finland) and adjunct at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote, “Misinformation and lack of education will continue and increase. Policing will also increase. Humanity needs a quantum leap in education (in the broad sense) to escape from the current political and economic state. Fifty years is not enough for this to happen.”
Kenneth R. Fleischmann, an associate professor at the University of Texas, Austin School of Information, responded, “The key questions are, ‘Which individuals?’ and ‘Better/worse in which ways?’ The impacts on different people will be different, and each person will interpret these changes differently. One major factor is what people value or consider important in life. If people value privacy and they are subject to a digital panopticon then, in that way, their lives may be worse; however, they also likely value convenience, and may find substantial improvements in that regard. Different people will make that tradeoff differently depending on what they value. So, understanding the impact of the technology is not only about predicting the future of technology, it is also about predicting the future of what we value, and these two considerations are of course mutually constitutive, as technologies are shaped by values, and at the same time, over time (especially generations), technologies shape values.”
Justin Reich, executive director of MIT Teaching Systems Lab and research scientist in the MIT Office of Digital Learning, responded, “Shakespeare wrote three kinds of plays: the tragedies where things got worse, the comedies where things got better, and the histories, with a combination of winners and losers. Technological advances do little to change net human happiness, because so much of happiness is determined by relative comparisons with neighbors. The primary determinants of whether life for people improves will be whether we can build robust social institutions that distribute power widely and equally among people, and whether those institutions support meaningful relationships among people.”
Michiel Leenaars, director of strategy at NLnet Foundation and director of the Internet Society’s Netherlands chapter, responded, “What the internet will look like in 50 years will greatly depend on how we act today. Tim Berners-Lee in his 2018 Turing speech referred to the current situation as ‘dystopian,’ and this seems like an adequate overall description. The industry is dominated by extremely pervasive but very profitable business practices that are deeply unethical, driven by perverse short-term incentives to continue along that path. A dark mirror version of the internet on an extractive crash course with democracy and the well-being of humanity at large itself. That is a future I’m not very eager to extrapolate even for another 10 years. My target version of the internet in 50 years – the one I believe is worth pursuing – revolves around open source, open hardware, open content as well as in helping people live meaningful lives supported by continuous education and challenging ideas. Permissionless innovation is a necessary precondition for serving the human potential, but so are critical reflection and a healthy social dialogue avoiding personalized bubbles, AI bias and information overload. The openness of the web and the mobile ecosystem in particular are abysmal, and attention and concentration are endangered human traits. But that can be reversed, I believe. Every day we can start to re-imagine and re-engineer the internet. The information age can and should be an era that brings out the best in all of us, but this will not happen by itself. So, I hope and believe the internet in 50 years is going to be as challenging as the early internet – and hard work for many people that want to see this future emerge.”
Simon Biggs, a professor of interdisciplinary arts at the University of Edinburgh, said, “Given our history as a species, and our current behavio with the internet, I suspect that our activities (within a more advanced form of the internet) will consist of virtual simulated sex (in the form of interactive pornography – so not really sex but power-play) and killing virtual players in massive online gaming environments (more power-play). In that sense things will be similar to how they are now. Given current trends it is likely that the internet will no longer be ‘the internet,’ in the sense that it was intended as the network of all networks. Networked information and communications technology will be territorialized, broken up and owned, in walled environments (this process is already well advanced). Access will be privileged, not for the consumer but for the producer. The first period of the internet was marked by a democratization of access to the means of production, but this will not be the case in the future. The vast bulk of internet users will be passive consumers who are offered an illusion of agency in the system to deliver them as a resource to those who profit from consumer playbour. We already see this with Facebook and other companies. The manner in which user data from Facebook and elsewhere has been exploited in the democratic process to affect the outcomes to the benefit of those paying for the data is indicative of where the internet is going. I expect the internet to be far more pervasive than it is today, our experience of our lived life mediated at all times. The only question is to what degree our experiential life will be mediated. I suspect it will be more or less total by 2030. Primarily, my reasoning is predicated on the expectation that human behaviour will lead to negative consequences flowing from our technological augmentation. These consequences could be quite severe. Do I think our survival as a species is threatened by our technological evolution? Yes. Do I think we will survive? Probably, because we are a tenacious animal. Do I think it will be worth surviving in a world like that? Probably not. Do I think the world would be better off if, as a species, we were to not survive? Absolutely. That is one thing we might hope for – that we take ourselves out, become extinct. Even if we are replaced by our machines the world is likely to be a better place without us.”
Robert Bell, co-founder of Intelligent Community Forum, had a different view from Biggs, predicting, “We created something that became a monster and then learned to tame the monster.”
Jeff Johnson, computer science professor at the University of San Francisco, previously with Xerox, HP Labs and Sun Microsystems, responded that it is important to take a broader view when assessing what may be coming next. He wrote, “Technological change alone will not produce significant change in people’s lives. What happens alongside technological change will affect how technological change impacts society. The future will bring much-improved speech-controlled user interfaces, direct brain-computer interfaces, bio-computing, advances in AI and much higher bandwidth due to increases in computer power (resulting from quantum computing). Unless national political systems around the world change in ways to promote more equitable wealth distribution, the future will also bring increased stratification of society, fueled by loss of jobs and decreased access to quality education for lower socio-economic classes. Finally, rising sea levels and desertification will render large areas uninhabitable, causing huge social migrations and (for some) increased poverty.”
An associate professor of computer science at a U.S. university commented, “Humans have adapted poorly to life in a technological society. Think of obesity, time wasted on low-quality entertainments, addictions to a whole range of drugs and more. As the noise in the information stream increases, so does the difficulty for the average person to extract a cohesive life pattern and avoid the land mines of dangerous or unhealthy behaviors. Genetics, cultural change, social and legal structures do not change exponentially, but aggregate knowledge does. This mismatch is a crucial realization. As Reginald Bretnor noted in ‘Decisive Warfare,’ kill ratios for weapons not only increase, but so does their ability to be wielded by the individual. So it is with most things in a technologically advanced society. But have people cultivated the requisite wisdom to use what is available to better themselves? Looking at American society, I would generally conclude not.”
The chief marketing officer for a technology-based company said, “I am all-in for innovation and improving the standard of living for all humanity. However … we need to become more vigilant about our fascination with technology and self-indulgence. Yes, it does paint a darker picture and forces a more cautious approach, but some of us are required to do this for the sake of a more balanced and fair future for all humanity. I’m one of the lucky ones, born in Europe with a very high standard of living. Same goes for the people behind this research. Let’s be vigilant of our actions and how we shape the future. We have been in a constant battle with nature and resources for the past 100 years. In historical terms it was a momentous leap forward in education, connectivity, traveling, efficiency, etc. But, at the same time, we are all committing an environmental suicide and behave like there is no tomorrow – only the instant pleasure of technology. There will not be a tomorrow if we continue to ignore the cause and effect of our unipolar obsession with technology and self-indulgence.”
Miguel Moreno-Muñoz, a professor of philosophy specializing in ethics, epistemology and technology at the University of Granada, Spain, said, “Mobility and easy access to affordable databases and service platforms for most citizens will become more important; e-government systems, transparency and accountability will be improved. The development of certain applications, if paralleled by the development of new types of intellectual property licensing and management systems, can revolutionize education and access to knowledge and culture. But this requires an open framework for international cooperation, which in many ways is now under threat.”
Sam Gregory, director of WITNESS and digital human rights activist, responded, “My perspective comes from considering the internet and civic activism. We are at a turning point in terms of whether the internet enables a greater diversity of civic voices, organizing and perspectives, or whether it is largely a controlled and monitored surveillance machine. We are also swiftly moving toward a world of pervasive and persistent witnessing where everything is instantly watched and seen with ubiquitous cameras embedded in our environment and within our personal technologies, and where we are able to engage with these realities via telepresence, co-presence and vicarious virtual experience. This is a double-edged sword. The rise of telepresence robots will enable us to experience realities we could never otherwise physically experience. This remote experiencing has the potential to enable the best and the worst in our natures. On the one hand, we will increasingly have the ability to deliberately turn away from experiencing the unmitigated pain of the world’s suffering. We might do this for the best of reasons – to protect our capacity to keep feeling empathy closer to home and to exercise what is termed ‘empathy avoidance,’ a psychological defense mechanism which involves walling ourselves up from responding emotionally to the suffering of others. We may also enter the middle ground that Aldous Huxley captured in ‘Brave New World,’ where narcotizing multisensory experiences, ‘feelies,’ distract and amuse rather than engage people with the world. Here, by enabling people to experience multiple dimensions of others’ crises viscerally but not meaningfully, we perpetuate existing tendencies in activism to view other people’s suffering as a theatrum mundi played out for our vicarious tears shed in the safety of our physically walled-off and secure spaces. On the other hand, we will increasingly be presented with opportunities through these technologies to directly engage with and act upon issues that we care about. As we look at the future of organizing and the need to better support on-the-ground activism, this becomes critical to consider how to optimize. We also have a potential future where governments will thoroughly co-opt these shared virtual/physical spaces, turning virtual activism into a government-co-opted ‘Pokémon Go,’ a human-identity search engine, scouring virtual and physical spaces in search of dissidents. In a brighter future, virtual/physical co-presence has the exciting potential to be a massive amplifier of civic solidarity across geographical boundaries, defying the power of national governments to unjustly dictate to their citizens.”
Marc Rotenberg, director of a major digital civil rights organization, commented, “There is no question that the internet has transformed society. We live in a world today far more interconnected than in the past. And we have access almost instantaneously to a vast range of information and services. But the transformation has not been without cost. Concentrations of wealth have increased. Labor markets have been torn apart. Journalism is on the decline, and democratic institutions are under attack. And there is a growing willingness to sacrifice the free will of humanity for the algorithms of machine. I do not know if we will survive the next 50 years unless we are able to maintain control of our destinies.”
Adam Popescu, a writer who contributes frequently to the New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg Businessweek, Vanity Fair and the BBC, wrote, “Either we’ll be in space by then, or back in the trees. Pandora’s box may finally burn us. No one knows what will happen in five years, let alone 50. It’s now obvious that the optimism with which we ran headfirst into the web was a mistake. The dark side of the web has emerged, and it’s come bringing the all-too-human conditions the web’s wunderkinds claimed they would stamp out. Given the direction in the last five years, the weaponization of the web, it will go more and more in this direction, which ultimately means regulation and serious change from what it is now. Maybe we won’t be on the web at all in that period – it will probably be far more integrated into our day-to-day lives. It’s a science fiction film in waiting. With email, constant-on schedules and a death of social manners, I believe we have reached, or are close to, our limit for technological capacity. Our addictions to our smartphones have sired a generation that is afraid of face-to-face interaction and is suffering in many ways psychologically and socially and even physically in ways that we’ve yet to fully comprehend. This will impact society, not for the better. Manners, mood, memory, basic quality of life – they’re all affected negatively.”
Many respondents to this canvassing described the next several years as a pivotal time for government regulation, adjustments in technology company policies and other reforms. They say such decisions being made in the next few years are likely to set the course for digital life over the next half century. Some warn that regulation can be more harmful than helpful if its potential effects are not carefully pre-assessed.
Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, responded, “I see two paths over the next 50 years. On the first path, power continues to consolidate in the hands a few companies and countries. The world ends up balkanized, organized into blocks, and societies are highly controlled and unequal. On the other path, we recognize that the current consolidation of power around a few platforms threatens the open global order we’ve built, and we enact laws and build technology that promotes continued competition, innovation and diversity.”
Laurie Orlov, principal analyst at Aging in Place Technology Watch, wrote, “The internet, so cool at the beginning, so destructive later, is like the introduction of the wheel – it is a basis and foundation for the good, the bad and the ugly. As the wheel preceded the interstate highway system, so the internet has become the information highway system. And, just like roads, it will require more standards, controls and oversight than it has today.”
Juan Ortiz Freuler and Nnenna Nwakanma of the Web Foundation wrote, “Allowing people to increasingly spend time in digital environments can limit unexpected social encounters, which are key to the development of empathy and the strengthening of the social fibres. In a similar way that gentrification of physical neighborhoods often creates barriers for people to understand the needs and wants of others, digital environments can thicken the contours of these bubbles in which different social groups inhabit. In parallel, this process enables a great degree of power to be amassed by the actors that design and control these virtual environments. Whereas in the past there was concern with the power of media framing, in the future the new brokers of information will have more control over the information people receive and receive a steady stream of data regarding how individuals react to these stimuli. It is becoming urgent to develop processes to ensure these actors operate in a transparent way. This includes the values they promote are in line with those of the communities they serve and enabling effective control by individuals over how these systems operate. Government needs to update the institutions of democracy if it wants to remain relevant.”
Leonardo Trujillo, a research professor in computing sciences at the Instituto Tecnológico de Tijuana, Mexico, responded, “I am worried that the digital ecosystems being developed today will limit people’s access to information, increase surveillance and propaganda, and push toward limiting social interactions and organization, particularly if current policy trends continue.”
Joly MacFie, president of the Internet Society’s New York Chapter, commented, “Today will be seen as an inflection point – the end on the initial ‘open’ era, and the start of the second.”
A professional working on the setting of web standards wrote, “Looking ahead 50 years, I expect that AI will either be more evenly and equitably integrated throughout societies, or that there will have been AI-driven disasters that jeopardize human and other animal life, or may have already destroyed life. On the more positive side, and focusing on medical research, I would expect AI-driven research and simulation of artificial life including cognition would have provided the tools to cure most disease, as well as to advance human capabilities through bionic augmentation. On the negative side, I would expect that AI combined with rapidly increasing capabilities of bioengineering, and with persistent socio-pathological tendencies of a small minority of the population, could have led to uncontained AI-driven cyberwarfare or biological devastation. A key determining factor differentiating these two futures might be the magnitude of social investment in a robust ethical framework for AI applications, and continued emphasis on development of a just society, with social safety nets, to help mitigate the risks of development of sociopathic behaviors that would be especially dangerous with easy access to AI.”
Benjamin Shestakofsky, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania specializing in digital technology’s impacts on work, said, “1) The ‘Uber-ization’ of everything will not proceed as rapidly, nor as evenly, as many now predict. Platform companies that facilitate the exchange of goods and services will continue to confront the reality that funneling idiosyncratic human activity through digital platforms is a complicated and costly endeavor. 2) Employers will continue to increase their use of connected technologies to monitor their workforces. However, workers will also continue to find ways to subvert employer surveillance and control. In many workplaces, employers will find it difficult to convert big data about employee activities into actionable insights. Nonetheless, legislators should act to limit the scope of employee surveillance and threats to employees’ privacy.”
A professor of information science wrote, “When I’m feeling dystopian, I see a world that looks a little too much like ‘Mr. Robot’ or ‘Person of Interest,’ with government or private organizations knowing too much about us and having too much control over us. I’d like to believe that interconnectivity could, instead, provide us with more ubiquitous access to information and with the ability to establish connections and deliver services across space and time.”
Stephen McDowell, a professor of communication at Florida State University expert in new media and internet governance, commented, “The area of law and policy is already showing some major stresses in dealing with networked connected data systems, apart from AI systems. Law and policy is often dealt with on a case-by-case and issue-by-issue basis, treating questions and legal traditions and precedents in isolation. These issues might include speech, privacy, property, informed consent, competition and security. This has weaknesses already in a networked world where large teach firms offer platforms supporting a wide range of services and track user behavior across services…. If we add systems with more learning and predictive power to this mix, it will be important to develop new concepts that go beyond the segmented approach to law and policy we are trying to use to govern internet-based interactions presently. We need to grapple with the totality of a relationship between a user and a service provider, rather than react to isolated incidents and infringements. We need to address the trade-off between offering free services and users allowing data to be collected with minimal understanding of their consent. We should also consider stronger limits on the use of personal data in machine learning and predictive modeling. Companies that automate functions to save on input costs and to allow services to be offered at scale to reap the private benefits of innovation must also take on responsibility for unintended consequences and possibilities they have created.”
Toby Walsh, a professor of AI at the University of New South Wales, Australia, said, “Like the Industrial Revolution before it, the Internet Revolution will be seen to have improved people’s social, economic and political lives, but only after regulation and controls were introduced to guard against the risks.”
Jonathan Taplin, director emeritus at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab, wrote, “The answer to this question depends totally on the willingness of regulators and politicians to rethink their ideas about antitrust policies in the digital age. If current consumer welfare standards continue to be used, the existing internet monopolies (Facebook, Google and Amazon) will get more dominant in the AI age. They would be bigger and have more data than any government or other mediating institution. They would be beyond control. They would determine our future and politics would be of little use…. I can envision a world in which technology is a boon to human progress, but it cannot come about as long as the internet is dominated worldwide by three firms (with two Chinese competitors in Asia). It is possible that the current efforts around blockchain or the new work of Tim Berners-Lee may lead to a more decentralized web. Count me as skeptical.”
Doug Schepers, chief technologist at Fizz Studio, said “The technology is less important than the laws, policies and social norms that we as a society will adopt to adapt to it.”
Randy Goebel, professor of computing science and developer of the University of Alberta’s partnership with DeepMind, wrote, “A challenge for an increasingly connected and informed world is that of distinguishing aggregate from individual. ‘For the greater good’ requires an ever-evolving notion and consensus about what the ‘greater’ is. Just like seat belt laws are motivated by a complex balance of public good (property and human costs) we will have to evolve a planet-wide consensus on what is appropriate for ‘great’ good.”
William Dutton, professor of media and information policy at Michigan State University, commented, “We are still in a transitional period, when so much of our time and effort is focused on getting connected and using technical advances. I could imagine so many devices that complicate contemporary life, such as the mobile smartphone, disappearing as they become unnecessary for accomplishing their functions. That said, the future will depend heavily on wise policy responses, even more so than technical advances.”
Luis Pereira, associate professor of electronics and nanotechnologies, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal, responded, “By virtue of the interconnection of the new tools there will be widespread data collection on people, their activities, connections, the environment and the Internet of Things. There will be increased promotion of gig-economy platforms and the focused targeting of individuals with consumerism and ideology. Unless moral values and ethical rules are put in place for application designers, product sellers, data users and autonomous software and robots, people will be forced into cluster drawers. A competitive and increasing AI race for control of profits and policies will sprout, including a digital weapons race, unless a way is found to promote collaboration instead, on the basis of regulated and overseen commitments (similar to global climate agreements) for the benefit of humanity and the planet. Certification methods for software that complies with such commitments need to be developed. People will be teaching machines how to replace themselves and others at increasing levels of cognition. Security will be a major concern. Technological developments will surpass human adaptability and raise issues we do not have the wherewithal to comprehend or address.”
Hari Shanker Sharma, an expert in nanotechnology and neurobiology at Uppsala University, Sweden, said, “Technology is a tool for making life better. A goal of life is happiness, satisfaction. Both require a set of values to remain good or become evil. The internet has brought the world together. Apps are tools to perform tasks easily. The Internet of Things will connect all living and nonliving things. But the dark side of human nature – the hunger for power, possession and control that has brought wars and terrorism – cannot be corrected by the internet or apps. There is a need to identify the evil in human nature and protect the simple, good and well-meaning from becoming its prey. Evil often moves ahead of good. Perhaps it can be predicted by features that check the psychology of individuals, crime records and other past behaviors to block certain actions or warn others. Biometric identification is already used for e-security – for instance, facial recognition – and it might be possible to have bio-feature readers to detect the evil-minded or those who are likely to become evil-minded and put safety checks in place at places of danger. Expert systems for face reading, feature reading, nature reading and analysis might give warning. Trackers could be established for isolated nodes and feed details to law-enforcement agencies. No evil-monger would agree on such checks and caution, but people need to be protected from online financial fraud, rapes by social media stalkers, murders by e-system users, etc., that unchecked because no efficient warning system exists. The law today is not helpful. E-crime should be dealt with and punished without boundary. The internet needs global law and global governance to become user friendly. Global connectivity becomes a tool of criminals while those who are simply good have no power to handle evil.”
Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute and professor of strategic foresight at New York University, commented, “I hope historians’ verdict 50 years from now will be that we made the right choice in the years 2018-2020 to rethink access to the internet, data ownership and algorithmic transparency, thus setting all of humanity on a better course for the future.”
A director for an internet registry responded, “There will be ongoing radical development by which biology, at physical and molecular/genetic scales, will become integrated with digital technology. We can assume that this will be pervasive throughout society, but both the applications and the costs and conditions under which they may be accessed are unpredictable. The greatest determining factor in the overall result will be political rather than technological, with a range of outcomes between utopian and utterly dystopian.”
Andrea Romaoli Garcia, an international lawyer active in internet governance discussions, commented, “The cloud is a new world and is navigating in international waters. And because it is new, laws must follow the innovation. However, I have watched all countries make laws with their minds focused on traditional models of regulation. This is wrong. Laws must be international. The interpretation of the innovation scenario should be applied by introductory vehicles of new laws. The word ‘disruptive’ must be interpreted to apply to new laws. When we use old models of laws and only we are doing changes to force fit into the new model of doing business or everyday life, we are creating a crippled creature that moves in a disgusting way. I nominated this as a ‘jurisdicial Frankenstein.’ This means laws that will apply to the cloud environment but will never be perfect, and legal security will be threatened.”
Stuart A. Umpleby, a professor and director of the research program in social and organizational learning at George Washington University, wrote, “The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment was eliminated by Newt Gingrich in order to put companies, rather than Congress, in charge of technology. Given unrestrained advancements in digital and biological technology, we now need such an office more than ever.”
Divina Frau-Meigs, professor of media sociology at Sorbonne Nouvelle University, France, and UNESCO chair for sustainable digital development, responded, “Currently there is no governance of the internet proper. Cases like Cambridge Analytica are going to become more and more common. They will reveal that the internet cannot be entrusted uniquely to monopoly corporations and their leaders who are not willing to consider the unintended consequences of their decisions, which are mostly market-competition-driven). A global internet governance system needs to be devised, with multi-stakeholder mechanisms, that include the voices of the public. It should incorporate agile consultations on many topics so that individuals can have an influence over how their digital presence can affect, or not, their real life.”
Jennifer J. Snow, an innovation officer with the U.S. Air Force, wrote, “The internet will continue to evolve in surprising ways. New forms of governance, finance and religion will spring up that transcend physical Westphalian boundaries and will pose challenges to existing state-based governance structures. The internet will fracture again as those founders who seek to return it to its original positive uses establish and control their own ‘walled gardens,’ inviting in only a select few to join them and controlling specific portions of the Net separately from nation-states. New policy and regulations will be required to address these changes and the challenges that come with them. New types of warfare will arise from internet evolutions but also new opportunities to move society forward together in a positive manner. States will no longer have the premium on power and nonstate actors, corporations and groups will be able to wield power at the state, national and regional level in new and unexpected ways. It will be a disruptive time and dangerous if not navigated smartly but may also result in some of the greatest advances yet for humanity.”
Peng Hwa Ang, professor of communications at Nanyang Technological University and author of “Ordering Chaos: Regulating the Internet,” commented, “We know that the future is not linear, which means that to be accurate I will be painting with broad brush strokes. 1) Laws – It is finally being recognized that laws are essential for the smooth functioning of the internet. This is a sea change from the time when the internet was introduced to the public more than 20 years ago. In the future, governments will be increasingly feeling empowered to regulate the laws to their own political, cultural, social and economic ends. That is, countries will regulate the internet in ways that express their own sovereignty. There will be a large area of commonality. But there will also be a sizable area where the laws diverge across borders. 2) Within 50 years, there should be one common trade agreement for the digital economy. It is difficult to see China carrying on its own terms. Instead, it is more likely that China will allow foreign companies to operate with little censorship provided that these companies do not ‘intrude’ into the political arena. 3) It is difficult to see Facebook continuing to exist in 50 years. 4) The harm from being always on will be recognized, and so users will spend less time online. Some of the time currently spent by users will be taken over by AI bots.”
Devin Fidler, futurist and founder of Rethinkery Labs, commented, “Over the last 50 years we have built a basic nervous system. Now, the challenge is to evolve it to best support human society. A great place to start is with the many positive and negative externalities that have been documented around network deployment. Simply amplifying the positive benefits to society for network activity and curbing network activities that impose an unfunded burden on society as a whole may be a great framework for creating a networked society that lives up to the enormous potential these tools unlock. Expect increased regulation worldwide as societies struggle to balance this equation in different ways.”
David A. Banks, an associate research analyst with the Social Science Research Council, said, “The character and functionality of the internet will continue to follow the political and social whims of the major power players in the industry. If these companies continue to engage in monopolistic practices without competent and reflective regulation, then we can expect an ossified and highly commercialized digital network. If something major changes then we can expect something radically different.”
Luis German Rodriguez Leal, teacher and researcher at the Universidad Central de Venezuela and consultant on technology for development, said, “The new internet will be blended with human-machine interfaces, AI, blockchain, big data, mobile platforms and data visualization as main-driven technologies. They will set up a robust and widely accessible Internet of Things. On the other hand, these will imply a disruptive way of facing everyday activities such as education, government, health, business or entertainment, among many others. Therefore, innovative regulation frameworks are urgently required for each of them.”
Julian Jones, a respondent who provided no identifying details, said, “Data security will be vital as is privacy. It is essential that individuals can have more control over the context in which their data is used. In the absence of this legislation the consequences for society could be catastrophic.”
Fred Baker, independent networking technologies consultant, longtime leader in the Internet Engineering Task Force and engineering fellow with Cisco, commented, “I suspect that the expansion of telephone technology and law will inform this discussion. The United States’ 1934 Communications Act was designed to tame a regulated monopoly carrier and prevent the worst of what that carrier might do with the technology at its disposal. Over the past few decades, the Federal Communications Commission has tried to interpret the internet through the lens of that regulation. That has failed, for the most part, for at least two reasons. First, the internet is not a regulated monopoly. It is a set of companies trying to accomplish various things, some of which (notably Google, Facebook and their kin) have become very powerful and may require appropriate regulation or regulatory action to steer in the public interest. A law designed to regulate a monopoly, and experience with it, may inform a future law, but is not a substitute for it. Second, the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] tries desperately to understand the internet to be one two things: a way to carry messages from ingress to egress without inspecting or changing them (a telecom service), or a way to access an application (an information service). It is neither, and it is both. Until we have a law that can follow that difference in service model in the internet, we will find differences between the internet as implemented and the internet as regulated.”
Jennifer Jarratt, owner of Leading Futurists consultancy, commented, “We need new regulation now that can protect users and the digital world from themselves and itself. With those we could also have a fully digital government that might be able to handle some of the planet’s big problems. Expect also new activism and new social orders. In the next 50 years, technological change will produce significant change – but maybe not as much as we expect or would like. The world will have become more difficult to live in by then, so we’d better hope tech has some answers.”
Oscar Gandy, emeritus professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania, responded, “The whole notion of connectivity is bound to be redefined in the not-too-distant future. When we extend the processes through which miniaturization married with processing speed, and divorce from personal device-based memory, the possibilities for connectivity/interactivity/control, and what we mean by intelligence are beyond the ability of any but authors of science fiction novels (I guess that excludes those among us who consider themselves to be ‘futurists’). I think the most interesting possibilities are those that actually eliminate (or seem to eliminate) the need to possess devices to make use of what we currently refer to as connectivity. This means that all we need is access to the intelligent network – a level of access that will not require manual action of any kind; I can even imagine that use of this network will not even depend upon requests made vocally – thought will be enough. So, I don’t know what the requisite ‘interface’ will be, but I believe that something akin to sensors interacting with implanted chips will be commonplace, without the chips, with sensing of the brain from what we would characterize as a reasonable conversational distance from the sensor(s) would be sufficient. Of course, for a privacy scholar, this is quite a leap from our present thinking about access to and control over our private thoughts. This will, therefore, be an area of much work with regard to law, regulation and control of these developments and their use by others for specified legitimate purposes.”
Jennifer King, director of privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, said, “The last 10 years have demonstrated the risks with unleashing the internet on society with little accounting for public responsibility. I predict in Western democracies, we will see a greater push for more regulation and corporate responsibility for the effects of technology. In totalitarian states, we will see concentrated social control through technology. And across the board, I suspect it will become increasingly difficult to live a life outside of the reach of technology.”
Tracey P. Lauriault, assistant professor of critical media and big data in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University, commented, “We are already seeing platform convergence and the resale of platform data to third parties with whom we do not have a direct relationship. We already know that data brokerage firms are not regulated and there is very little regulation when it comes to credit scoring companies. In addition, we are already beginning to see erroneous social science hiding behind algorithms, not unlike what we saw at the beginning of the Enlightenment, and we have not even begun to address the social-technical and political outcomes of junk AI/social sciences (i.e., finding gay people or criminals in facial recognition – harkening on the bad old days of eugenics and skull measuring). The European Union’s General Data-Protection Regulation on the right to access information will help, but, for the moment, there is little individual and aggregate protection. Also, will private sector companies who aggregate, buy and sell our data, who create individual data shadows or data doppelgangers that become our representatives in this data world, know more about us than we know about ourselves? What influence will they have on larger political decision-making? Decision-making over our lives? How do we correct these systems when they are wrong? How do we adjudicate and context egregious ‘data-based decisions’ in the courts with current intellectual property law? And what of personal sovereignty and state sovereignty? What of other decision-making systems such as social scores in China? How with the poor, elderly and disabled be protected from automated decision-making about social welfare and supports if they do not have assurances that the decision-making about them are correct? And what of junk coding that persists and does not get removed and just keeps generating bad decisions? Who audits? Who is accountable? And will these become the new governors? The future is here and we do not know how to deal with it. The EU is beginning to address these and holding these companies to account, but our citizens in North America are not as well versed, and arguably, our governors seem generally less interested in our well-being, or perhaps are more ignorant of the implications.”
Andreas Kirsch, a fellow at Newspeak House, formerly with Google and DeepMind in Zurich and London, wrote, “Regulation will force open closed platforms. Information will flow more freely between services. Internet services will become more decentralized again as network bandwidths will not be sufficient for the data volumes that users will produce by then. Applications and services will not be coupled to devices anymore but will follow us freely between different contexts (shared car, home, work, mobile devices).”
ere Are The 7 Bloody Events That Made The 20th Century So Violent
How genocide and human depravity drove history’s bloodiest century
26–2–1992 Khojaly Genocide of 20th century — Image by Public Domain
There’s an irony surrounding the 20th century. Believe it or not, it began with a strong sense of hope and promise. There were several notable technological and industrial advances afoot, and it seemed that humankind was on the cusp of a new golden age.
Many scholars believe this hopeful vision was perhaps one of the reasons the 20th century became so violent. According to them the promise of a better society made people too hopeful, and therefore, too vulnerable.
After all, the 20th century saw a dramatic rise of ideological regimes promising comprehensive solutions to society’s woes — even a Utopia. Having the benefit of hindsight, we now know that this Utopian promise became a nightmare in most cases.
The 20th century was riddled with horrific activities like vicious total wars, a proliferation of concentration death camps, ethnic cleansing, and industrialized mass murder.
These atrocities were so prevalent that their death toll was over 210 million by the century’s end. Here are seven events that were crucial for this unforgivable slaughter of life — listed chronologically.
1. The Armenian Genocide (1914–1 915)
Death toll: around 1.5 million deaths
The Ashjian family, all killed in 1915 in the Armenian Genocide — Image by Public Domain
The Armenian genocide was a campaign of deportation and mass killing of Armenians in Turkey¹. These attacks were initiated by the Young Turk government, who had taken control of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War (1914–18). Since the campaign specifically targeted Armenians, most considered it to be genocide, despite objections from the Turkish government.
This internal conflict only worsened in January 1915 during the Ottoman battle of Sarıkamış against the Russians. The battle became the worst Ottoman defeat of the entire war because of harsh conditions and terrible tactical leadership.
However, the Young Turk government chose to blame this loss on Armenian treachery. All the Armenian and any non-Muslim soldiers in their army were immediately relocated to labor battalions. These disarmed Armenian soldiers were eventually murdered by Ottoman troops and became the first victims of the Armenian genocide.
After this, mass killings were carried out in several Armenian villages on the Russian border. Women and children were taken on death marches. Armenians were summarily shot, burned, and drowned in rivers.
2. Stalin’s Gulags (1922–1953)
Death toll: as high as 20 million deaths
Wall of Sorrow on the victims of Stalin’s Gulag — Image by Public Domain
One creation of depravity under Joseph Stalin was the Gulag. This was a network of forced labor camps that brought the oppressive outlook of the Soviet Union to life². These notorious terrifying prisons held millions of people during their existence.
At its peak, the Gulag system was comprised of hundreds of these labor camps, each containing 2,000 to 10,000 prisoners. To state that conditions at these prisons were inhumane is a massive understatement. Prisoners were forced to work fourteen-hour days, and they did so in harsh weather. Many of them died of disease, starvation, or just plain exhaustion — and some were openly executed. Many froze to death.
It is estimated that some twenty million people perished in Stalin’s labor camps. In addition to the harsh conditions, the prisons were incredibly overcrowded. Violence was a daily occurrence among prisoners. Most prison populations were a blend of political prisoners and hardened criminals.
3. Hitler’s Holocaust (1933–1945)
Death toll: 6 million
Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland — Image by Public Domain
Hitler’s Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored murder and persecution of approximately six million Jewish men, women, and children by the Nazi regime³. In 1933, when the Nazis assumed power in Germany, they embraced an ideology that regarded the German nation as racially superior to other societies. One of their main objectives was to establish an ethnically pure state.
They saw Jews as an inferior race that was a threat to the German culture. There were several reasons for this. One reason was that several Jewish people had established successful businesses in Germany when many Germans suffered from the Great Depression. Secondly, many blamed the Jews for Germany’s failures in the First World War.
During the Holocaust, German authorities began the depraved execution of prisoners in their concentration death camps. While most of these were Jewish, they also targeted and murdered other groups of people they saw as inferior. These included Germans with disabilities, Slavic peoples (Russians and Poles), and gypsies. The Nazis even executed people they saw as having questionable ideological, political, and behavioral views — such as Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals.
4. The Rape of Nanking (1937–1938)
Death toll: 300,000 deaths
Iwane Matsui enters Nanking — Image by Public Domain
December 1937 was a very dark month for humankind. This was when the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Chinese city of Nanking — which was China’s capital at that time. Japanese troops then proceeded to slaughter 300,000 out of the city’s 600,000 citizens⁴.
This was followed by six weeks of the worst atrocities ever recorded in human history. This carnage was later coined as the ‘Rape of Nanking.’ Many consider it the most heinous act of human depravity during World War II — which included the Holocaust and Stalin’s Gulags.
After Nanking capitulated to the invaders, Japanese soldiers were given the order to ‘kill all captives.’ Furthermore, they were allowed to rape and torture the city’s citizens as they wished. This stance resulted in obscene violations of humanity in Nanking. Not only were the actions of the Japanese soldiers too hideous to even be described here, but they were also terrifying examples of how deranged and cruel humans can become.
5. Cambodia’s killing fields (1975–1979)
Death toll: around 2 million deaths
Stela of skulls, Cheung Ek Killing Fields site, near Phnom Penh, Cambodia — Image by Public Domain
The Khmer Rouge was a radical communist movement that reined over Cambodia during the years of 1975 through 1979⁵. Their power was the result of a brutal brand of guerrilla warfare. It was believed that the movement was established in 1967 as an armed wing of the Kampuchea Communist Party.
During a civil war that raged on for almost five years, the Khmer Rouge eventually migrated into the various areas of the Cambodian countryside that fell under their control. Then, in April 1975, the Khmer Rouge soldiers attacked the capital city of Phnom Penh and were able to establish a new national government for Cambodia.
Pol Pot, the military commander of the Khmer Rouge forces, suddenly became prime minister of this new Cambodian government. During the following four years, the evil reign of the Khmer Rouge over Cambodia resulted in some of the worst excesses from any Marxist government during the entire 20th century.
The Khmer Rouge were so brutal that around two million Cambodians died during their rule. Pot ensured that all members of Cambodia’s professional and technical class were murdered to minimize any potential retaliation.
The Khmer Rouge government was finally overthrown in 1979, as Vietnamese troops invaded the country. They then temporarily installed a puppet government in order to establish order.
6. Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992–1995)
Death toll: 200,000 deaths
Gravestones at the Potočari genocide memorial near Srebrenica — Image by Public Domain
The tension within the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina arose from conflicts between their three major ethnic groups. These were the Croats, the Serbs, and the Muslims. Unrest ultimately reached a boiling point when the Serbian genocide was committed against the Muslims in Bosnia⁶.
These tensions had been developing for a long time when a Serbian named Slobodan Milosevic rose to power during the 1980s. He was a former Communist who promoted nationalism and religious hatred to amass power. From the very start, he inflamed long-standing disagreements and tensions between Muslims and Serbs within the independent province of Kosovo.
Then, during 1991, a new Croatian government, under the leadership of Franjo Tudjman, seemed to follow the old Mussolini style fascism. This new government even established discriminatory laws intended to target Orthodox Serbs. However, by the year’s end, a United States sponsored cease-fire pact was brokered between the Croats and Serbs who were fighting in Croatia.
However, in April of 1992, the United States, and the European Community recognized Bosnia’s independence. At that time, Bosnia was primarily a Muslim nation where Serbs made up 32% of the total population.
Milosevic answered Bosnia’s new independence with an attack on Sarajevo, the capital city, the same city that had hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. Sarajevo soon became a city infested with Serbian snipers who continually shot down helpless civilians in the streets, even killing some 3,500 children.
The Muslims of Bosnia were incredibly outgunned. As the Serbs obtained new ground, they started rounding up Muslims — much the same way that the Nazis had done during World War II. The Serbs engaged in mass shootings, forced the repopulation of entire towns and villages, and placed men and boys in concentration camps.
The Serb’s actions were quickly labeled as an ‘ethnic cleansing,’ which was a term that caught on and is still used today by the international media.
7. Rwanda’s genocide (1994)
Death toll: around 1 million deaths
Monument over Mass Grave. Nyanza Genocide Memorial Site, Kicukiro District. Kigali, Rwanda — Image by Public Domain
When the 1994 Rwandan genocide broke out, members from the Hutu ethnic majority, located in the east-central African country of Rwanda, executed as many as one million people, primarily from the Tutsi minority⁷. This bloody genocide spread throughout the nation with shocking speed and brutality, as ordinary citizens were instructed by local officials to take up arms and attack their neighbors.
By the time a Rwandese Patriotic Front, led by the Tutsis, recovered control of the nation, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans lay dead due to the attacks. There were also about two million refugees that had fled Rwanda, which only exacerbated this immense humanitarian crisis.
These violent activities were sparked on April 6, 1994, when an airplane carrying Habyarimana, president of Rwanda, and Cyprien Ntaryamira, president of Burundi, got shot down over the city of Kigali and leaving no survivors. Within an hour after the deadly plane attack, the Presidential Guard, along with various Rwandan armed forces, set up barricades and roadblocks and started slaughtering Tutsi’s at will.
These mass killings quickly spread from Kigali to the rest of Rwanda. Government-sponsored media and radio stations began urging Rwandan civilians to execute their neighbors. Three months later, around one million citizens had been slaughtered.
: Ronald Grigor Suny. Armenian Genocide. https://www.britannica.com/event/Armenian-Genocide.
: History.com. (March 23, 2018). Gulag. https://www.history.com/topics/russia/gulag.
: United States Holocaust Museum. (February 4, 2019). Documenting Numbers of Victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/documenting-numbers-of-victims-of-the-holocaust-and-nazi-persecution.
: Simon Han. (December 17, 2017). The Impossible Task of Remembering the Nanking Massacre. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/12/nanking-china-japan-iris-chang/548516/.
: SreyRam Kuy, MD. (May 27, 2015). How I survived Cambodia’s Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother’s determination to escape to the US. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/how-i-survived-cambodia-s-killing-fields-acclaimed-surgeon-sreyram-kuy-celebrates-her-mother-s-determination-escape-us-10279675.html.
: Sam Bedford. (November 28, 2017). After the War: Bosnia Then and Now. https://theculturetrip.com/europe/bosnia-herzegovina/articles/after-the-war-bosnia-then-and-now/.
: Melody Schreiber. (July 16, 2020). Rwanda’s Genocide Ended 26 Years Ago. Survivors Are Still Finding Mass Graves. https://www.npr.org/2020/07/16/891815028/rwandas-genocide-ended-26-years-ago-survivors-are-still-finding-mass-graves.
Homo homini lupus est.note
“See, their morals, their ‘code’… it’s a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show ya. When the chips are down, these, uh, these ‘civilized people’, they’ll eat each other.”
— The Joker, The Dark Knight
In essence Humans Are Bastards is the reverse of Rousseau Was Right — the natural proclivity of humanity is towards selfishness, apathy and violence. Only a select few people manage to rise above their base nature to become something better, but the kernel of darkness is still In the Blood. When Humans Are Bastards is in effect, even your “heroes” don’t have clean hands, so most conflict is gray against black, with some gray against gray or black against black on for variety. Frequently used by Omnicidal Maniacs as an argument in favor of a Class 3a Apocalypse.
Humans being bastards doesn’t preclude them being pragmatic about it, so if there isn’t a profit to be made by making the world a hellhole, they might not, but if conditions are tolerable it certainly isn’t due to any inborn altruism on the part of those in charge. Appeals to people’s better nature will not work. Don’t expect to see anyone shame the mob — idealism has no place here. Any successful do-gooders will be very, very cynical and paranoid, as the genuinely hopeful will inevitably become embittered if they’re not killed outright.
Very, very far down the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, and all but guarantees a Crapsack World if this is true of the majority of the population. Comedies are black. Dramas are depressing. Beware of Too Bleak, Stopped Caring.
Compare Crapsack World, Black-and-Gray Morality. Compare World of Jerkass, where all the characters are jerks, but there isn’t necessarily a moral about humanity at large. Hobbes Was Right often makes an appearance, proposing that if the bastardy of humanity is a constant, the most effective form of government is tyranny. On the other hand, the exact opposite stance may be taken as well: if humans are inherently bastards, then it’s no use giving any of them power, because they will all inevitably abuse it.
Contrast Humans Are Good, Rousseau Was Right and White-and-Grey Morality. See also Humans Are Flawed, which takes the middle road by acknowledging humanity’s shortcomings while not underplaying their potential capacity for virtue.
For settings where humans are depicted as bastards compared to other sapient species, see Humans Are the Real Monsters..
5 Psychological Experiments That Show The Dark Side Of Human Nature
Everyone has a darkness inside them.
There is a darkness in the human soul. All throughout history you have instances of people living next to each other seemingly in peace, only for madness to strike. In a flashing instant, neighbor would be slaughtering neighbor, formerly decent folk calling for the extermination of the enemy, hatred growing in the hearts of all.
Unimaginable evil can take over suddenly, consuming everything in its path. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Russian writer and persistent explorer of the darkness of the human soul, noted that no animal can ever be as cruel as a man. We talk of the savageness of a tiger, but no tiger is even capable of doing the things people have done.
“People talk sometimes of a bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky
How does this cruelty, this evil, this darkness in the human soul arise? Sometimes people are born with traits that predispose them for certain things. Psychopaths are those individuals who feel very little remorse or empathy, their ego driving them towards a dark path.
Yet, what is striking is that often evil is committed or supported by people who do not have these traits. Former accountants, athletes, people from all walks of life can perform these acts. Journalist and philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the term “the banality of evil” to describe how something like the Holocaust can arise out of seemingly ordinary circumstances.
When covering the trial of Adolph Eichmann, the man who organized the transport of millions of people to Nazi concentration camps, Arendt became struck by how ordinary he seemed.
“I was struck by the manifest shallowness in the doer which made it impossible to trace the uncontestable evil of his deeds to any deeper level of roots or motives. The deeds were monstrous, but the doer — at least the very effective one now on trial — was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous.” — Hannah Arendt
What is even more mind-blowing is that sometimes these people even believe they are doing a good deed. The road to hell is often paved with good intentions. There is a debate on the inner workings of human nature, and the role darkness plays in it. How come previously decent people can commit such terrible acts?
Perhaps it is as Dostoyevsky believed and the devil doesn’t exist, but people have created him in their own image.
“I think the devil doesn’t exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Or maybe the answer is much more mundane. However, it is important to study these questions and to shed a light on the process of how this happens. For our own sake, for humanity’s sake.
5 experiments that show the dark side of human nature
While in the past, philosophers only pondered upon the inner workings of human nature, in recent years some psychologists have set up experiments to test it. Paralleling processes in history, researchers have examined the dark side of people. Some of the results have been quite disturbing.
Zimbardo prison experiment
In 1971, Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo randomly divided a group of student volunteers into two parts. One of them would play the role of guards, and the other would be their prisoners. The results were shocking.
Apparently, just after a short amount of time, many of the guards embraced their roles. Treating the prisoners poorly, they dished out punishments left and right. On the side of the prisoners a sort of dejection and acceptance of the abuse set in.
As Zimbardo put it, he wanted to demonstrate “the ease with which ordinary people could be led to engage in anti-social acts by putting them in situations where they felt anonymous, or they could perceive of others in ways that made them less than human, as enemies or objects.” The experiment went so off the rails that it had to be abandoned just 6 days in.
For the researcher leading the experiment, the behavior of the volunteers showed they internalized their roles. His conclusion was that the prison conditions caused the participants to act the way they did. According to Zimbardo, it was a demonstration of “how systemic and situational forces can operate to influence individual behavior in negative or positive directions, often without our personal awareness.”
Milgram public authority experiment
Ten years before Zimbardo’s experiment, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram held one of his own. This now legendary test had a simple set-up. The participants would be seated in a chair and administer electric shocks to people they could only hear. They were led to believe that giving out these shots was a way to help them learn better.
Of course in reality the voices were just tapes, but the volunteers pushing the buttons didn’t know that. Whenever the alleged learner answered a question wrong, the researcher would prod the participant to administer a shock, which would get stronger and stronger each time.
In reality, if the highest level of electricity had zapped the learner, they would be dead. Surprisingly, around 65% of the participants actually administered the final 450-volt bolts. Not to say that 100% of them went up to at least 300 volts!
In an article, Milgram noted that “the extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding an explanation. Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.”
Trying to show how such an evil thing as the Holocaust can happen, Milgram’s experiment has incredible explanatory power. Even if ordinary citizens are not hateful, just the simple fact of compliance and following authority can create the conditions necessary for great atrocities to take place.
Robbers cave experiment
In 1954, even before the two previous experiments took place, psychologist Muzafer Sherif created his own study. Meant to test how conflicts arise, he set up two groups composed of boys who had never met each other before. Believing they were there for a summer camp, each group started out by doing normal activities.
However, over time they discovered that another group of boys was sharing the same park with them. First off, the two groups were put into normal competitions against each other. Quickly, in-group versus out-group dynamics developed. Violent clashes between the two groups were the result.
Interestingly, in times of group conflict altruism comes into play, but in a weird way. According to Sherif, “the zeal with which members of one group pursue intergroup hostility is proportional to the degree of solidarity and cooperativeness within the in-group, and these tend to increase.” While the hostility towards the out-group increases, the solidarity within the in-group tends to increase too.
Sherif’s work is the basis of realistic conflict theory. Strife between groups can arise when people perceive that resources are limited and the need to fight over them. This zero-sum view of the world where the other side must lose if your side is to win, is the source of much bad blood.
Third Wave experiment
How could so many German people have so willingly participated in the Nazi movement? This is a question that boggles the mind of many. In 1967, struggling to explain this to his students, high school history teacher Ron Jones decided to demonstrate it instead.
Over a span of 5 days, Jones indoctrinated his students into a fictitious movement he set up, “The Third Wave”. Starting off with simple drills on discipline and a few slogans, he instilled in the students a sense of community based on groupthink.
Throughout the course of the experiment, the movement proved quite popular with the students. Hundreds of teens who were not even in the class joined in. Setting strict rules, Jones had a way to check whether these were being followed. He selected a few of the kids to report on the others.
To his surprise, many more snitched out of their own free will. Those deemed insufficiently loyal to the cause were put on trial and punished. The entire thing got so out of hand, that the teacher had to end it early. Proving how easy it is to fall for causes through group dynamics, The Third Wave experiment shows how dangerously carried away people can get.
Tajfel social groups experiment
Henri Tajfel, himself a Holocaust survivor, conducted experiments trying to show how ordinary thinking processes can lead to prejudice. He posited that it was categorization that was behind this. This results in people minimizing the differences between the individuals in their in-group, while maximizing the differences from their out-group, painting the “other” with a similar negative brush.
In one of his experiments, Tajfel created two groups of boys. Telling them that the choice was made on their preferences for paintings by a particular painter (in reality just random pics), the boys were then asked to allocate resources to each other. Despite not knowing the other boys in their group, most individuals divided up the resources in a way as to maximize the profits for their own group. This was despite there being a strategy that would maximize profits for everyone.
This showed how favoritism, prejudice, and discrimination can come into being. Even though the groups were created randomly, a sense of in-group versus out-group developed. Once this dynamic is set in motion, it can be hard to stop. According to Tajfel, “once the process is set in motion they reinforce each other in a relentless spiral in which the weight of predominant causes tends to shift continuously.”
While experiments with humans are the most pertinent for uncovering human nature, ones done with animals can be quite telling too.
Rat paradise experiment
In the 1960s, behavioral researcher John B. Calhoun set up a series of experiments with mice and rats. In his experiments, he created what he termed “rat utopias”. These were interconnected habitats that provided everything needed for a rat to live a successful life, food, shelter, and mates.
In the beginning, a small number of rats of both sexes were released into the habitats. Due to the favorable conditions, the population grew rapidly. It kept doubling quite fast, but then at one moment, the rate started to slow down. Then something weird happened. The rats stopped reproducing completely.
Despite the fact that the conditions in the habitats were favorable for a lot more rats, society broke down. A small number of individual male rats monopolized all the females, while the rest of the males started to congregate in specific areas. Incessant fighting erupted, as did an increase in homosexual behavior.
Things went downhill from there. The constant warfare caused many of the males to withdraw completely, instead now spending the time between sleeping and grooming themselves. The rat utopia collapsed and the society went extinct thereafter.
Calhoun saw this as a warning for human society. Growing overcrowding and a breakdown in social relations could lead to what he termed a “behavioral sink”. In rats, this led to total collapse and eventual extinction.
The power of the dark side
Throughout history, we have seen what types of evil things people are capable of. Often, these monsters arise from seemingly innocent beginnings. Adolf Hitler was a failed artist who started his political career preaching in beer halls. Pol Pot and his gang were students and activists sitting around in the cafes of Paris. The rise of these demagogues, however, was also facilitated by ordinary people jumping in on their bandwagon.
As the Dark Jedi in the “Star Wars” movies demonstrated, the pull of the dark side is strong. The debate of whether humans are basically good or bad might be missing the point. All people have a light side and a dark side. It’s often circumstances that dictate which one gets awakened.
For some individuals, the tendency towards one side or the other can be stronger. The psychological experiments of Zimbardo or Sherif have their critics. Both the methodology and the set-up have been challenged. However, even within these critiques, we can see kernels of human nature.
One challenge to Zimbardo’s experiment was based on the argument that the participants were self-selected. Seeing an ad in a newspaper calling for participants in a prison simulation likely drew out individuals whose personality traits had higher levels of aggression and authoritarianism.
Yet, even with this argument, you can see how the environment plays a huge role. A favorable environment and circumstances can make it easier for certain types of individuals to rise to the top. Certain conditions are more opportune towards people with darker traits.
History can be a guide to how circumstances shape events. It can show us how darkness wins over light. We are living in a period that is increasingly showing flashing danger signs from the past. Things can move fast, or as in the case of the fall of the Roman Republic, things can move slow. However, we need to be aware. The darkness of humanity is always there, lurking.
, works at Tata Group (2013-present)
Originally Answered: is man the most dangerous animal ?
Humans are the most dangerous animal on earth. We have killed more of our own kind than any other animal on earth. We have destroyed more ecosystems than any other animal. We have made species extinct more than any other animal. Unlike any animal on earth man has created things never found in nature that kills. No animal on earth other than man has created bombs, poisonous chemicals, bio-toxins, cars, planes, heavy machinery and all the other billions of things that kill directly or indirectly.
When people think of a dangerous animal they think about how physically powerful it is and how savage it can be. Humans may be frail and weak compared to large wild animals but we can be extremely savage. The interesting thing is that man is deadly in numbers and with technology. Put an unarmed human naked in the wilderness with zero primitive or modern survival skills and he’s dead meat. He would have less chance of survival than a rabbit. I have known of people who were an office cube worker who had no knowledge of the wilderness, weapons, traps , snares, animals, shelters, etc; found dead of exposure and starvation right next to abundant natural foods. Humans are becoming less self-sufficient, resourceful, and less able to survive on their own. So, the average human isn’t the deadliest animal on earth, it’s the human species.
Just How Dark Is Your Dark Side?
It’s time we looked at our so-called “dark side” from a whole new perspective.
Posted December 5, 2014
Freud, in his classic Civilization and Its Discontents (1929), postulated that being part of civilized society safeguards us from personal chaos, from being dominated by our amoral id. So as civilized beings we appoint communal authorities (e.g., police) to protect us not simply from others’ baser impulses but also our own. Yet to Freud this necessary protection also culminates in our “discontent,” for we’re thereby required to subdue our pleasure-seeking instinctual drives. To live harmoniously with others, we must subdue our otherwise impetuous desires.
I believe most people would agree that (although it’s somewhat reductive) there’s something profoundly true in Freud’s assumptions about the human psyche. At the same time, I think that while we may be wired to at least imagine what it might be like to boldly and unabashedly follow our inborn predilections (and without the slightest regard for how they might affect others), just envisioning ourselves engaging in such behaviors hardly means that finally we’d choose to enact them.
After all, in so many ways we need, literally, to rely on others for survival. Additionally, we’re a gregarious species, and so wouldn’t want to do things that might offend others and alienate them from us. Though we might not be able to resist fantasizing various acts that might enable us to freely pursue our (altogether personal) “pleasure principle,” the overwhelming majority of us are strongly motivated to restrain ourselves from actually carrying out such clearly sociopathic behaviors.
Given these “natural” internal constraints, we need to question whether our dark side is, ultimately, all that dark.That is, we’re generally cognizant that whatever fantasies we may have of power, revenge, conquest, or reckless expression of libido are just that—fantasies. But by permitting ourselves to at least “daydream” about them, we can afford ourselves some kind of compensatory gratification. At a safe remove from reality, we can offer ourselves the alternative of imagining what, in actuality, we wouldn’t really choose to do . . . or, for that matter, be.
And in that sense, our dark side can be seen as, well, rather “innocent.” Permitting it to surface in daydreams represents a measured indulgence, offering us an escape from the pro-social behavior that almost all of us regularly elect to participate in. For we do want, and need, to keep our social ties safe and secure. And though we may have a competitive streak in us, we also place a high value on interpersonal cooperation. So voluntarily, we monitor our impulses and take care to keep them in check. And, as a respite from all our self-discipline and forbearance, we periodically permit ourselves to fabricate a world in which our desires—however outrageous or anti-social—might nonetheless reign supreme.
Given that our dark side embodies our more primitive, pleasure- or power-seeking instincts, must we zealously avoid disclosing it, or reject it as despicable—something other than respectably human and therefore to be shunned and repudiated? In the end, such “dark” predilections really can’t be seen as intrinsically culpable, in that most of them merely represent “appetites” or “urges” innate in all of us.
So might we, finally, honor them, appreciating our most aggressive or erotic fantasies, daydreams (and many night dreams, too) as a psychological safety valve? The, to me, unsatisfactory alternative is to view them shamefully, as depicting a part of us so abhorrent that it must be hidden from others—and, if possible, from ourselves as well.
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Many psychology researchers have written about the practical utility of daydreams. For, as already suggested, they can function positively as a much needed outlet for our frustrations, enabling us to give at least covert expression to impulses and inclinations we know would be foolhardy or hazardous to act out. And so our simply “entertaining” such fantasies doesn’t really reflect any disastrous potential that must thereby be viewed as dark or depraved. The reason that horror movies are perennially popular (especially among the young) is that they, too, enable us to experience a safe release from—or vicarious expression of—our more primitive, anti-social instincts. And the same is true for many tv shows (e.g., “Dexter”).
We are, finally, all animals, and what helps us to transcend the raw instincts of our more primitive, less evolved, ancestors is that in our highly developed interest in pro-social behavior almost all of us freely consent to forego id-related pleasures—the pursuit of which, we realize, would hurt others and almost certainly come back to haunt us.
For both inner and outer balance, we have a fundamental need to express (however indirectly) our whole being. And we hardly need deny our “forbidden” thoughts. For they’re only a relatively small segment of what’s—naturally—inside us. Fully accepting our basic humanity actually necessitates that we acknowledge, and make peace with, our so-called “dark side”—which, finally, is far less dark when we see it for what it is. As Carl Jung said, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
Moreover, Jung believed that “in spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness—or perhaps because of this—the shadow is the seat of creativity.” And it makes perfect sense that if creativity entails a certain freedom from our customary constraints in thought and feeling, then giving ourselves the license to create also involves granting ourselves the privilege to inwardly explore and outwardly express the darker side of our latent tendencies and impulses.
It may well be that what makes a work of art great in the first place is its universality. And what makes it universal is that it addresses so much of what resides deep inside us—the unprincipled and ignominious, as well as the wholesome, praiseworthy, and noble.
I’ll close with a set of four brief quotes. All of them suggest in just a few words much of what I’ve labored to express in (alas!) so many more:
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“I think the healthy way to live is to make friends with the beast inside oneself, and that means not the beast but the shadow. The dark side of one’s nature. [So] have fun with it and . . . accept everything about [yourself]”. ~ Anthony Hopkins [who distinguished himself in the cinematic role of Hannibal Lecter, a charismatic—but cannibalistic—serial killer]
“Evil is a source of moral intelligence in the sense that we need to learn from our shadow, from our dark side, in order to be good.” ~ John Bradshaw
“We all need to look into the dark side of our nature—that’s where the energy is, the passion. People are afraid of that because it holds pieces of us we’re busy denying.” ~ Sue Grafton
“The more we deny that we have a dark side, the more power it has over us.” ~ Sheryl Lee
Note: If you resonated with this post and believe others might also, please consider sending them its link. Additionally, if you’d like to review other posts I’ve done for Psychology Today—on a broad range of topics—click here.
* A somewhat condensed version of this post appeared earlier in theHumanist.com.
© 2014 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.
Humans can be scarier than ghosts.
Having to go down the stairs leading to empty and lonely location.
I remember back in my childhood; I can feel afraid to traverse around my own house. My house has multiple floors and we mainly live at the upper part of the house. Sometimes at night, my mother or my father would ask me to buy something from outside, such as food or flour or anything else. I must walk down the stairs to reach dimly lit floor before I can use the keys to unlock the door leading to outside. Every time I must go outside at night, with every step taken I would chant some prayers inside my mind wishing nothing scary would appear. I was really scared of ghosts appearing suddenly, all bloody and making croaking sound. I hoped that no ghosts would suddenly come to scare me. Going outside and meeting people relieved my fear for a while, but the fear did come back after I finished my task because I must go back to my house, having to go through the lonely place again.
I did wonder if the ghosts do appear, what am I going to do? Will the ghosts drag me somewhere to the dark hole dimension? Would they scare me and then just laugh and go away? I do blame horror movie industry, and until now I still have no idea why a lot of people loved such thrilling and full of jump scare scenes. During my junior high school days, my friends and I went to watch a movie that were supposed to be some action movie, but due to bad timing there was no other choice (unless we wait yet another hour or so) so we watched The Grudge 3 instead. The movie was distracting enough for me that by the time I went home, I couldn’t fall asleep before 2 or 3 am, even though I usually already asleep at 10 pm. Those scenes of killings and blood kept flashing inside my mind and I couldn’t turn my brain off from imagining and replaying the scary parts repeatedly. On another time, my father and my sister bought and watched Insidious movie at home. Since they use central room’s TV to watch and I must walk pass the room in order to reach the dining room, I couldn’t help but caught a glimpse of the frightening movie along with the scary sounds. I tried my best not to pay attention to the movie, and yet when the night comes, my brain starts working damn you brain and it started to imagine horrendous scenes that I only have looked for a short while. I have trouble sleeping that night, too.
Now that I have grown up and exposed to the constant news from all over the globe, I feel like it was silly to be very afraid of ghosts. I am not saying that you cannot fear them. However, looking at all the incidents and news repeatedly from all over the world, which are almost always caused by humans and affects other humans with disastrous results, I started to ponder, maybe humans are scarier than ghosts. Humans are capable of menacing harms. Whether ghosts really exist or not doesn’t matter, but humans do exist and are capable of such thoughts and actions.
When children think that ghosts may be hiding behind the cabinet, my adult mind thinks the same thing actually can be said for humans. The scary and disturbing thoughts that someone may be hiding around hallway around your house, or maybe is already inside your house, ready to ambush. Another case, some police might come to your house and suddenly killed your dog and shot you in the leg, all without confirming your identity first. A Japanese high-school student was abducted, tortured, and raped by four Japanese teenage boys which lead to her death. Pilots are capable of taking everyone down with them together, personally I couldn’t understand why those pilots have to take other people with them. And then there’s one of the deadliest terrorists attacks in 2001, the hijacking of planes by terrorists who crashed themselves into buildings of World Trade Center Complex and Pentagon in US, killing 2996 people and injuring over 6000 people. In South Korea, an unsolved serial murder case targeting only females where the victims always found bound and murdered (There was even a movie based on the case called Memories of Murder which have won 2003 Grand Bell Awards for best film). And the list is continuing every day, and it suddenly seems that fear of ghosts are overrated when humans are capable of more harms.
The recent incident of arson of Kyoto Animation’s building by 41-year-old man is horrible, unimaginable, and yet it did happen. 33 people are confirmed dead directly due to the fire, one man passed away in the hospital and more than 30 people are injured. The suspect used gasoline on the building and people before starting the fire, and has severe burns on his face and feet himself when caught. I also would like to express my sorrow and condolences to the victims and family involved.
When I was in high school, I was taught by one wise religious teacher. Once I asked him how to be less afraid of the ghosts around us, can you guess how he answered?
I always wondered what my purpose of living is. Or if I even have any actual purpose to begin with. Life itself is full of excruciating, painful life experiences that no one can ever know what’s on ahead. This is a story on how my life experiences try to consume me and how I try to manage.
Modern life is tiring. Unless you got a lot of inheritance money that could last up to 7 generations or you already got passive incomes that can afford all of your expenses, then you are either working to get…
How many times have we seen a big corporate collapse when they couldn’t follow the need of population? I have seen a few ever since I was a little kid and it’s still happening every day. Whether it was because they neglect the trend of the world, failed to gather enough knowledge and resources, or just because an immense pride on their end, it quickly become clear that anyone or anything that unable to adapt will eventually die.
Anyone or anything that unable to adapt will eventually die.
The biggest known company to fall in such fashion is probably Nokia. When…
Written by Matt Sloane
As our culture becomes more polarized, it becomes more tempting to label those who disagree with us as “monsters.” But what do we really mean when we say someone is being monstrous? And how willing are we to see our own monstrous tendencies?
To explore this, I’m going to go where monsters originally came from: the land of storytelling.
In the book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker lays out his theory that the core purpose of stories is to help humans learn to release the grip of an overactive ego.
Let’s look at how this is so in stories that adhere to this original purpose…
In stories with happy endings, the main character defeats an antagonist who is trying to control something or someone for selfish gains. As a result, the community is better off at the end—i.e., more integrated and fuller of life in some way. For example, in The Princess Bride, a farm boy becomes a hero when he saves a princess by displaying greater willpower over a prince who was trying to force her to marry him—Prince Humperdinck attempts to control the bride he has chosen for himself.
On the flipside, in stories with tragic endings, the main character is trying to control someone or something and won’t let it go. In those stories, the community is worse off—i.e., there is more disintegration as life is squeezed out. For example, in The Great Gatsby, an eccentric playboy lost in a fantasy tries to reunite with a former crush who is married, leading to loss of life in the community, including his own. Gatsby’s unrealistic and obsessive longing leads to his own demise.
In either case, a monster appears:
- In happy endings, the monster is someone opposing the main character.
- In tragic endings, the monster is the main character, at least by the end of the story.
The character we call the “monster” in stories still has human qualities—such as being passionate but unsympathetic, or intelligent but manipulative, or strong but oppressive. But beyond their humanity, it’s the overactive ego that pushes them into the realm of monster as they endanger themselves and others around them.
Here’s another way to frame the core lesson that purposeful stories give us for living: finding alternatives to behaving like a monster leads to the development and integration of the mature self and community.
This makes being able to identify monstrous behavior important, primarily in ourselves.
When we act as monsters, according to Booker, we are displaying one of three monster archetypes: the Predator, the Holdfast, and the Avenger.
Let’s look at each one from the story angle and how they can appear in us today…
The Predator causes us to say, “I want that now—at all costs.” (oriented to the future)
We can recognize this archetype in us when we’re myopically focused on getting the thing we desire, with no concern for any collateral damage that may occur. Such as the cyborg in The Terminator who had one mission: kill Sarah Connor, no matter how many police officers, civilians, and factories get destroyed in the process.
In everyday modern life, this archetype may cause us to consider:
- Spreading a false claim in order to damage the reputation of someone seeking the same job as you (“it should be my job”).
- Running a marketing campaign that leverages fear in order to get as many sales as possible (“it should be my income”).
- Spending over 20 minutes trying to log into a glitchy website so you can order socks, while ignoring your need to eat breakfast (“those should be my socks”).
The Holdfast in us says, “I must keep this—and nobody else can have it.” (oriented to the present)
We are so committed to holding onto this thing that if it appears we may lose it to someone else, we feel justified in using any manner of force against them or destroying it. For example, in The Hobbit, the dragon, Smaug, hoards gold in his cave and defends it to the death. Smaug and his gold are inseparable.
In everyday modern life, this archetype may cause us to consider:
- Going to great lengths to ensure your intellectual property is protected, so much so that you never share it with anyone (“it’s my idea”).
- Seeing others as competition for your customers, even if there is plenty of need for multiple organizations to fill (“they are my customers”).
- Guarding your giant plate of French fries from your spouse and children (“they are my French fries”).
The Avenger causes us to say, “I want that back—I have been wronged.” (oriented to the past)
We become fixated on a loss and claim the right to exert our power in order to balance the scales of justice. But unlike lawful justice, the Avenger feels no concern for the wellbeing of others, including the dignity of the one/s they believe created that loss for them. For example, in Nightmare on Elm Street a troubled child molester is burned to death by an angry mob and comes back to haunt and kill them in their dreams. The monster, Freddy Krueger, is seeking revenge for his loss of dignity and life.
(Author’s note: What does it say about a culture’s developmental stage when so many movies feature ‘avenging’ protagonists with an ego gone wild that we’re encouraged to root for?)
In everyday modern life, this archetype may cause us to consider:
- Publicly shaming a manager who you think tried to take control of your meeting (“it was my meeting”).
- Attacking an organization through your advertising as a response to being mocked in one of their ad campaigns (“it was my reputation”).
- Refusing to speak to your spouse for a whole evening after they finished off the last of your favorite ice cream (“it was my ice cream”).
All the archetypes have one thing in common—they all encourage us to see through the lens of ownership with no regard for people around us, including ourselves.
This ownership lens can be distilled to a one-word sentiment: “Mine!”
Notice how when you see this controlling behavior in others, you might activate a controlling part of yourself, beginning with using the label of “monster.” If they are the monster, that means you are the hero and your actions and words to control them are justified.
And this is how a society disintegrates. One monstrous act begets another, one ego triggering another’s ego, while everyone is thinking themselves to be the hero. This pattern only stops inside the individual who chooses to address it—through our own discipline and maturation process.
If we wish to respond to egoic behavior in a way that shifts the pattern, we must be sure not to respond from our ego. In other words, when we seek dignity for the one acting like a monster, we consciously deviate from the narrative that otherwise leads to a community where things are worse off.
It begins by not allowing the label to hold—i.e., not labeling others as “monsters” or attacking their character, but instead condemning their actions. When we criticize character, we seek to humiliate and nobody benefits. When we criticize actions, there is room for reconciliation and dignity for all involved.
To take the mature story lesson to heart, rather than focusing on controlling those around you, try understanding more about these controlling monster archetypes in yourself.
Here are some self-observations to get you started.
The next time you read a story or watch a movie with a monster character, see if you can identify which archetype is playing through them (Predator, Holdfast, Avenger). And then observe yourself, while the monster is most overactive in their ego. In that moment, grab a pen and paper to write down your responses to these questions:
- What do I notice in my own body?
- What thoughts appear in response to the monster’s actions?
And then later go back and reflect:
- What do my reactions tell me about myself?
- How have I behaved through that same archetype in my life before?
- What is the relationship between my past behavior and my reaction to that character?
- Given what I notice, what action/s will I take?
Another way is to observe yourself in daily life by writing down responses to these questions:
- In my day, how did any one of the monster archetypes (Predator, Holdfast, Avenger) appear to influence my behavior? (even if only in a subtle way)
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