May 23, 2017

Normalization of aberrant behavior


I'm sure by now most people around the world with access to either the internet, radio, or television are aware that a terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England has claimed the lives of at least 22 people and wounded at least 59 more. Just in case you haven't, here's a link to the most recent Fox News report as of this writing: "Manchester Terror Attack Suspect Identified".

Now begins the same round of questions without answers that always follows one of these attacks. "How could this happen?" "Why would anyone do such a thing?" "What kind of monster targets children?" "Why didn't the police know about it ahead of time?"

And the same answers will be offered that are always offered. "He's not a real Muslim." "Police resources are stretched too thin." "There is no way to know ahead of time who is blowing off steam and who is seriously planning violence."

One of the reasons police have so much difficulty determining who is serious and who is not is that our modern world has become far too tolerant of aberrant behaviors and attitudes. In game forums all across the internet PvP fans lovingly throw around terms like, "slaughter", "massacre", "kill them all". Television, internet, radio and print journalists alike, all of them feel no hesitation in calling for the assassination of world leaders they disagree with. Politicians in France, the United States, the United Kingdom, and hundreds of other countries routinely give interviews where they compare their political opponents to Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, or some other genocidal dictator. Not two days before the Manchester bombing, this went viral on social media platforms:

During the most recent national elections in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, street graffiti calling for the assassination of candidates became commonplace during street protests. This particular photo is after a street protest in Oakland, California:

Even more ominous is the graffiti showing up in cities all across the United States calling on people to "Kill all police", "Kill all blacks", "Kill all whites" or "Kill all Muslims". This photo is from Detroit. "James Craig" is the Detroit Police Chief:

Even President Donald J. Trump, the leader of the free world, is routinely criticized for the outrageous bursts of emotion that routinely fill his personal Twitter feed: @realDonaldTrump.

All of these behaviors, from PvP players calling for virtual massacres to Pres. Trump's blanket condemnation of American news media, are abnormal. These attitudes of violence, hatred, blanket condemnations of entire groups of people, these calls for political assassination, are all completely aberrant behaviors. And yet, in today's world this kind of outrage is considered both normal and healthy. Being able to scream profanity over the internet in defense of some political agenda, some personal objective, or some dissatisfaction with a popular television show has become normal, everyday behavior for otherwise rational adults. People who treat their neighbors with kindness, who take care of their children and spouse, and who show up on time for work everyday, turn into violent, slathering animals when they post to social media. If we truly want to understand why a man born and raised in England feels free to build a bomb and slaughter children at a pop concert we need look no further than our own social media accounts. We have allowed ourselves to normalize such outbursts. Emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically, we have all become thugs and terrorists rampaging through the information superhighway with profane calls for destruction of anything and everything we find disagreeable.

Slamming someone online is not the moral equivalent of setting off a bomb at a concert. Absolutely not. However, both behaviors originate from the exact same emotional and psychological core assumptions in the individual. Far too many of us in today's world are running around with the delusional belief that we as individuals are entitled to dictate social morality. Whatever we feel inside, especially if it stems from emotional pain, is automatically accepted as reality and as fact. If we feel angry or offended we assume that someone else is to blame. We believe that other people are responsible for conforming to our internal expectations and therefore, any reality which contradicts this assumption is immediately dismissed as false. Our internal emotional world has become our reality, regardless of any facts that exist out in the physical world that surrounds us. Instead of starting with real-world facts and choosing our emotional response to those facts, we start with our emotions and demand other people shape their personalities into some form that will please us.

This kind of thinking is aberrant because it creates very real problems for us as individuals, for everyone around us, and for society at large. No one can read our mind. No one can see inside our hearts and know what we desire. No one can serve our emotional needs through instinct or through shared assumptions. No one knows our internal emotional world. Even those of us who "wear our hearts on our sleeves", who are prone to passionate emotional outbursts both positive and negative, are not completely true in how we express ourselves. Countless tiny events, combined with a nearly infinite number of variables in our physical bodies, contribute to our emotional state in ways that no one truly understands. We cannot predict our own emotional response to any given situation because it is wholly dependent on biological factors we cannot control. The one thing that every one can do, and has stopped doing, is consciously choose to ignore our emotions. This is something we are supposed to learn as adolescents. Part of the process of learning to be an adult is learning that our emotions can, and regularly do, betray us. Unfortunately, in the modern world we have begun teaching adolescents that whatever they are feeling is appropriate and true. We tell them over and over again, as parents, as educators, in cartoons and in television dramas, that they are wiser than the adults who surround them. Because we keep repeating this message that there is something sacred and right about hormone-driven adolescent mood swings, adolescents never learn to become adults.

Perhaps I am only a tired old man. That is always possible. However, I look out at what is happening in the world around me, both online and offline, and the future looks to be a very dark place. What good does a global communication network serve if all it does is reinforce old prejudices? Old, destructive ideas about socialism, capitalism, nationalism, aristocracy and peasantry are becoming more acceptable everyday. Instead of helping us overcome self-destructive highly aberrant behaviors, the internet is reinforcing the idea that every individual's internal emotional reality is more true than the physical world around them. It has become natural to assume that everyone is wrong. Partly as a result of this assumption of wrongness in everyone around us, the opinion of some expert we emotionally agree with has become a kind of sacred truth that cannot be debated. You and I, both of us, all seven billion individuals walking around interacting with one another, we are all naked emperors parading our invisible robes of gold so finely spun we cannot feel it and no one can see it.

Yes, it is possible I am the naked emperor. It is also possible I am the child asking their mother, "Why does the emperor have no clothes?"