Make Me Bad…

After watching way too many shows on Netfilx, I have begun to wonder what it is exactly that makes someone do ‘bad’ things.  When I was younger, it was simple.  You were a bad person and that meant you did bad things.  End of story.  Easy wrap up.

As I grew older, I began to understand, however simply, that sometimes bad things happen to youngsters which in turn lead them to do bad things themselves and lead them to do bad things to others.

And further on down the line of study, I became aware of people who do bad things not because of their environments or situations or anything else – these people do bad things, terrible things, for no other reason than they want to.  And under these individuals, there were ranges of those who did bad things because they enjoyed hurting others

ranges of those who did bad things because they felt they were ridding the world of bad people

ranges of those who did bad things because they felt the were doing the right thing by ending the lives of those with fatal illnesses

and those ending the lives of others for religious reasons – killing off entire families under the belief that the family did not please god and must therefore be killed

The point then, is it seems, there are any multitude of reasons to do bad things.  There are the basest of reasons, religious reasons, legal reasons and moral judgments.

The most extraordinary thing about our species then is the blatant choice to ignore this negativity.  We, as a species, have the unique ability of hope.  We seek out the good,  We seek out the ways to help people no matter how ridiculous, no matter how far fetched, no matter at what cost – we seek help.


19 thoughts on “Make Me Bad…

  1. I’ve been thinking about this even more than usual lately. I just saw Selma. A few months ago I saw Freedom Summer. They’re both about the U.S. civil rights movement. They both include period footage of white people whose hatred is visible in their faces and audible in what they’re screaming. I often saw similar images on the TV screen when I was a teenager. I didn’t understand much of what was going on, but those images never went away. Behavior that many people considered normal and natural is no longer considered so, except by a few handfuls of people that we like to consider fanatical.

    At the same time I’m editing a novel that takes place during the Lebanese civil war. When the protagonist was 10, in 1975, life flipped from humdrum, even idyllic, to crazy. People did appalling things to each other, both to total strangers and to people they’d grown up with. I think of what happened in Yugoslavia, and the old USSR, and Iraq (among other places) when central authority and the rule of law (imperfect as it was) collapsed. I think of what ordinary people are capable of doing in war, and how devastated many of them are when they return to a reality where those things aren’t acceptable and where there are no words to describe them.

    Short version is that I believe individual motives and motivations are only part of the picture. The expectations of those around us — the situations we find ourselves in — also play a major role. When contempt for others is socially acceptable, more of us give in to it.
    When we’re expected to solve our problems without violence, most of us do.

    • The capacity of people to commit atrocities to others because the crowd or the authority figures say it is o.k. is terrible. I never really understood how people can do awful things to others simply because the rest of the herd is doing it. How can anyone allow themselves to look at other human beings as anything less than human or less deserving of humane treatment.

      • Because we aren’t autonomous, rational individuals 24/7. Because we’re influenced continually, often in subtle ways, by the expectations and reactions of people around us. We learn what not to say and when not to say it. Often it’s innocuous. Sometimes it isn’t. Look how we get sucked into crowd-mind at a sports event (even Little League!) or the movies, concerts or the theater. Then think about gang rape, lynchings, Lebanon, Bosnia, Rwanda — take your pick. It’s not that much of a stretch, IMO.

        The big writerly challenge for me at the moment is getting into the head of a “respectable” man who’s incesting his stepdaughter and still manages to look himself in the mirror every morning and kiss his wife from time to time. The devil isn’t making him do it. Neither is the crowd.

    • I am definitely appalled by what is occurring in the Middle East now but I also have to remember that the same sort of atrocities were committed during the Crusades by crusaders, during the early years of the expansion across what is now the USA by incoming Europeans to the native populations, during WWII to Jewish people, during the Rwanda civil war, to ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and on and on throughout history. One would think humanity would have moved past such barbaric behavior but it seems we are either incapable of doing so or unwilling

    • I think part of what we’re seeing in the Middle East is just how bad things have to get before USians take notice. And anyone who’s tempted to consider these atrocities an Arab thing, a Muslim thing, or a Middle Eastern thing would do well to see Selma or Freedom Summer and to review the whole sorry history of lynching in the U.S., which is getting some renewed attention these days, thank heavens.

  2. Sometimes I think we get a little too Pollyanna or even Luke Skywalker, and think that there is some redeeming quality in those who do immense evil. We spend so much time in efforts to talk them back to the good when in reality it might just be better to finish them off and cut out the rotten seeds.

    • And this is the essence of what prisons are for. Most people don’t realize that the goal of prison is not just punishment, it is also rehabilitation. Many prisoners are intended to be released back into society – hence non-life sentences – so they are supposed to be rehabilitated and as you say “talked back to the good.” The problem is, no rehabilitation occurs and about half of these people will be released back into society only to commit the very same acts again and again.

      • That is an even larger issue. Many times the stigma of their transgressions travel with them forever. The idea of prison is also the penance of their crimes. In a perfect world they would not pay for them again when they are released but the judgements of those on the outside follow them forever.

        • In the grand scheme of things, this is always a tough issue to deal with. With things like child molesters and rapists, is it a mental issue or is it just people behaving badly. Will rehabilitation work or should we just cut the withering vine. The same holds true for terrorists.

          In some cases you are better off cutting it off at the source. And in others it can be worth your time to work with the individual and attempt to bring about a paradigm shift.

          But then you will always have someone who claims what you are doing is brainwashing and evil.

          It can be so easy for us to debate the merits of various forms of rehab. But in the end if we aren’t in a position to effect change, it is generally little more than lip service. Though as writers we have the power to write the world as we see fit. Even though not everyone will see or understand the direction we are coming from.

        • In a larger view, yes, the issue of crime and punishment is buried deep within so many even larger social issues. Crime and punishment is just one that we can see more easily than the things like our country’s ever evolving, ever changing determinations of right and wrong, good and bad. Civilization, no matter how pure and good it claims to be, suffers from some moral relativism. This is of course a result of the views of the time, the personal issues of the jury members, the personal biases of the prosecutors, the judges and even the defense lawyers. I believe humans simply lack the ability to be 100% unbiased even when ‘the law’ says they must for the sake of justice. You see it time and time again, where one person commits the same crime as another, has the same lack of a prior criminal record, has the same reason for committing the crime, the outcome of the crime was the same and yet in court one gets sentenced to 10 years in prison and the other is either sentenced to only 5 years in prison with the other 5 years on probation. One might even be sentenced to no prison time served and a mere 10 years, with 5 of those years on house arrest and probation and the other 5 years commuted. Their crimes were the same, their mitigating circumstances were the same but different jury, diferent prosecuture, different judge = different sentence.

          I feel that the justice system in the country in overworked, undertrained and has shifted dramatically from its original purpose. It now seeks mainly to sequester criminals away from society for whoever long they can, hoping that instead of having to release them, they will get killed in prison, die in prison, or commit another crime while in prison to add to their time thus ensuring they will not leave the system.

          The vast majority of American I know seem to have a skewed verson of what is good an what is bad and their moral compass points where it is more conveinent for them at the time. Yet they abhor others who do the same. These people also have no idea of prison or the justice system – they just expect things to be like in the movies where the police do an awesome job in about a day and a half solving a murder, put the guy in front of the jury within the week and then the bad guy/girl is off to life in prison. All so simple. I am beginning to believe that these lawyer/cop shows that do this idealized version of justice are slowly working their ideas into the heads of too many. And this causes this problem because when you believe things like that are true – and then something happens to you and the legal battle you endure is nothing like telelvision legal battles – it is a shock.
          It is my belief that people would rather live in their own little worlds far away from any actual crime believing that prison will take care of everything. I have yet heard of any good plans to restructure prisons, to offer a more concsistent transition phase between prison and the outside world. I rarely hear politicians mention how to straighten up or repair the justice system in the speeches. It is yet another sad commentary on yet another part of the government that is rapidly going downhill and everyone just wants to pass the buch to someone else to fix the problem. If fixing the problem workied, that’s be fine but it doesn’t. The entire justice system needs to be restructured with the goal of making it capable of doing both of its purposes of punishment and rehabilitation.

        • Which leads to our whole political system. We need an entire overhaul of this whole system of government. The sad thing is with our move into inherited monarchies again, we won’t see much change in the system any time soon.

          Yes, I said inherited. When we look at the prime examples of what our future choices of leaders will most likely be, we can see the beginning of a long dark road.

  3. It’s from one of those episodes nobody pays attention to, but Captain Kirk had the best line about it: “I may be a barbarian. But I’m not going to kill today.” There’s so much guidance to being a good person in something as straightforward as that.

  4. That is a somewhat profound statement Capt Kirk makes, or at least, whoever wrote the line for him makes. It is the moment to moment, day to day choices that define our good or bad nature.

  5. Basically, it’s a lack of empathy; an inability to see others as you see yourself, or to treat others as you would wish to be treated. Whether this arises due to ignorance, brain-washing, or some innate mental aberration is hard to judge. I hope that some day the message will get through to everyone, but I am afraid that “aggression” appears to be built-in to our survival and “improvement” mechanisms.

    • Aggression is a part of human nature yet that too can be molded, diminished, controlled or let loose entirely. As far as a lack of empathy – I know some are born this way, they simply lack the ability to empathize, they are sociopaths. It is not these individuals which concern me as oddly enough, sociopaths do extraordinarily well in the world, they tend to be very successful and can often be found sitting in the CEO chair or at least on the board. Of course on the other hand, serial killers are usually psychotic or sociopathic so they are a threat – but getting back to the article – my concern is the average person who does bad things and the escalation. Once someone does something bad, committing more bad acts seems to follow and it is a snowball effect until they are rotten to their core.

      I suppose what I am wondering is if our society is attempting to design a more utopian society by adamantly dealing with the mental illnesses that lead to terrible acts and either locking away those incurables in institutes, rehabilitating the rest through therapy and meds. And of course in society, we have begun a massive push in the school system to stamp out bad behavior, bullying in particular.

      • Thanks for your reply. I guess what you are getting at is why some people knowingly and unrepentedly do things that they think are “bad”, despite the harm it may do to others or, ultimately, themselves. I think the answer is revenge for the pain they have suffered from some real, imaginary, or misunderstood hurt done to themselves or someone else that they identify with. I can’t otherwise explain the senseless horrors that are being inflicted worldwide, or the local acts of grief being perpetually enacted around us.

        I agree with you that there are sociopaths in charge of big companies, governments, religious groupings, and whole societies that seem oblivious to the harm they are doing to everyone, to the world as a whole, and eventually to themselves. And it is fuelled by greed and aggression, completely uncontrolled and often unseen.

        I don’t think our society is doing much to really educate and heal “bad”-thinking individuals or groups. And “our” society begs the question as to what we can do about “other” societies, and there efffect on “us” and other people around the globe.

        Until everyone realises that every action they take, however small, will have some effect, large or small, on everything else, they won’t begin to evaluate their actions. Even then, you have to be infinitely wise and knowledgeable to really know what will happen. We can only make our best guess.

        • You bring up a great point abut the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mentality. I think a large part of the aggression present in the world is due to identifying ourselves as members of an ‘us’ or a ‘them.’
          In relation to people realizing the far reaching impacts of their actions whether large or small – one would think that history has taught us this lesson time and time again and yet humanity as a whole chooses to blatantly ignore those lessons.

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