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  1. #1
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    Is society getting meaner?

    I don't know about you, but I've been noticing for some time now that our society seems to be getting meaner. And I don't just mean that the "bad guys" of our society are getting more predatory and sadistic, I mean that the attitudes of society's "nice people" and "good citizens" are becoming more and more unkind. I'll give a couple of trivial examples of what I'm talking about.

    Back in the days before the Dirty Harry movies, when TV cop characters were more human and humane, police dramas would now and then do an episode that focused on the emotional aftermath for an officer who had killed in the line of duty. In these episodes the cop who had killed a perp would be shown going through some psychic pain and a moral crisis about taking a human life, even though his action had been ruled a "good shooting". These TV cops had decent human feelings about depriving even "scum bags" of life.

    But then I think it was in the 80s that this turns around, and more and more TV cops became chips off the new Dirty Harry cultural archetype. Their approach to police work and their attitudes seemed to be modeled more on insensitive Inspector Harry Callahan and his take-no-prisoners (literally) mentality than on the mild-mannered Dudley Do-Rights of 50s and 60s cop shows. The "good guys" of the boob tube and the big screen became more unabashedly callous, more like the villains, except that they reserved their brutality and deadliness for those dregs of society who supposedly deserved it.

    Sure, this is only TV, but it seemed to jibe with and pander to the mentality of a large audience, of a large and representative cross section of the public. It seemed to be an indication that our attitudes were hardening, that we were growing more disdainful of the human worth and rights of anyone we deem to be beyond the middle-class pale of propriety.

    Today there seems to be no doubt left that this is the case, that as a society we've become seriously more unpitying. More contemptuous of the idea that the homeless are worthwhile human beings who are entitled to society's help, that immigrants are just desperate people seeking to escape the poverty created in their countries by our corporate fat cats, that black people are still the victims of the system's racism, and that crooks still have some human rights that should be respected.

    In fact the "angry white man" who has only hostility for the notion that women and minorities have some legitimate gripes has become a familiar stereotype. In the "angry white man's" book everyone else is just a "whiner", he lacks the self-awareness and honesty to realize that he's just projecting his own inner whiner, his own sense of having been shafted by the status quo. Tragically, instead of joining in solidarity with women and minorities to challenge and change an unjust status quo, "angry white men" succumb to identity politics and unproductively focus their disgruntlement on powerless fellow victims rather than the power elite that's truly responsible for the raw deal their lives have become.

    The other item of evidence pointing to the fact that society is getting meaner that offhandedly comes to mind is a program on TV that I recently stumbled across while channel surfing. The show is called Nancy Grace. It features an unpleasant person with what seems to be a permanent snarl on her face who exploits crimes and family tragedies that have made it into the news for fodder for her "legal analysis". Ms. Grace typically gloms onto the cases of molested and murdered children and other vile crimes and milks them for all the judgmental venom she can spew. Recently she sank her claws into the Zahra Baker case and just exploits it ad nauseam every night. Such cases merely serve as a sanctimonious soap box for her mean-spirited, moralistic demagoguery.

    She also has a court show, Swift Justice, on which she provides her audience with a high tech pillory of people who've screwed up in one way or another. The chief entertainment value of such courtroom shows does seem to be that they subject "litigants" to a tongue lashing from judgy judges so that viewers can vicariously get their own judgmentalness off. In the Middle Ages they put naughty folks in stocks in the public square so that their holier-than-thou neighbors could stroll by and enjoy a sense of moral superiority to the lowly drunk or blasphemer, today we have the likes of Nancy Grace and Judge Judy providing the same release for our cruel side and petty egoistic need to feel superior at someone else's expense.

    That our society eats up such television programming rather than being turned off by its unkind nature is what's so disturbing and damning in my view. What we like to watch on the idiot box says a lot about our mind-set, and what it's been saying for a while now is that we're growing increasingly unsympathetic, cynical, illiberal, and yes, downright mean in our opinions and sentiments.

    Nancy Grace uses the slogan "We want justice", well, it seems that for her and for many of us nowadays justice is just an abstract concept that we use to legitimize our malicious desire to judge, rebuke, punish, and inflict violence. Moral cowards that we are we pay lip service to justice to conceal from ourselves the real nature of our impulses, to camouflage our cruelty.

    The shameful truth is that as a society and as individuals we're less concerned about social justice and more keen on ruthlessly enjoying power over others. We'd rather narcissistically empower our egos by judging our neighbor than help him/her become a better person. We'd rather brandish the power to lock criminals up than rehabilitate them. We'd rather use law enforcement as an instrument of control over the populations of our ghettos than practice economic justice toward them. We'd rather demonstrate our system's power by cracking down on undocumented workers than address the immigration issue with intelligence and compassion. We'd rather inflict our military might on the innocent civilians of Iraq and Afghanistan than justly deal with the righteous reasons why the teeming masses of the Third World resent the rich nations. Etc., etc.

    This self-pleasing pursuit of power of ours is leading us into mean behavior and attitudes that undermine our society's ability to achieve greater social progress and justice. If we genuinely care about grounding our society in the ethical and progressive values we profess to hold dear then we urgently need to wake up to the corrosive and corrupting effect that being power-proud, hardhearted, angry, and uncompassionate is having on our civilization's soul.

  2. #2
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    Re: Is society getting meaner?

    Is society getting meaner? Maybe, it could be, but I'm pretty sure that it isn't. It certainly isn't based on the evidence you provided, with which there are numerous problems.

    First, could you explain to me how it is that a couple of shows, like Nancy Grace, Judge Judy, and various "bad cop" shows (of which you have yet to provide any examples other than a movie, whose title explicitly states that the starring cop is a bad one), and only those shows represent the views of society?

    Second, could you explain the logic that you use to discount the impact that a show like Oprah has had on society? What about Barney, Elmo, the Teletubbies, Carebears, and Dora, as opposed to extremely rascist and violent, but yes, very funny, Bugs Bunney and Tweetie?

    Third, would you consider it better to live in a society whose TV characters always did the right thing (unless they the antagonists of the show) or in a society that allows more than just white men to be cast in real, starring roles? Roles like Lawrence Fishbourne as Morpheus, Denzel Washington as most roles he's played, Halle Berry in her roles as Leticia Musgrove or being really sexy, or even, dare I say it, Barack Obama as the lead in the movie The United States Government, or as Hitler in the sequel, Muslim Socialist Armageddon: The Attack on Democracy, Liberty, Freedom, Apple Pies, Etc. that I saw on Fox last night.

    Fourth, would you be willing to consider that "angry white men" have some legitimate gripes of their own? Personally, I think it's a stinking pile of bullsh*t that I would get called a rascist for being proud to be white, whereas anyone else can be proud of their race.

    Fifth, would you be willing to consider that some of the things that you see on tv, and don't approve of, are a reflection of the free and liberal times we live in where pretty much anyone can put out whatever they want to, as per freedom of speech?

    Sixth, would you be willing to consider that characters on tv shows possess less than wholesome personaslity traits (like the rest of us) because tv characters and the shows they are on have much more depth? I mean, back in those good ol' days shows had plots that spanned a single episode, now Lost has had a plot arc that spanned the entire series.

    Seventh, would you wather have some nasty and huwtful words thwown at you by that gweat big ugly meany Nancy Gwace, or would you rather be locked up in a stockade for several days, in the middle of town, for as many as several days, where people would throw things like rotten fruit and vegetables and pieces of wood or stones at you, and where, if you were a woman, you would probably have a very real concern that you might be raped when the sun went down?

    Also, please show that this:

    We'd rather brandish the power to lock criminals up than rehabilitate them.
    and this:
    We'd rather use law enforcement as an instrument of control over the populations of our ghettos than practice economic justice toward them.
    and this:
    We'd rather demonstrate our system's power by cracking down on undocumented workers than address the immigration issue with intelligence and compassion.
    andthis:
    We'd rather inflict our military might on the innocent civilians of Iraq and Afghanistan than justly deal with the righteous reasons why the teeming masses of the Third World resent the rich nations.
    is,
    a) True
    b) Any different than how things were fifty years ago


    Epic
    Last edited by Epic; December 20th, 2010 at 09:24 PM.
    I AM ODN

  3. #3
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    Re: Is society getting meaner?

    Interesting thread. I'm not sure if people as a whole have got meaner. You would need to look at things like how much people give to charity maybe. Culture certainly changed in the 80s with Thatcher and Reagan basically saying personal self interest is what's best for society as a whole. Certainly the left are weaker these days and the Tories (for many years regarded as totally unelectable) are in power in the UK again. The old Labour Party has been replaced with New Labour. But does this mean that people are getting meaner?

    In terms of British politics, I blame the politicians and the ruling class, not the ordinary workers. Even a worker who votes BNP is most likely doing so out of frustration or even desperation. The angry whites are wrong and right. The blame does not lie with immigrants and most of the things angry whites believe in this context are not true. But there are reasons why they are angry and the cause is the capitalist system and the politicians. If you allow in cheap immigrant labour and you make workers who already live here unemployed, you are bound to get anger and all that is achieved is driving down wages.

    A good example of this was the Lindsey dispute in the UK not long ago. A company was bringing in Italians and breaking a wage agreement. There was a strike and some talk of British jobs for British workers. The BNP tried to get in on the act. THe Socialist Party member there got elected strike leader and turned the situation round, kicking out the fascists and winning support form all workers including Italian union leaders. They proposed that Italians could get jobs there so long as it was on the same wages, and that no redundancies occurred and the company hired some local workers as well (they work in phases, contracts). It was a good all round compromise and took all the divisiveness out of the situation.

    Similarly with immigration as a whole, we say don't blame the immigrants. That is just scapegoatism. The solution is to get immigrants into unions fighting for equal wages. We cannot allow a race to the bottom. We have to be honest though - the EU was expanded by the capitalists to bring cheap labour over to undercut wages.

    Last night I was watching a TV series in which Ian Wright, a black football player, was trying to help young men in an offenders institution, so I have to add that for some balance and positivity. It's a good series and does show how bloke in jail are often borderline and could be rehabilitated with the right resources.

    In a socialist society we would get rid of crime and jails***. It can be done. In Britain and America we are doing the reverse and jailing more and more people (as far as I know). In America they even used to execute children* until recently, and people definitely get executed because they are black**. This is the state doing this. The armed wing of the capitalist class. We need to replace this with a workers state, for a temporary period only, until a socialist society doesn't need one.

    State brutality - is that gonna reduce or increase brutality in the population?



    *people who were under 18 when they committed the offence, regarded therefore as child offenders.
    **I'm fairly sure I could prove that black people face a higher chance of being convicted and executed.
    *** Fire away, Tea Party Party People!

    The good thing / bad thing about this thread is that it's so broad it could branch out all over the place

  4. #4
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    Re: Is society getting meaner?

    Meaner... no not really.

    A specific society here and there, sure, globally, no.

    I think the world is generally more peaceful and kind that it was in the past and that is largely due to much more abundance of food and shelter in general terms, and thus a bit less fighting and a bit more sitting back and chilling.

    I do think urban life has led to a somewhat colder and more impersonal street life compared to the time when more life was rural. Greater population can lead to a bit more competition between individuals but it seems less likely to come to violence than it did in days of yore.

    Every generation seems to look at itself as worse or more evil in some way than some idealized version of the past. I'm sure that is actually true on occasion but my study of history and of my own time tells me people haven't changed much in their general nature in recorded history, they have only found different outlets and customs that mitigate their nature and different circumstances that channel it.
    Feed me some debate pellets!

  5. #5
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    Re: Is society getting meaner?

    Quote Originally Posted by charleslb View Post
    I don't know about you, but I've been noticing for some time now that our society seems to be getting meaner.
    In short, no it isn't.

    There are numerous examples of medieval torture devices alone that are proof to this fact. [1] [2] We no longer spend our time engineering new and interesting ways of dismembering people (for the most part) or maximizing the amount of pain we can inflict upon another person (mostly).

    Quote Originally Posted by charleslb View Post
    Nancy Grace uses the slogan "We want justice", well, it seems that for her and for many of us nowadays justice is just an abstract concept that we use to legitimize our malicious desire to judge, rebuke, punish, and inflict violence. Moral cowards that we are we pay lip service to justice to conceal from ourselves the real nature of our impulses, to camouflage our cruelty.
    Challenge to support a claim. I'd like you to see if you can find a definition of Justice that isn't, at least in part, based upon the human desire for revenge.

    Furthermore, please see if you can find a form of humor or comedy that isn't either A) Word play or B) laughing at the misfortune or expense of others.

    Much of our entertainment is based around vicariously viewing the suffering of others. From Hamlet grappling with his mother's incest and uncle's treachery to the Lifetime TV channel that seems to specialize in its depiction of women as victims.

    In this respect, I really don't think we're better or worse than our ancestors. We've simply changed our methods for fulfilling these very normal and natural human needs. What I find preposterous is the notion that we can somehow "civilize" ourselves beyond basic self-interest and our natural tendencies.

    [1] http://www.thewanderingnomad.com/ams...re-museum.html
    [2] http://englishrussia.com/index.php/2...torture-tools/
    "... freedom is not, as we are told, a liberty for every man to do what he lists but a liberty to dispose, and order as he lists, his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property, within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own." -- John Locke, Second Treatise on Government

  6. #6
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    Re: Is society getting meaner?

    So... I'm not going to pose anything that's remotely supportable, just a question.

    Is it possible that people aren't getting meaner... simply that mean people are getting better media coverage?
    "And that, my lord, is how we know the Earth to be banana-shaped." ~ Monty Python


  7. #7
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    Re: Is society getting meaner?

    Quote Originally Posted by wakko View Post
    What I find preposterous is the notion that we can somehow "civilize" ourselves beyond basic self-interest and our natural tendencies.
    We evolved with 2 instincts, one, self preservation, two, the understanding that if we just focus on self preservation we are knackered.

    Thus all animals take care of their young, many take care of each other. Humans only evolved to be far more intelligent because we took cooperation to a higher level, which necessitated speech.

    We came down from the trees and developed better hands. We could walk and carry tools. We did things like building shelter and hunting. All this had to be done in groups.

    Eventually our societies became so big that we evolved language to cope with the complexity. The poor old Neanderthals didnt have such complex societies, they were more like small tribes whereas we had a culture which spread far and wide. So they didnt manage to survive the ice age whereas we did, which is quite amazing.

    So yeah we are selfish, and often we have the sense to understand that our interests are best served by collective action.

 

 

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