Thursday, January 17, 2013

Were people always this awful?

The other day, while whichever political/celebrity/sports scandal was unfolding, I turned to the spouse and said, "Were people always this awful* or is this a new phenomenon?" To which the spouse replied, "People were always this awful. There are just more people."

This led us to debate:

a) If, percentage-wise, there were the same number of awful people as there were 50 or 100 or 1000 (or however many) years ago, or if the percentage of awful people had gone up (or down).

b) If awful people had more or less power now than they had 50 or 100 or 1000 years ago. For example, while what Bernard Madoff did, bilking thousands of people, was pretty awful, and ruined lives, it pales in comparison to what Adolf Hitler did, i.e., murdering millions of innocent people (among other awful things).

And c) While there have always been awful people, or people doing awful things, does it seem like there are more awful people or more people doing awful things because of our 24/7 media -- cable news, Internet news, blogs, talk radio, newspapers, etc?

What do you think?

*By awful I mean bad -- or screwed up or crazy or mean or psycho.


Betty Cracker said...

I suspect the percentage of awful people more or less holds steady throughout the ages. I have no hard evidence for this; it's just a hunch.

The awful among us have more power now, but we all do due to tools at our disposal that were previously unavailable. I'm not sure whether technology and tools give an edge to the awful. The awful naturally have less compunction about using them for evil, but I'm not sure that outstrips the goods' motivation to use the same tools to prevent evil.

It does seem like there are more people doing more awful things, but as you note, that's the information onslaught. Percentage-wise, I suspect there was more awfulness perpetrated in the Dark Ages. Until very recently, civilized people had no moral problem with carpet-bombing civilian populations.

PS: You and your hubby have interesting debates!

Anna said...

Why do awful people seem to end up in positions of power (or are born to it) or is power an augmenter of awfulness? I'm thinking of assorted king and queens throughout the ages who were just awful and would definitely be considered psycho now. Which leads to another discussion - is what is psycho now not what was psycho in the past, and vice versa. Also, different cultural views of psychotic behavior. Aaarrrggh!

Another David S. said...

I like to think there are just as many awful people, only now their voices are magnified by 24/7 news, the Internet, reality shows, etc. And you have to wonder if such magnification adds to the groupthink and extremism (probably) or provides cautionary tales to keep borderline folk from going full-on awful.

You could also argue that such a relentless spotlight is also what prevents the next Hitler from happening: this time we'll see him coming. But that's probably just my optimistic side looking for good amid a noisy world of loud, awful humans. Is it too early for a beer?

Dave S. said...

These comments are not awful and say basically what I was going to say. I feel awful about this.

Xine Segalas said...

There have always been awful people throughout history. Remember the Dark Ages! It's just with today's social media and technology - it seems very in our face and our homes.
I don't believe however there are more awful people out there percentage-wise though. The media loves to focus on awful so the good hardly gets exposed. After all who wants to watch the cars flow down the highway when you can watch a 25-car pile up occur caused by a high speed pursuit?!