10 September 2017

Why are humans so hateful?

I have to say I still cannot get over the overt racism and Nazism that was uncovered in the USA.
So this time I will recommend several non-fiction books. Stuff that helped me understand what was going on with ordinary people around me.
I grew up in Yugoslavia, and I lived through the war that produced all those little countries. I’ve seen how people I thought decent, kind, and loving people turn into monsters during the war.
Do not get me wrong. There were weirdos who were weirdos before the war and ended up committing disgusting war crimes during the war. Those people were no surprise. I would think about their behavior on the playground and concluded that their crimes were expected.
But, there were the others as well, people who seemed friendly and kind. Who seemed like someone who would never do such atrocities. But they did.
I’ve also experienced friends turning away from me, just because I’m officially a member of the 'other side.' I’ve seen riff growing among people, and I wondered why. So I started doing what every typical nerd would do, read the books.
First one that gave me Aha feeling was Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm. Fromm described psychology behind rising of the Nazism in, at the time, progressive, liberal Germany. Sadly, his conclusions apply quite well to the current situation in the USA. The part that was applicable in Yugoslavia showed me that such hate and misery can happen only if people themselves allow it. And that started my search for what I could do, as an individual, to prevent such atrocities.
But that did not explain to me why a nice person would end up committing atrocities. During the war in Bosnia, I tried to spend most of my time keeping safe, moving around only during daytime in the public places, dressed in the shabbiest clothing I could find. Simply, I did not wish to get raped. This meant that I spent loads of time in my parents home, reading books. Among those, I found another one that gave me Aha feeling,  Families and how to survive them by Robin Sinner and John Cleese. This book explained how certain emotional patterns are transferred through families. This book explained how someone that seems kind to one person can commit atrocities. The answer was simple, the person who seemed nice to me, was nice to me just because he saw me as a member of ‘his’ group.
I bumped into this human trait a lot when after the war I went abroad to complete my education. People who belonged to the ‘others’ were automatically nasty to me, especially if they, personally, never experienced war. The things got worse when I talked with people who should be ‘on my side.' Because I refused to blindly agree that so-called leaders on my side were right and others were like an incarnation of Satan. Skinner and Cleese prepared me for such events, and I was amazed at how spot on their description of human nature was.
Even today, I’m avoiding people from my country of origin. My own ethics does not allow me not to call out the truth. And recent scientific papers I read say that facts will not change the beliefs and behavior of average people. I would rather do cosplay than argue. It is more fun.
Almost a decade after a war in Bosnia, I read another book that made me curse the events and stupidity during the war. It was The Balkans by Misha Glenny. That book gave me a nice historical background for the events in my country of origin. But the biggest impact on me was an explanation of what was behind events during September 1993.
I was deep in the territory of one of the sides, far away from the battlefields. One nice sunny day in September we woke up to a surprise. A whole brigade of the soldiers from our own side, so-called '16' brigade was prowling on the streets of the city. Lack of electricity made it hard to get any news, except through the grapevine and rumors. And those informed me that soldiers are there because a group of saboteurs from the other sides sneaked in. A few days later soldiers went away.
For me, the whole incident would be forgotten if I did not step in to defend a disabled newspaper seller from three heavily armed bullies in military uniforms. I did not do much, just told them they should be ashamed of their behavior, since they supposed to defend us, not to bully us. I stood there in front of the disabled man, shaking and crying, unarmed, standing my ground. Then some older ladies grabbed me and dragged me away from those soldiers, screaming at me that I’m crazy and that I might be killed. My action was effective. One of the armed bullies actually paid the damaged newspapers to the disabled man.
Anyway, in Glenny’s book I learned that soldiers primary purpose was to stop a referendum. The ‘glorious’ leaders refused to sign the negotiated peace agreement until they consult people through a referendum. The referendum that never was mentioned to us. Because had they asked us we would accept the peace agreement. I know I would vote yes. I know that many of my friends and family would do the same. Voted for the peace agreement.
The bitterness and outrage did not stop there. I talked about this with some friends and family members who went through the same event. And I learned soldiers themselves got a different story. They were told that deployment of the whole brigade was because of some rogue deserters. Besides that explanation, there were several others, all pointing to some imaginary dangers. None knew that referendum 'was happening that day.' No one knew that our leaders used imaginary referendum results to refuse to sign the peace agreement. Those same residents did not learn the truth even decades after the war. Even leaders knew that their people would vote yes. It just, the war was too good of the business for them to stop it.
Yes, I’m still bitter about it. It is hard to swallow when you learn that you were basically manipulated only so that someone could earn a bit more money. As someone who saw cemeteries grow, I found that hard to get over.
I will conclude this with the few more books. The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker was hard to read because it mentioned loads and loads of atrocities across human history. But at the same time, it is the most hopeful book. It uses data to show how we are progressing and shows how bit by bit we are becoming less prone to the atrocities. He puts the reason as the most helpful human quality against the fight of the stupidity of the war and atrocities.
Of course, you will argue that he is wrong because the book ended before this rise of neo-Nazi in the USA. But not necessarily. There is another book which sort of explains these last events, The Collapse by Jared Diamond. I was disappointed that Diamond did not discuss the fall of the Roman Empire in his book. But later I figured he omitted it most likely because the events that led toward a fall of the Roman Empire were eerily like the events in the USA since the eighties.
As someone who grew up outside the USA, I did not have the first-hand experience with racism. But really, one does not need to have it. The sad truth is that people will always find someone ‘different’ than them to blame for their problems. (Skinner and Cleese explained that human trait quite well). If the differences are not obvious, like a color of the skin, then something else will do, names, religion. Take a pick. There is always something.
I know that this post is quite long, and I recommended loads of books. But I struggled to understand why ordinary people behave the way that will ultimately hurt them.
And I’m still open to new insights, because knowing why does not really help in answering the most important question:
“What can I do to stop the situation of getting worse?”

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