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April 21, 2016

Vox: The Reason People Are So Cruel On the Internet Is Altruistic Punishment

Before getting to that, let's mention today's victim of the Internet Outrage Mob: Curt Schilling, who was just fired from his job at ESPN (time to boycott ESPN, no?).

He was fired because he shared on FaceBook-- months ago -- a meme goofing on men who want to use women's restrooms:

The post showed an overweight man wearing a wig and womenís clothing with parts of the T-shirt cut out to expose his breasts. It says: "LET HIM IN! to the restroom with your daughter or else you're a narrow-minded, judgmental, unloving racist bigot who needs to die."

To that, Schilling added: "A man is a man no matter what they call themselves. I donít care what they are, who they sleep with, menís room was designed for the penis, womenís not so much. Now you need laws telling us differently? Pathetic."

"ESPN is an inclusive company," ESPN said in a statement. "Curt Schilling has been advised that his conduct was unacceptable and his employment with ESPN has been terminated."

ESPN is a company that sells men on the idea that watching hours of other men doing athletic things is itself manly. ESPN should really stop daring men to exit their economic sphere entirely, before they begin figuring out that it's women who should enjoy watching dudes exert themselves.

Seriously, ESPN has always been kinda extremely homoerotic, and it's making this more obvious every day. They should just start advertising tampons on there.

Why anyone watches this anymore, I have no idea. It's like Bravo but without practical advice about redoing your kitchen.

It's a pageant with occasional whistles and instant replays.

Schilling discusses his Tolerance Sacking here.

Now, on to Vox, and third-party punishment.

I've been talking about this for about two years now, I think -- we did a podcast on the subject with John Sexton (another convert to the cause after I recommended Trial by Fury to him).

Vox now Voxspalains altruistic punishment, which they call "third party punishment."

The two terms describe the same phenomenon, which is that people take pleasure in punishing people for wronging others.

That's the third-party part, or the "altruistic" part -- apes punish other apes for wronging themselves, but apes don't care if you harm another ape.

Humans -- possibly uniquely -- do.

This is an altruistic impulse and it underlies our sense of fairness in society generally.

But there is a dark side to it. Because humans are hard-wired to really, really enjoy punishing others for their alleged sins against other people -- we derive actual pleasure from it; it's that feeling of angry righteous fury political partisans feel -- and sometimes we go deliberately looking for slights to others, which could be entirely imaginary, to righteously punish.

One point the Vox article makes which I haven't made myself is that people are willing to use more vicious punishments when defending the alleged wrongs inflicted on others than they are to avenge wrongs perpetrated on themselves.

This may be because people are naturally more tough than they credit others with being.

And so if you say "You're an asshole" to someone, he just shrugs it off -- who cares?

But if you say "You're an asshole" to one of his designated victim cohorts he is honor-bound to defend and avenge, he assumes a bunch of things about his victim cohort -- that they're weak; that they're excessively sensitive and can be wounded by trivial things; and that they are utterly incapable of standing up for themselves -- and permits himself to engage in cruelty he would never consider indulging in on his own behalf to avenge the wronged third party.

This could be why furious liberals are so furious and nasty about the Washington Redskins team name, but if you ask the actual Indians about it, they shrug and say "What's the big deal? Isn't it a compliment?" and actually name their own high school teams the "Redskins" and other Indian-themed names.

But when you're coming in to defend these Indians -- well, you assume a level of offense on their behalf that really doesn't exist, then you assume they're weak and need a White Knight (usually an actual caucasian White Knight, actually) and you get nastier defending the Poor Indians than you'd ever be defending anyone apart from your own children.

And that's why the internet is so terrible.

This isn't an impulse to be completely suppressed -- as I said, it is this sense of what is "fair" to others that informs the most rudimentary sense of morality and ethics people feel. (Feel, not think.)

Third-party or altruistic punishment is the neurobiological impulse at the root of morality itself.

But it should be restrained. And people need to think deeply: Are these poor souls are being so cruel in defending really so weak that they cannot defend themselves? Are they really this sensitive that they are wounded and scarred by the most trivial verbal gaffe?

Is the imagined cruelty one seeks to avenge actually greater than the deliberate and calculated cruelty the avenger seeks to visit upon the supposed original wrongdoer?

Is the cruelty one is about to deliberately add to the world really likely to make the world a less cruel place? Or just a crueler one?

And one needs to ask -- am I really doing this to save my poor victim cohort, or am I just doing it because cruelty feels good and this is the only socially-permissible outlet for behaving cruelly?

It's this cycle -- imagining a minor slight to be a major one, then escalating this minor alleged cruelty into a major bout of intentional, coordinated group cruelty (group shaming, viral punishment, etc.) -- that is turning the internet, and the society that it shapes, into a never-ending Vicious Circle.

It's time to start letting some things go, and start letting the alleged third-party victims maybe do some complaining and self-defending first before the world jumps in to make every minor squabble a major cultural battle.

Open Blog. Here's a game. The forbidden word is elephant. Pretend "elephant" is the most vulgar, offensive, politically incorrect word that exists. You can make allusions to it, you can euphemize, you can say "the e-word" -- but whatever you do, you may not say elephant. It's too obscene and controversial.

Update: Target now lets dudes into their ladies' rooms.

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posted by Ace at 07:19 PM

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