I have a small gripe. Vandals keep tagging a power pole just along from where I live. Marking territory, animal-fashion. It happens every few weeks. The local council always has it painted out within the day; but it highlights what, for me, is one of the saddest sides of the human moral compass.
Vandalism. If somebody has something, it seems – even something as simple as a nicely painted power pole in a quiet suburban street – somebody else wants to break it, take it away or deny it to them. Anything humans have, it seems, is targeted in its own way. Take computing. Visionaries like Bill Gates and Sir Tim Berners Lee had a concept for a wonderful and better human world, connected by computer. So what happened? Other people wrote software to damage, steal, or cause inconvenience to users. Vandalism! Somebody trying to take away what you have – these days, usually the contents of your bank account.
I see the same phenomenon in the way academics always respond to others in their territory by denying the worth of the other’s skills and work – vandalising repute in intellectualised terms. To me that is conceptually no different from the way imbeciles with paint cans performed – it’s designed to take away something that somebody else has.
It’s been common enough through history. And it always works the same way:
1. “Someone’s got something I don’t have, so I have to show I’m better by breaking it or taking it off them.”
2. “I am marking my place and showing I am more important than others.”
3.”I feel validated by doing so.”
The motives, in short, are entwined with ego, status anxiety, and with validating a sense of self. Most human actions are. However, vandalism is a selfish form of self-validation. It validates by taking away from others. To me this the exact reverse of the way we should behave.
In fact there are other – and better – ways of validating yourself. Helping others, for instance – being kind, taking a moment to help.
If we work together to build, isn’t that better than trying to tear down what others do? It is the difference between selfishness (vandalism) and generosity (kindness). Bottom line is that kindness is the better path. And I think that, through history, there are times when society in general has taken that kinder path – overtly and obviously. But right now, as we roll into the twenty-first century, isn’t one of them. And I think we need to change that – to nurture kindness by taking the initiative – by expressing kindness, even in small ways, to each other.
I’ve said all this before, of course, but it’s worth saying again. Your thoughts?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015