Is vandalism part of the human condition?

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.

From http://public-domain.zorger.comVandalism. 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


14 thoughts on “Is vandalism part of the human condition?

  1. In South Africa we experience several extremes of this situation. On one side we have corrupt officials helping themselves from the resources that should be going for the poor. The poor, on the other side, destroy the few services there actually are to help them, like libraries, schools and community centers, telling themselves their hurting government but in reality only harming themselves. And inbetween the middle classes and upper classes, jealously hoarding what they have from both government and the poor. The result is that everyone commits their version of this vandalism and everyone is poorer for it.

    We definitely aren’t in an age of kindness now, but we need to change. I believe it’s something each one of us must make our own minds up to do. It’s not something government can legislate for us (they can and do try, but it rarely works, if ever), and if we wait for someone else to go first it’s never going to happen.

  2. I agree- you made good points. I think part of the reason why people push others down more often is that it’s easier. It’s easier to complain than work to make yourself better. In the long run, however, selfishness doesn’t get anyone anywhere. As you said, kindness is the best option.

  3. Wonderful post, Matthew, which is to say, I agree completely! All of this it must be known that I was here, I exist so pay attention to me is a sad commentary but a true one, nonetheless. Few things anger me–and I do mean anger–more than vandals in national parks or in nature itself, which is not to say general graffiti does not rankle. It does. And your point regarding kindness would seem the answer for we are hard-wired to respond to kindness, whether giving or receiving. It is what changes us, makes us pause at the very least. It makes us think.It all begins with each one of us. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Matthew.

    1. We get a fair amount of that level of vandalism here too, alas. It gets undue media attention of course. Fortunately the media also occasionally report of acts of selflessness and kindness that somewhat restores my faith in human nature ( though it doesn’t much disperse my cynicism about the way the media here reduce news to drama…)

  4. I’ve always thought that vandalism springs from a feeling of powerlessness. Marking their mark and causing people to take notice is the only way they can exert any influence on the world around them. Sad – and how much better if they could perform random acts of kindness instead – but I fear they are too angry at the world for that.

    1. Absolutely. Powerlessness is definitely part of the mix. Random kindness is definitely a better way but I have to agree that these people probably wouldn’t see the point.

  5. I agree 100%. Such actions are all too common in this country and, sadly, I’m related to a person who destroyed for no other reason than someone had something he didn’t possess. I never understood him anymore than I understand that mindset in general (you probably could write a book on the psychology). We fail ourselves as human beings when we destroy and hurt others, not just because of what’s lost, but because of the advances we forfeit.

    1. Too true! I’ve never understood the way these people think. They must have quite sad lives. It would be good to find a way of helping them find a better path, but I suspect that such people would be resistant to the notion.

  6. Most sophisticated rant I’ve read in a very, very long time! I can just imagine it – next time the vandals pull up on bikes/cars/boards you walk out very calmly and non-confrontationally… and pee on their wheels (just kidding of course – because though water soluble, t’would still make you part of the problem lol).

    1. LOL! 🙂 Given the speed with which the local council usually paint the adornments out I suspect I’d have to move fairly fast to avoid their paint truck…

Comments are closed.