Why do people keep getting more and more destructive and evil?

In answer to the Quora question: "Why do people keep getting more and more destructive and evil?"

Thanks for the A2A.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with how you stated your question - I think we humans are, as individuals, probably as "destructive and evil" in part, and as "compassionate and creative" in part, as we ever were. As an increasingly homogenized global culture and species, however, I could easily agree that we are collectively becoming more "destructive and evil," in terms of the scope of our impact en masse, and callousness and lack of compassion you describe at a societal level. I find this condition easily attributable to five central factors:

Exploitative, growth-dependent, highly commercialized corporate capitalism and its attendant consumerism. In service of this brand of capitalism, we have become conditioned to over-consume to the point of harming ourselves, each other and our environment. We have also become conditioned to care more about our own immediate gratification, and this arrests our development in an I/Me/Mine egocentric immaturity which, in turn, disconnects and isolates us from each other. This flavor of capitalism also rewards us for inverting our prosocial values and priorities, allowing material things, competitiveness and urgent acquisitiveness to have primacy over everything else (i.e. our other natural impulses like kindness, generosity, collaboration, compassion, self-sacrifice, etc. are suppressed or ignored).

Industry and technology. Our destructive capacity as a species - either intentionally or incidentally - has ballooned over the course of the industrial and technological revolutions. We simply have a lot more destructive power because of our new toys. These revolutions have also inherently separated us from any relationship with the natural world, so that many people have no concept at all of where their food, clothing or any other goods come from. So, in combination with factor #1, our actual destructive impact has accelerated, while at the same time we tend to care a lot less about that impact.

Increased urbanization. As people live in increasingly concentrated urban populations, the perceived and actual competition for the same limited resources becomes amplified, and, in combination with factors #1 and #2, this exacerbates both isolation from our fellow humans and separation from nature, and consequently reinforces our indifference to both our own destructiveness and the suffering it causes.

Information overload and accelerated change. The information revolution has produced far more information than human beings can parse in an orderly way, and the industrial and technological revolutions have exponentially expanded that deluge of information by accelerating the process whereby much information becomes less valuable or out-of-date, and ever more new information becomes the most important. Without a comprehensive, values-based filtering mechanism to help us evaluate new information, we simply can't cope with all of this. So many people will tend to revert to simplistic, black-and-white, tribalistic groupthink as a protective response; they will blindly follow the herd rather than thinking independently or critically. This, in turn, amplifies the I/Me/Mine impulses that undermine a broader social cohesion and the collective will to do the greatest good for everyone in a thoughtful, conscious and wisely compassionate way.

Increasing population. The more people their are, the more the first four factors are amplified, to the point where we have crossed a "tipping point" with respect to recovering harmony with the natural world and each other. I suspect we have a very rough patch ahead of us as a species.

In response to your last point, "why can we not do the same," we can. We can make a choice to escape the irrational thrall of consumption, to live simply, to actively care about the natural world and our fellow human beings, to not have children (or to raise them in a developing country where they will not contribute to the consumption and destruction cycles of developed economies), to advocate positive changes in political economy, technology and urban development, to evolve our moral consciousness beyond the I/Me/Mine reflexes of a toddler, to limit the quality and quantity of information we expose ourselves to, and to practice the prosocial traits that have created communally supportive human culture for millennia. We can exercise compassion, and we can influence positive change, and we can grow in wisdom - but of course it all begins with our own personal choices and the values and relationships we encourage in ourselves.

I hope this was helpful.


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