Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Edited 6/3/10 to add link to article

Or, Man's inhumanity toward man, part 2.

When it's online I will come back and post a link, because it's well worth a read. But I just finished editing an update to the famous Stanley Milgram experiments.

Twenty-first century style, some idiot turned electrocuting people into a reality show.

Now, of course, just as in Milgram's original experiment, no one actually got shocked. It was all just some really good acting, but it made for some distressing insight into human behavior. The original subjects got paid; the "reality show" contestants got whatever the hell it is people who want to go on reality shows get, I guess -- well-fed egos, maybe.

Nevertheless, in both cases, about two thirds of the people administering the "shocks" kept going -- up to delivering what would have been fatal levels -- just because an "authority figure" told them to do it.


I have been thinking a lot lately about compassion, and who has it, and who doesn't. It would be nice to think it exists, even if only in smidgen format, in all people. But history has showed us otherwise. Hell, so has Milgram. When only 30 percent of folks will call a halt to hurting -- or KILLING! -- someone despite being told to keep going, mankind is in sad shape.

What brought it up for me today was this:

former restaurant critic on food stamps

I have been on both sides of this particular aisle. It's much uglier on the receiving end, I assure you.

Many years ago, I worked at my parish's food pantry. There was one mother of 7 who visited frequently. She always said how awful it made her feel, and I always told her, as I was packing bags for her, that there was no need to feel awful, that that's why we were there and it was OK and that everybody needs a little extra help now and then.

You know what? It's a LOT easier to say that and believe it when you go home to a fridge stocked full of food you both want to eat and were able to buy yourself.

I suspect a number of journalists who found themselves victims of the industry implosion over the last few years also found themselves in this guy's shoes. I did, for a time. It was the most humiliating experience of my life. I used to walk to the church a few blocks away that had free meals a couple of times a week, hide as much as I could (ball cap, hoodie, etc), keep my head down and pray no one would recognize me. The people who were dishing up dinner couldn't have been kinder, and I'm sure they would have told me what I told that mom -- there's no reason to be ashamed, etc. But there is still shame involved.

Is it put on us by ourselves or others? A little of both, I think. I don't have an answer for how to handle it. The standard "put yourself in the other person's shoes" not only goes just so far, but can lead to pity, and I, for one, am not interested in that, no matter the problem. I don't need you to feel sorry for me. I'm not sure I need you to tell me it's OK when I'm not in a position to hear and believe that. This guy is more fortunate than most; his background helped prepare him some.

I dunno. I don't have an answer, as I said. If I make you think after I make you feel, I'm content to leave it at that.

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