Social Question

SmashTheState's avatar

Is our culture getting meaner?

Asked by SmashTheState (12814points) December 17th, 2011

I’m not talking about sadism and cruelty. There has always been cruelty. Humans are a vicious, ruthless species of cunning predators, and it is likely that we will never rid ourselves of the savagery which allowed us to claw, spear, and shoot our way to the top of the food chain. What I’m talking about here is the small, petty, pointless cruelties which seem to be multiplying around me.

What got me thinking about this was a notice which just went up in the lobby of my apartment building. It has been customary in our building to leave useful objects or small pieces of electronics or furniture in the lobby for others to take, usually with a little note attached mentioning any defects the items may have. This new notice states that sharing items in the lobby is forbidden, that staff have been instructed to throw it in the trash if they see it, and that if they can determine who left the items, they will be charged with the cost of disposal. This seems like such a small, petty, mean thing. The trouble of occasionally clearing away items which have sat there for a couple of days untaken is miniscule. There is no rational reason for this except to be cruel in a small and unimportant way.

Mike Harris was once the premier of Ontario, and he was the poster boy for neo-conservatism – and pointless cruelty. He took genuine delight in causing pain for pain’s sake. He did a lot of truly horrible things which resulted in some devastating harm, but he seemed to take a special pleasure in tiny cruelties. For example, after cutting welfare rates by 22%, eliminating rent control, and slashing funding to food banks, he instituted a $2 “co-pay” on drugs for people on welfare or disability. The province’s drug payment plan would pay for the cost of drugs necessary for survival, but they’d charge the person $2 per prescription “to teach them responsibility.” A $2 co-pay not only didn’t save the government any money, it cost them a lot more money to administrate than it would ever save. And after all the cuts he made, people with multiple prescriptions found they were forced to cut their already meagre food budget to pay for the drugs they needed to survive. It seems like such a petty, cruel thing to do.

Lately on the bus, I find that people have been exhibiting nearly sociopathic behaviour to each other. I’m 6’5” and the size of a small couch, so it’s difficult for me to let people by. As a courtesy, I usually stand near the back doors, to give people more space to squeeze by. Nearly every time I get on the bus, these days, someone plunks themselves beside me at the exit, so that it’s completely blocked, and simply tunes out and refuses to move. This means I’m forced to make gymnastic contortions to let people off – who usually respond by glaring at me and using their knees and elbows to try and cram me into nonexistent space rather than waiting for me to wriggle my way aside. This didn’t used to happen. And no one even seems to notice this stuff happening. Many times, I’ve tried to get off the bus only to be confronted with a solid wall of people trying to get on, none of whom is prepared to let passengers off, even though they know that no one can get on until the passengers have disembarked. Saying something out loud about the situation usually results in glassy-eyed stares like I’ve sprouted multiple heads or farted loudly in public. Again, it seems to me that it didn’t used to be like this.

Everything I do, every interaction I have, from taking the bus to taking out the garbage, from walking down the street to doing my grocery shopping, from chatting on the Internet to attending public meetings, I feel like I’m being abraded as if by fine sandpaper from a million tiny cruelties which seem to occur for no better reason than pointless petty sadism.

Is this just a sign that I’m getting old and longing for a golden age which never existed, or is the world really getting meaner and more spiteful?

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29 Answers

OpryLeigh's avatar

In your first example (the apartment lobby) I think this is a case of the owners of your building being incredibly pathetic. Leaving perfectly usable things that you no longer need for others to use for free is a sign that there is still some hope for humanity and, providing that it isn’t a health and safety risk (ie: no tems are blocking fire exits etc) I think whoever left that note should think about the bigger picture and stop being such a dick. I wouldn’t necessarily call it cruelty though, just short sighted and pathetic. The items are being recycled rather than just thrown away, that’s common sense in my mind!

As for the example about your bus journeys, again, I wouldn’t say it was cruelty. Cruelty (in my opinion) is something that causes people unnecessary pain and suffering not just inconvenience). It is, however, inconsiderate and self centred and I do see acts like these everyday myself. I wish that people, in general, where less wrapped up in themselves and more willing to think about how their actions might affect others.

ucme's avatar

I do come across this from time to time, grumpy people are out there, yes it’s true!
I tend to simply brush it off & move on, sheer ignorance doers bother me though, however briefly.
I’ve held doors open for elderly folks without so much as a thank you, been rammed by pushchairs/shopping trolleys, no apology coming.
At the end of the day you can’t change individuals attitudes, let them get on with it.
Me, i’m bouncing around like tigger on a trampoline, & that’s when i’m sober.

comity's avatar

There will always be people that arn’t kind, but then again some of us just see the bad. Louis Armstrong did this song when people of color still had problems with some. Chin up! Accentuate the positive!

CWOTUS's avatar

Sometimes people are thoughtlessly mean, cruel and sadistic, but more often they’re just stupidly self-centered. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been on airport escalators, for example, in crowds of people who all have luggage, and whether we’re ascending or descending, someone always steps off the escalator at the end of the ride and simply – stops – to readjust a grip or arrange the luggage to carry or drag more easily. They’re not being mean by blocking all of those people behind them – who absolutely must make way or risk a pile-up – they’re just stupid and thoughtless.

Same thing with exiting large assemblies where a crowd exits at more or less the same time. Why is it that at the bottom of a staircase or in the middle of a doorway I always find people stopping and chatting, even though in a few steps they’d be in a lobby area or outside on a beautiful day? It never fails. They aren’t “mean”, just short-sighted, self-centered and stupid. (For this single reason I am glad that airports no longer allow people without tickets to meet planes at the gate. Imagine how clogged those gates would be with every Tom, Dick and Harry on hand to meet every passenger disembarking ahead of me.)

Sometimes, in these cases, the necessary thing, though it may be technically impolite, is to state a firm, “Move!”, accompanied by a gentle nudge (not throwing elbows, in other words) to guide the idiot ahead into a safe and less obstructive place.

As to the issue that you led off with, why not talk to the building owner or manager and ask what led to the change in policy? It may be that what you saw as “a place of free exchange” looked more like “a garbage dump” to them, or there may have been other reasons for them to end the practice.

And keep in mind Hanlon’s Razor.

marinelife's avatar

I think that you have been bombarded by life’s little cruelties right now. The cure os for you to do something nice for someone.

If you do one thing to change your perception, then you will be rewarded by seeing more niceness.

CWOTUS's avatar

Amen, @marinelife. I meant to add that to my post: Attitude is all. When I do good things for others, then “good luck” happens to me, or maybe I’m just more attuned to noticing that “good things sometimes happen”, or maybe I’m just in a better mood.

comity's avatar

@marinelife Ahmen from me too! Also, I think attitude is everything. I went through hard and cruel times in my childhood. The only way I was able to survive the situation, was in seeing the good that existed out there beyond my cocoon, and to do good myself.

Judi's avatar

I’m so sotty. It sounds like Canada might be catching up with the US :-(

geeky_mama's avatar

I agree..I’ve been watching and shaking my head, too. I try to be upbeat and positive..but honestly I’m kind of scared for society.

I’ve been musing on exactly the same things you articulated in your question/ sure seems like “people” are meaner these days. I notice it everywhere I travel (primarily the US and Canada) and I notice it in the way people drive..and I notice it in simple every day shopping trips. It makes me want to hide out in my house and buy everything on the internet and have it delivered to the safety of my own door.

I wonder if people are growing more self-centered/narcissistic and therefore less willing to look around them and see the bigger picture (e.g. using their brain to intentionally pause a moment to board the bus only once all the other passengers have disembarked).

I sometimes wonder if the amount of “virtual” activity and anonymity we have in our modern culture is what’s causing this…or if its a simple statistical answer—we have more people than ever before living together and therefore the percentages of anti-social, stupid or sociopaths is bound to be noticeably higher..

I was a child of the 70s and as I rode my bike around my neighbors would all wave to me. They all knew whose kid I was & where I lived and if they saw me step out of line they’d say something to me and then I knew they’d say something to my parents about it, too.
The positive flip side of that is if they saw some strange man trying to snatch me off my bike they’d also know he wasn’t my dad and they’d at least call for help.

There’s something to that… knowing your neighbors.. Maybe life in a (really) small town is still filled with more pleasant interactions?

comity's avatar

Your answers are so different then mine. Am I just an old “Polyanna” or with age is there stupidity along with tranquility?

SmashTheState's avatar

@geeky_mama I find it interesting that we’re of the same generation. I wonder if it’s more than coincidence. I know from talking to Boomers that they are totally out of touch with reality. My father talks about how, when he was young, recruiters would come to high schools and bribe kids with cash money to drop out and come work in a factory because they needed workers so badly. Then he shakes his head at “welfare bums” and says unemployment is caused by laziness, and anyone can get a nice middle class career if they just work hard and get up every morning on time. The Boomers took everything, all the hard-won union benefits, safety regulations, and social programs their parents and grandparents suffered and starved and died for, and then when they were through with them, they took a big shit all over them and wiped their collective asses with the future of their children. Then blamed the next generation for not “working hard and getting ahead” like they did. Meanwhile, the Nintendo Generation has never known anything except the world the way it is today, with McJobs, acid rain, global warming, and the certain knowledge that their lives will be worse than those of their parents. It’s only us, Gen X, who have experienced life before the Boomers pissed on it, but who have also spent our lives getting raped in the eyesocket by the Boomers while they drone on about how lazy we are. Perhaps this is why you and I see it, but others here – who are either older or younger – do not.

@comity I’ve suffered, lifelong, from extreme and untreatable clinical depression. One of the interesting things about depression is that repeated clinical studies have shown that people who are depressed show markedly superior judgement to people who are not depressed at tasks like estimating whether a given shape will fit a given hole. People who are not depressed err constantly on the side of optimism. What this suggests is that people who are depressed see the world the way it really is. Those who are not depressed see the world through a filter which makes the world seem irrationally pleasant.

john65pennington's avatar

Concerning objects left the hallway for other tennants to share. I can understand the reasons for forbidding this. It puts the owners of the building in a direct lawsuit of liability if someone is injured or the building catches fire.

Some wise attorney apparently has told the owners this. And, I agree.

judochop's avatar

I think just the opposite. We are not getting meaner but more compassionate and more sensitive. The heightened sensitivity is what makes us feel like we are misunderstood and being talked down too without compassion or understanding. The world is only getting worse due to politics, not people. People are actually getting better and helping each other out a but more than they did in the past.

HungryGuy's avatar

@john65pennington – Thanks for sticking up for the landlord :-) The landlord isn’t being mean. The bloody lawyers are! Besides, I can see the landlord not wanting clutter in his lobby/entryway if this stuff sits around for days…

Perhaps suggest to the landlord that he put up a bulletin board by the front door for people to post stuff for sale or giveaway, babysitters, etc. Or do the tenants have access to the basement (for laundry)? If so, maybe suggest that some shelves be put up for this purpose.

mazingerz88's avatar

Day to day, there will always be more people who themselves are living unhappy, unfulfilled, even miserable lives than people who are having a great day thereby feeling more generous than usual.

Only a small number of those who are unhappy and begrudgeful would rise to the occasion and heroically display kindness, coolheadedness and even “class” by displaying politeness in certain trying situations like being in a crowded bus.

These few, who are humble and become more gentle and benevolent in the face of hardships are the most ideal kind of people to be around with, as friends or neighbors. Sadly, they are not that easy to find.

Yet I really think we should not quit encouraging people to do good things by setting the very good examples ourselves. Who knows, maybe we could inspire a mean one to change his rather grinchy behavior.

Judi's avatar

@mazingerz88 , In my experience, 99% of the people in the world, regardless of economic status are good.
I happen to be a bit of an airhead (If you haven’t noticed form my frequent typos) and tend to lose my wallet or purse often. In every circumstance, it has always returned to me completely in tact. Maybe I’m just blessed, but I still believe that at the core, people want to be good.

comity's avatar

@SmashTheState Interesting! But, could it be that one can come out of the depression if they see things as you say, “irrationally pleasant”. Depression can be so hard on a person. Life doesn’t smile. Wish you the best and offering you smiles : )))

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I’m not sure about meaner but if feels less personal or mindful. Each day at work I see customers come into our building at neglect to pick up garbage they accidentally drop, push in front of old people, let their small kids runs loose as if we have magick monitors to keep them safe, people who are outright rude because they feel you can say whatever you like to someone’s store employees. Some days I wish to move far away.

The landlord was probably advised to take the action he did for the reasons @john65pennington listed but also to discourage other people who might take advantage of the situation and think it was a good venue to dispose of stuff they no longer wanted, regardless of it was working or not. Think of a Goodwill drop site from childhood where people would treat it as a dumpster when moving.

Sunny2's avatar

I haven’t noticed a change particularly, I haven’t been in crowds recently, but I can offer a suggestion as to why it may be. The U.S. education system has been stressing the importance of the individual so as to raise the child’s feeling of self worth. While I agree with that idea, if consideration of others is not also stressed, you can get self-centered instead of self-confident kids who grow up not thinking of others. This is re-enforced by TV, Bart Simpson for example. We’ve always had people who think they are entitled to have whatever they want without regard for others. There may be more of them now.
Also hard times tend to harden many people’s hearts and turn their minds inward on their problems and to anger. Doesn’t make for a society at ease.

Pandora's avatar

I think they are. I just read an article about a woman who maced a crowd on thanksgiving day at a walmart when they unveiled some game for sale so she could get one of the games before the crowd picked it all out.


I think in general people are becoming more mannerless, inconsiderate, and selfish, and unfortunately, I don’t think that will ever change. :(

CWOTUS's avatar

As old as I already am (and feeling like the oldest guy in the room more often than not, whatever room that happens to be), I “should” share most of the prevailing pessimism about the degradation of general manners here. But I don’t. I think that the same percentage of people are as stupid as people have normally been in an increasingly complex and crowded world, so “relative to their surroundings” it might seem like people are becoming less competent, less caring and less thoughtful. But that’s just “relative to what you could expect”, in addition to the fact that most contributors to this thread are more thoughtful than those that I refer to, so the disparity between “what could be” and “what is” is even larger.

That’s why I’m here, in fact. Y’all need to develop more perspective, more patience, more humor… and more willingness to give that “friendly nudge” (not an elbow to the gut or a knee to the groin, as tempting as those nudges can be) to urge people to make the right moves at the right time. And then thank them for it with a smile.

comity's avatar

@CWOTUS Well said. Bravo!

GracieT's avatar

It can be, also, because our society is so interconnected now. If something bad happens these days chances are good it will wind up on the net, or everyone will hear about it sooner or later when it goes viral. There are people, sure, that are negative and bad tempered, but there always were people like that! Now they just have a “megaphone” and an audience!

Paradox25's avatar

Damn, and people tell me I’m negative when I point similar things out. I’m not sure how the “old” days were but I really think many a$$h0les believe that they’re being ‘cool’ by their ridiculous behavior towards others. The way people drive these days too; ARRRGH!

ETpro's avatar

@SmashTheState Great question. Yes. As an old guy who was born during WWII, I can assure you that the American culture has been getting ever more mean spirited and greed-driven now for the past 30 years. It all started with the Reagan Revolution. But times are a changing. I think more and more of us are waking up to the fact that fascist political operatives interested in establishing a new political order where they are the ruling plutocrats is coming to its very justified end. The would-be oligarchs have been relentlessly trying to divide black against white, rich against poor, gay against straight, right against left, Democrats against Republicans and so on ad infinitum.

The goal was to divide and conquer. But I don’t think the American People are ready for a fascist dictator to step in. I think the fascist’s gig is just about up. It’s becoming obvious to too many Americans just what the would be plutocrats are trying to achieve; and it is anathema to the American dream

rooeytoo's avatar

Here I am the oldie in the crowd and this is the way I see it. Starting in the 60’s or 70’s, children were no longer taught manners or respect for others and their property, or at least not to the extent that generations before were. So consequently they haven’t taught their children manners, so basically there are more and more unmannerly, inconsiderate people populating the earth. I believe it is called the “I” generations.
My own personal pet peeve are people who park in front of the door to run into the convenience store, after all it saves them 10 steps from the parking area. This is especially ironic if they are dressed in exercise gear and on their way home from or to the gym.

prairierose's avatar

No, there have been and will always be, mean and spiteful people, the trick is to not allow what others, say, do or think adversely affect what you say, do or think.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

I think so, yes.
People seem to walk around in a mean daze lately.when called on it they deny it right away but want to rip your head off for even bringing it up.
Deny it all you want, but people in general are getting more savage by the day.

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