If you want to break down mathematically how fast the Internet destroys our faith in humanity, I recommend the Schindler System: one rickroll destroys 0.4 Schindlers' worth of faith in the human race; getting Goatsed takes out 2.5 Schindlers; browsing Reddit kills three or four an hour. Rarely does it take more than a day or two for one to lose all trust in their fellow man.
But if people are so damn terrible, why does the world suck so much less today? Violence is at a historic low worldwide. It's easy to focus on outliers like Ted Bundy, Bashar al-Assad, and Mark Wahlberg, but they don't represent all of humankind. The great mass of us aren't just "not actively killing people"; we're genetically programmed to be super nice.
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Except for Marky Mark, who blinded a Vietnamese man because racism.
Helping other people even when it doesn't help you is pretty much the definition of "good person," but that sort of behavior doesn't come naturally. We're born as greedy little milk-sucking sociopaths, with no thought to anything but our next hit of sweet, sweet MomBoob. All the good qualities in humans have to be taught and carefully nurtured.
Here's the reality: Selflessness is a drug, and the best people on Earth are hardcore addicts.
Above: the milk of human kindness.
Back in the mid-2000s, scientists from the National Institutes of Health embarked on an epic journey to figure out which part of the brain was responsible for generosity, hoping to find and eat enough of those brain parts to finally become the most generous, a Voltron of generosity (science rules). The study went how you'd expect: Subjects were hooked up to fMRIs and handed a list of charities. They then had to choose whether to donate or hoard their money and receive a reward at the end of the study.
Rather than creating some sort of uncontrollable Lawnmower Man of altruism, the experiment revealed a shocking secret: Donating to a charity lights up the same chunk of the brain that makes us crave food and sex. Generosity is "neurologically similar" to a line of cocaine. We're happy when we do good things, and that makes us want to keep doing good things. (Can you imagine how good those people would have felt if they'd donated cocaine to the charity of their faces?) The super nice guy who always bends over backward to make his friends happy is caught in the same feedback loop as the dude sucking dicks for blow behind the 7-Eleven.
Jim seemed well-adjusted until his friends found him covered in vomit and wrapped around a Salvation Army donation bin.
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You might not think of science as an inherently moral pursuit, particularly if you've watched a Terminator movie or read Wernher von Braun's autobiography lately. But emphasis on science's ability to murder us all is a relatively recent thing. Traditionally, the act of scientific research is associated with austere, dignified British men like Charles Darwin.
Dignity is spelled "b-e-a-r-d."
Researchers have recently discovered just how deep this connection between science and morality goes. They primed one group of students with words like "microscope" and "fulcrum" to jump-start their brains in science mode, which is apparently a thing you can do. Next, they brought in detailed stories of date rape for the test subjects to read and quizzed them on their reactions. This revealed two critical things:
1. A shocking number of rape fantasies involve microscopes.
2. People primed with sciencey words had a stronger negative reaction to date rape.
"Thank you for teaching me right from wrong, microscope."
Does this mean ending the college rape epidemic is as simple as increasing the density of Bunsen burners? Probably. But scientists went ahead and conducted further tests, checking altruistic actions over the course of a month and giving subjects the opportunity to split an amount of real money with some anonymous person. Every test had the same conclusion: People thinking about science acted more morally.
So there you go: Science makes people less awful. If you want your kid to grow up right, buy him a biology textbook and a pint of mercury. He will, sure, get his ass kicked pretty hard for a while, but eventually he'll be a saint.
Or a mad scientist. It really depends on how much of that mercury he drinks.
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I was totally out of line when I made that claim earlier, and I'd like to apologize to every baby in the audience. We tend to think of infants and toddlers as too young to really know much about right and wrong. It's the only time in life when utter, overwhelming selfishness is totally acceptable. We call them the "terrible twos" for a reason: Toddlers are complete bastards.
Look at those eyes, so full of wonder and unbridled cruelty.
Now, I've been saying for years that infant children need to be held accountable for their actions. More sentences to kid prison would cut down on our planet's "crying babies on airplanes" epidemic. And science agrees with me, kinda. Babies do know right from wrong. A study has found altruistic behavior in children as young as 18 months.
The test for this one was kind of genius. Experimenters would do something like drop a clothespin or fuck up at book stacking while children watched nearby. Once it was clear the experimenter had erred, almost every child would move to help. If it looked like the experimenter fucked up on purpose, though, the babies didn't act, because if you're going to dick around like that, they aren't about to waste their precious pooping and burping time to fix your goddamn messes.
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What, are they made of poops and burps? Yes, but still.
For a variety of confusing reasons, scientists carried out this same battery of experiments on a group of young captive-raised chimpanzees. The results were almost identical, suggesting that altruism has deep evolutionary roots ... and that science can be pretty adorable when it isn't giving lab rats syphilis.