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Everybody lies. If you disagree with that, you're disagreeing with both Dr. House and centuries of people being dishonest shitheads. Deception is one of the three skills our species dominates on a global level (the other two being "narcotics" and "movies with kickboxing as a major plot point"). So if a group of people had the chance to make money by lying and knew they couldn't be caught, you'd expect most of them to go for it.
After all, that's basically the one-sentence summary for "capitalism."
Scientists at the University of Oxford figured out a way to create this exact situation. They called up hundreds of people and asked them to flip coins. Respondents were told that tails would earn them fat stacks of unrolled coke straws, while heads would win them fuck all. In a twist too shocking for network television, 55.6 percent of participants reported heads.
Clearly, honesty has virtues besides sorta rhyming with the word "policy." Researchers with the University of Notre Dame asked a bunch of subjects to spend 10 weeks trying their very hardest not to lie. A control group was, presumably, asked to go right on being a curse to all who knew and loved them. After 10 weeks, the no-lie group experienced "on average" four fewer mental health complaints and three fewer physical complaints.
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Take it from me: All sick people are liars.
These studies make a lot of sense when you read them together: People don't like to lie because it makes them feel like shit. But there's an interesting exception to this rule -- the office. Another version of that coin-flipping study done in a laboratory found that 75 percent of participants claimed tails and a payday. We're much less likely to lie when we're in our homes, but our sense of self isn't as strong in less personal surroundings. So we say fuck it, and trade our ethics in for fancy green paper we can use to buy sandwiches.
The most realistic bit of any disaster movie is the part where all hell breaks loose and society collapses into looting and riotous violence. You're a panicking victim, a vicious predator, or a scheming Secretary of State with an evil plot to seize power. Real-life disasters seem to back Hollywood up. We all remember Hurricane Katrina.
But people who focus on stories of robberies in the wake of major disasters often ignore that this shit goes on when there aren't storms, too. There's also the argument that a lot of "looting" was done by starving people trying not to die. Looting purists often argue that this doesn't really count.
OK, so people don't steal as much shit as you'd think. At least not recreational shit. But that whole "society collapsing into anarchic violence" bit still seems plausible. Take away three hot meals and electricity, and the average person will shoot their own aunt with a crossbow inside of 48 hours. That's not cynicism, just pragmatism.
We tend to assume that order is a fragile thing held tenuously in line by legions of police officers and National Guardsmen. Wash those dudes away in flood waters or blow them up with a bomb, and we'll make "Helter Skelter" look like "Imagine." But these scientists interviewed survivors of real-life disasters and terrorist attacks and found something shocking:
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"Both those things suck."
When a group of people are attacked, the shared threat gives them a common identity. Panic is extremely uncommon, and the majority of survivors tend to exhibit altruistic behavior. They look out for injured or elderly members of the group and help herd kids away from the danger. In any disaster you care to look at, good behavior is the norm, not the exception.
The modern world gives any of us the potential to be a mass murderer. We're never short of examples of this. But murder is, on the whole, wildly uncommon. That's probably just because it's illegal, though. Give people a chance to kill some motherfuckers without those pesky "lawmen" getting all felony-y and you'll see serious bloodshed.
"Wait, you mean as long as I wear this uniform, I can shoot, like, whoever?"
In the aftermath of World War II, otherwise known as "the best excuse people ever had to shoot at each other," Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall decided to interview some of his soldiers. He asked them about this whole murdering Nazis enterprise they'd been working on and found, to his shock, that only about 15 to 20 percent of soldiers in the line of fire had actually shot at the enemy. These men were actively engaged in combat, being attacked by Nazis, and most of them couldn't bring themselves to pull the trigger.
This was apparently the first time in history a general thought to ask his men if they'd actually followed through on the whole war fighting thing. And the answer was a resounding "fuck no." Marshall spread his study out to thousands of soldiers in 400 companies across every theater of battle, and the results were identical. People don't like shooting other people.
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"We're not wild about getting shot, either."
In 1986, the British military decided to take this study one step further. They looked into the "killing effectiveness" of units from more than a hundred battles across two centuries and compared that data to hit rates from simulated laser tag versions of those battles, because some British soldiers apparently had the best job in the history of both war and science. They found that kill rates from the simulated battles were vastly higher than the real ones. Conclusion: This whole "not wanting to kill people" thing isn't a new phenomenon.
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And also, laser tag is awesome.
Here's the bad news (or if you consider the above paragraphs bad news, here's the good news): Modern militaries have successfully nipped most of this pacifist nonsense in the bud. You can't make people want to shoot the shit out of other random people, but you can make them rehearse the process so much that it becomes automatic.
So there you go: People are inherently peaceful. Ish.
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