Human Cruelty

Human Cruelty:

I’ll define it, for the time being, as behavior by one person toward another intended solely to hurt the other in some way, physically and/or emotionally. No intention to teach or instruct, just to hurt the other. The term “sadism” seems to fit the bill, as there certainly can be an element of apparent pleasure that the inflictor derives from his/her cruelty.

I propose that this behavior derives from one’s perception of God, or however one conceives of The Creator. Our emergence into this world is generally painful. Our departure can be excrutiatingly painful, and take a much longer time. The events in between birth and death can include a lot of struggling, pain, fear. etc., and all in vain; for, in any case, all of our lives will end at some point no matter what we do.

We are also aware that we exist, and are wired with a survival instinct, as all creatures apparently are. We possess the ability to conceive of a “Creator,” and this is what he does to us?

So, when people behave with cruelty toward one another, the “pleasure“ that they can apparently experience from this derives from the feeling that, for however transitory a moment, that they, themselves, are like God, the causers of inexplicable and pointless pain.

Just a thought. Interested in any responses.

But I don’t have a perception of the creator or of god other than “there isn’t one.”

I’ll agree that most cruelty is about demonstrating power, though.

Sadism? You mean, the pleasure is specifically sexual?

I see humans as having various physical and mental tensions that can be relieved to some degree by cruel behavior, and also having tensions that are made worse by cruel behavior. So it’s some kind of ever-changing balance, that differs greatly throughout the population. Most of us spend little of our energy behaving cruelly, typically more because we don’t want to than because we can resist it. Or perhaps as we go through life we learn more about this and shift the balance away from cruelty. But some of us… well…

My view doesn’t have any Creator involved - and I’m an athiest anyway.

Cruelty is not the sole province of man. Ever see a cat “play” with a mouse? Chimps also display emotional and physical cruelty to group members.

There’s a million and one reasons why one might be cruel, but I assume you’re not talking about cruelty in the furtherance of self-interest or vengeance, etc. You seem to be zeroing in on cruelty strictly for the sake of pleasure. In which case I think you should probably jettison the word cruelty altogether and just call it sadism, which is the right word. (Sadism doesn’t have to be sexual. Unless we’re talking about the psychiatric definition. But in common English parlance it just means taking pleasure in causing pain.)

No, at least not in the genitally-oriented sense. I mean sadism broadly as pleasure derived from causing another (or even just the belief that one has caused) some kind of pain.

But if we didn’t possess the capacity to conceive of “God” the term atheism would have no meaning. I consider myself an atheist, but I know I have the capacity to conceive of a God, and sometimes even did, up to my middle teens.

This capacity falls under the more general category of the human imagination. We can imagine that a God exists, we can imagine its motivations and desires for us; we can also imagine that pig’s have wings, but that doesn’t make it so. To more productive ends, we can also imagine a road going from point A to point B, and starting with that, make it happen.

Anyway, my concern is more with cruelty/sadism arising from the conception of “God” as a sadistic God, feeling persecuted by this God, and attempting to emulate it, treating others as we feel we have been treated.

If you want to study horrific examples of this, study the Aztecs. Everybody probably knows about them ripping the hearts out of live victims, leaving children to starve/freeze to death in the mountains as offerings to the gods, etc., But I read in a National Geographic article a few years ago about an even more shocking practice. They would take a child and wrap him/her tightly in a blanket, then pull both ends of the blanket until the child was literally squeezed to death, with broken ribs and vomiting blood. The child’s high-pitched screams were a way to get the gods’ attention. And this sacrifice was performed by the parents!

The Old Testament blasts the Canaanites for burning their children alive as offerings, but the Aztecs get my vote as having the worst religion of all.

Yes, this might be an example of what I’m talking about, on a much larger scale. I was originally thinking on the smaller, even individual, scale, the stuff that takes place between people on a daily basis.

Your observation also makes me consider crual/sadistic acts in terms of other rationales. Sacrificing children, for instance, might just have been in the name of eliminating “another mouth to feed” at a time in history when food supply was much more uncertain, and the youngster’s existence might have threatened others’ survival.

“Let’s kill the kid so we, ourselves, have a better chance of living,” might have been the practical truth of the matter, but “Let’s kill the kid because The God(s) will be pleased,” has a much more virtuous ring to it.

Such a mentality would tie into the abuses inflicted on the smaller scale I had in mind. A parent physically and/or psychologically abuses the children, and the rationale might be, “It will make them tougher, make them better able to survive in the world,” while the reality might be, “I enjoy hurting them, recompense for how I have been hurt.”

Just another thought…

(Devil’s Advocate Mode On)
What about the people who are masochists?
(Devil’s Advocate Mode Off)

The human organism craves stimulation. Pleasurable stimulation would be the ultimate goal. I see masochism, or “pleasure“ derived from having pain inflicted upon oneself, as settling for the consolation prize of stimulation. Pain is better than nothing.

There are plenty of people who have had the desire and hope for pleasure beaten and otherwise conditioned out of them. How many times has it happened: Someone makes the mistake of reporting some pleasant, positive event in their lives, and the reportee feels a practical compulsion to add in some bring down. “Your wife is pregnant! That’s wonderful! Of course, your life is going to change. It’s never the same after the first one arrives…” et cetera to infinity.

Another point I’d like to make is that sadistic behavior is inherently masochistic. The two coexist like roadkill and the malodorous rot that slowly consumes it. Causing hurt to others hurts oneself, perhaps worst of all. Still, people persist in engaging in sadistic behavior. Pain is better than nothing.

Now we have to look why different people have responded to the cruelty of god (or nature) in different ways. Some typical responses have been:
1 - The gods are sadistic bastards who will bless us for committing sadistic acts of our own.
2 - The gods are punishing us for being bad, so we had better repent.
3 - The gods are testing our faith, so we should worship them even more intensely than ever.
4 - There is a war going on between good and evil, the (good) gods are not responsible for our suffering; we should try to help the good side.
5 - The world is an illusion, evil acts are not really happening, it just seems that way; this is another test for us.
6 - There is no god, only nature; a certain amount of cruelty is to be expected based on the way nature has to function.

The question is, why do certain people choose #1 and others #4, etc.

You wouldn’t believe what grown men and women will do to small children. Having been associated with the criminal justice system I had first hand opportunity to talk with investigators and law enforcement. I have heard the same kinds of injuries related by medical personnel.
I firmly beleive that the perpetrators will eventually recieve justice in a court from which there is no appeal.

I sympathize with your desire for justice. However, I think this serves as a good point from which to address some troubling questions.

Let’s say that you, yourself, are God. Perhaps God has retired and appointed you as His replacement; whether by way of recognition of your unique merit as an individual or through random lottery–the exact circumstances are immaterial. Furthermore, say that no one has been resurrected yet; the divine plan is to raise all the dead in one fell swoop at the end of time.

Or say, if it is more plausible to you (not necessarily you in particular, but others who might be reading this), that there is no God. Instead, you exist in a distant future in which the spiritual and technological evolution of humanity has progressed to the point where individuals have the power of gods. It may please you, being one such being, to spend an insignificant fraction of the limitless resources under your command to resurrect all the humans who once lived in this world and right old wrongs to the greatest extent that they can be righted.

In any case, it’s your responsibility to see to the proper reward or punishment for everyone who has ever lived. No external authority will ever punish you for your choices.

What would be the right thing to do in such a situation? If you are human, I am certain that you know, as do I, of many individuals who have clearly escaped fair punishment for their terrible deeds in this life. How should they be punished? Consider why we punish people today.

Punishment is a response to bad acts–to crimes. We punish crimes as prevention, to make it difficult or impossible for a person to commit more crimes for some limited or unlimited period. We do so as a deterrent, to give people an incentive to refrain from committing similar crimes in the future. Finally, we do so for vengeance.

Do we punish people for instruction? That is, do we punish people for their actions in order to teach them that they should not repeat those actions in the future? But this is merely deterrence directed specifically towards the offender rather than towards people in general.

Do we punish people for justice? That simply begs the question: why is it just to punish? Why is it just to return harm for harm and pain for pain? The dictionary definition of “justice” is of little help here. In all the cases I can imagine the motivating force of justice can be fully explained in terms of those above.

In this scenario, there is no need to punish for the mere prevention of future misdeeds. The human world is at an end, and if any existence is to continue in an afterlife, it is well within your power to ascertain that it is impossible for one person to harm another. For the same reason deterrence is pointless, for there is no gain in deterring people from acts they are incapable of committing.

This leaves only vengeance. But, shorn of any need or power to prevent or deter future crimes, what is vengeance? All that remains is the pure emotional satisfaction we derive from the punishment of a wrongful act. This is a powerful motivating force in human affairs, and, I grant, usually a positive one. The human desire for vengeance ensures that people are punished for the bad acts they commit, and if there were no vengeance there would surely be far more bad acts. On the other hand, sometimes our lust for vengeance leads to excessive desire for punishment. Petty disputes can grow into blood feuds that perpetuate violence. Vengeance itself is not an unalloyed good.

If God is a rational being who wishes for people to behave well, it is in His best interest to promise people that they will be punished for their misdeeds. It is rational for Him to do everything in His power to give credence to this promise. Then, when the time for punishment comes, it is rational for Him to break this promise.

I posit that it is wrong, everywhere and always, to hurt another being when no good will come of it. Furthermore, any satisfaction that one derives purely from the infliction of such hurt must not count as good for this purpose, lest all manor of terrible crimes be licensed. I suspect there is general agreement on these matters. In fact, hurting people for one’s own pleasure is exactly sadism as drmark2000 defined it in the OP of this thread.

To the extent that punishing a person for a crime serves no purpose beyond the punishment itself, any vengeance obtained through that punishment is inherently sadistic.

From a God’s-eye-view at the end of history, the human world is a closed book. Whatever harms human cruelty has caused lie in the past, and your ability to remedy the damage to the innocent will not be affected at all by any punishment you inflict upon the guilty. Such punishment would be no more than additional harm that compounds the original wrong. I willingly grant that the expectation, to the extent that it exists today, that a person will be punished in the afterlife for misdeeds committed in this life, does produce some amount of deterrence. I don’t think this can be reasonably disputed. However, I think we can agree that a bad act does not become a good act merely because it is what people expect.

Should people be punished for their crimes? Of course they should, whenever it is possible to do so. But do they deserve punishment? Or is punishment merely a necessary response–a cruel act that is justified on the grounds that we believe it will prevent further cruel acts?

Hard as it is to accept, there may be less reason than you think to believe that a good God will necessarily punish the wicked. Perhaps that isn’t a bad thing.

That’s really an abuse of the term. Sadism ( is a specific sexual paraphilia, which entirely different from the kind of pleasure a schoolyard bully derives from grinding a smaller kid’s face into the dirt.

It’s absolutely *not * an abuse of the term. There is, in fact, only one term in English I’m aware of for deriving pleasure from causing pain, and it’s not cruelty (which does not refer to getting pleasure from pain). The correct term *is * sadism.

The dictionary gives the following definitions:

  1. The deriving of sexual gratification or the tendency to derive sexual gratification from inflicting pain or emotional abuse on others.
    *2. The deriving of pleasure, or the tendency to derive pleasure, from cruelty. *
  2. Extreme cruelty.

With all do respect to Wikipedia, the medical definition is just one definition which doesn’t invalidate the others. May I also point out that the DSM-IV has no “Sadism” diagnosis. The actual diagnosis is “Sexual Sadism” which implies that even the DSM recognises that sadism is not necessarily sexual (otherwise the modifier “sexual” would be redundant). In any event it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about sadism as deriving pleasure in causing pain, just as it’s correct to refer to someone who likes creating problems for themselves as a masochist without having to worry about whether they fulfill the criteria for DSM-IV “Sexual Masochism”.

This is exactly what I meant, except to add that, perhaps, sadism (in all its forms) might be subsumed under the more general category of cruelty. In any case, Wikipedia (and uglybeech) wins the day, as far as I’m concerned.

Moving right along, Jason Finn adds some interesting corollary information on the topic of punishment. If I understand him correctly, his contribution boils down to his statement that, “To the extent that punishing a person for a crime serves no purpose beyond the punishment itself, any vengeance obtained through that punishment is inherently sadistic.“

Okay, I can go along with that. But the point I am trying to make is that, regardless of whether or not one is an atheist, the capacity to conceive of, and resent, God for placing us in this predicament called life forms the core motivation for sadistic behavior. If God is perceived as sadistic, and God is the all-powerful entity whom we must somehow strive to please while here on Earth (in the name of obtaining greater goodies here and after we leave) then sadistic behavior can be rationalized by the sadist as not only desirable, but it has the added of effect of leaving the sadist feeling as he perceived that God must feel, a feeling of ultimate power and omnipotence.

Such a rush is probably as addictive as any drug or activity that brings about this degree of stimulation. Once having behaved sadistically, the sadist is likely to go back again and again to recreate this feeling, even though it is inherently destructive to his target and to himself. (Please, no nit-picking on gender-biased language).

Phew! Where was I…