Depending on who you talked to, Human Behavior has either vastly improved since the Dark Ages,
when atrocities towards fellow human beings ran to the despicable. Or –
if you go further along in history – towards a more genteel time then
yes, Human Behavior has gotten out of hand, a notch above Dark Ages,
heading irrevocably towards our doom and extinction.
So, maybe we’ve always been just a little rotten. And during various
points in our history; just a little more rotten, or a little less
rotten than before.
And so the question – Human Behavior: Is it Really Getting Worse? – was posed to Dr. Rollo May and Dr. B.F. Skinner during a National Town Meeting in Washington D.C., on September 1, 1976.
The answers were not diametrically opposed – in fact, the general
consensus of opinion was; Human Behavior has always been the way it is,
we just tend to notice it more now than before, and therefore the
temptation is to go with Human Nature being the worst it’s ever been.
But in fact, it hasn’t. We’ve always been convicted of treating our
fellows rather shitty. Whether it’s under the guise of politics,
religion or race. Look at The Middle East. Look at The Ukraine. Look at the kids seeking asylum at the U.S. border.
Has it always been that way? I suspect worse. But the difference is,
we never really heard that much about it, because we didn’t have the
access we do now to information, to eyewitness accounts, to urgent
appeals. That’s changed the playing field quite a bit and has allowed
the steely-gaze of citizen-journalists, bloggers and international news
gathering agencies to let us know the second anything untoward goes on.
The effect usually is – an incident goes viral – the outrage goes
And even in this discussion, which took place in 1976 – our method of
gathering information has since changed beyond recognition.
But, does that mean that Human Behavior is doomed to always be bad?
Because we’ve only changed marginally since the days of
drawing-and-quartering and public executions, does this mean we’re on
the fastrack to sainthood? No – we’re still pretty rotten and the only
way to improve human behavior is to improve humanity and that, as we all
know, is an inside job.
Society as a whole will not be struck dumb with an overpowering sense
to do good, but the individual leading by example seems the only way
out of this mess.
So, as a reminder of how far we’ve come along in the way of
communication – here is that National Town Meeting: “Human Behavior – Is
It Really Getting Worse?” featuring Dr. Rollo May and Dr. B.F. Skinner
as it was broadcast on September 1, 1976 over NPR.