States of Nature, Dark Triads, and Masking

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January 21, 2021 by libroshombre

LIBRARIAN COLUMN

Contact Greg hill, 479-4344                                                               January 21m 2021

            Confucius taught that “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men.”  His point was readdressed in “Riot? Insurrection? Words Matter in Describing Capitol Siege,” by Associated Press writer David Bauder who described how the media’s use of words evolved over the course of events last January 6.  The first images were of “attendees at a rally,” and as the crowd began moving towards the Capitol building following President Trump’s now infamous speech, “they were called protesters.”  Soon “it became clear, as many breached the Capitol and lawmakers fled for safety, that more was happening.  The Associated Press told staff members that protest was too mild a word.  Phrases like, ‘mob,’ ‘riot,’ and ‘insurrection’ were appropriate.”

            Bauder noted that “the conservative website RedState posed an article headlined ‘Enough!  There was no riot, insurrection, or storming’” on Janurary 7.  The article’s author, Mike Ford, “described it as ‘a peaceful rally and a largely peaceful protest that was marred by some bad acts by a very few people.’”  The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Fox News, CBS, NBC, ABC, and CNN disagreed and Ford’s article was quickly removed.  It reminded me of a study of why soccer fans from opposing teams who watch the game and come away with diametrically opposite opinions about what transpired.  Researchers from the University of York found that both sets of fans processed the stimuli received by their brains in the same way, but in the brain’s higher regions, especially in cognition.  How a fan interpreted the information their brains observed “hinged more on emotion and bias” and “may reflect one of the more primitive human instincts.”

            Humanity’s primitiveness is always near the surface.  I’ll soon teach an Osher Lifelong Learning class on Samuel Pepys, the diarist who provided an unfettered perspective on the momentous events of the 1660s: the dissolution of Parliament, Restoration of Charles II, Great Fire of London, and of course the Plague of 1665.  Thomas Hobbes’ masterpiece on government and society, “Leviathan” was published in 1651, and kicked up quite a stink.  The re-established Parliament blamed “Leviathan” for the Great Fire of 1666, and the House of Lords voted to have Hobbes burned as a heretic.  Charles II intervened, and a frightened Hobbes burned his papers and agreed to not write about politics.  He died a natural death in 1679, but in 1683 the public governmental burning of “Leviathan” was carried out.

            Hobbes described how mankind rose from an unfettered “state of nature” where everyone had every right, even to kill, and everyone’s life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  As the BBC’s history site notes, “For Hobbes, the only way for man to lift himself out of his natural state of fear and violence was to give up his freedom and make a social contract with others to accept a central authority.”  By agreeing to a “social contract” of agreed upon rules, everyone’s life became more pleasant.  

            Consider the social contract for properly marking one’s place in books.  A “Bookmark Alignment Chart” is making the Internet rounds that divides bookmarking into “good,” “neutral,” and “chaotic” methods.  The “Lawful Good” category is using a book ribbon, “Neutral Good” is using a sentence pointer, and “Chaotic Good” (my preferred method) is using scrap paper, like receipts.  “Lawful Neutral” is using indicators in an e-book, “True Neutral” requires a “proper bookmark,” and Chaotic Neutral” includes using leaves and flowers.  “Lawful Evil” is “memorizing the page number,” “Neutral Evil” is “leaving the book face down (hard on the spine!), and worst of all, “Chaotic Evil,” is dog earring pages. 

In 36 years of librarying I encountered all sorts of violations of the bookmarking social contract, finding very naughty photos, cash from a complete Permanent Fund Check, and even raw bacon.  The bacon-user falls easily into the parameters of the Dark Triad, which is described in PsychologyToday.com as a phrase coined in 2002 by psychologists Delroy Paulhus and Kevin Williams.  “Dark Triad refers to three unusually negative personality traits – narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism … Narcissism is characterized by the pursuit of ego gratification, vanity, a sense of superiority … Machiavellianism is marked by manipulation – a calculating, duplicitous, and amoral personality focused on self-interest and personal gain … Psychopathy is distinguished by callousness, impulsivity and enduring antisocial and bold behavior.”   

A related Newsweek.com article by Andrew Whalen, “Narcissists and Psychopaths Are More Likely to Refuse to Wear Masks,” cites studies showing that people falling into the Dark Triad diagnosis “were less likely to comply with restrictions or engage in preventative measures against the pandemic.”  They “more often believed they were highly susceptible to the virus while also believing less in the efficacy of their own actions, qualities that ‘partially explained’ their reluctance to take preventative measures.”

However, some unmasked people simply forget.  That’s how the Chinese sage Mencius, who lived around 300 BCE, interpreted things.  He believed that people are endowed with an innate goodness.  So be careful with your words.  As Maltese psychologists Edward de Bono noted, “In a sense, words are encyclopedias of ignorance because they freeze perceptions at one moment in history and then insist we continue to use these frozen perceptions when we should be doing better.”

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