How does cruelty and sadism get normalized?
Another passage from the “Humanitarian Revolution” chapter of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature –
Warning: torture, again
But the practical function of cruel punishments was just a part of their appeal. Spectators enjoyed cruelty, even when it served no judicial purpose. Torturing animals, for instance, was just good clean fun.
In 16th-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning,
in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. [p 145]
He goes on, but I yanked my eyes away after the first words; no way I’m going to type them.
Yet people watched it for amusement.
How does this work?
On me it produces a visceral, unavoidable flinching, accompanied by some mild shock-like symptoms.
Now, I’m not a particularly delicate flower. I’m not reporting my reaction to boast of my great sensitivity, because I don’t think my level of sensitivity is at all unusual. I think it’s just normal.
I’ve tried mentally substituting a less charismatic animal, but it doesn’t make much difference.
The explanation is reasonably clear in the case of psychopaths, but they’re a small minority, so that doesn’t help.
There are explanations of how it works when people have to do it in one sense or another – at gunpoint or because they’re part of a disciplined organization and the like, but that doesn’t explain recreational torture-spectating.
I’ve never understood the appeal of bullfights and dog fights and cock fights.
I don’t understand how people can hack a helpless unarmed human being to death with machetes.
I don’t know how this works.