Do you ever have days when you feel like ditching the “civilized world” and moving to a remote cabin without leaving a forwarding address? I’ve been feeling that urge lately — and it’s getting stronger.
The more I know and understand people, the more I dislike most of them. I wish I could like more of them. I really do. There are a few who I care about deeply, to differing degrees, but the vast majority of people seem determined to present themselves in a way intended to make me hate the entire human race.
I’ve become sick of the vicious and nasty hatred that I read and hear from people simply because others have the temerity to disagree with them. I see it more online today than in real life, but I suspect it’s just because people feel anonymous enough online (even on Facebook) to vent their real feelings instead of hiding them as they do when they’re face to face with people.
I’ve become heartsick about the almost complete inability of a large percentage of people to even attempt to understand each other. So many people lash out in anger if they even suspect that someone disagrees with them on political or cultural issues.
Here’s an example I saw play out Wednesday night. Someone we’re going to call Cathy had reported on her Facebook page that the lines were really long at the Chick-fil-A where she ate lunch and that she thought it was fantastic that so many people were supporting the company. Someone asked her why she thought it was great, and she explained that she felt that way because she thought people should be able to express opinions without having their businesses attacked. For one friend of hers who we’re going to call Gloria, though, that wasn’t good enough.
Gloria and Cathy have known each other in real life for something like seven years. Gloria was angry at Cathy for daring to suggest it was a good thing that people were supporting the company. Gloria believes that Chick-fil-A is funding “hate” and she thinks it’s horrible. And Gloria couldn’t see that anyone could frame the issue in any other way, so she deleted Cathy from her list of friends. And it’s all because Cathy had a different opinion — a rather moderate one — on a cultural issue. The loss of a long-time friend left Cathy crushed and bewildered.
I’m getting to the point that I can’t read the comments on many articles. I have to read them here, and I’d say that we have a much better-behaved crowd than most places. (I appreciate that.) But reading comments on news articles and on Facebook is like stepping into a bath of mud and hate.
It’s not just about politics. People hate each other over which brand of phone or computer they prefer, for heaven’s sake. On tech sites, the nasty battles between fans of iOS and fans of Android are sickening. You can lose IQ points just reading their garbage. They’re like especially mean-spirited children who have joined clubs and want nothing in the world more than to hurt the people on the other side.
We like to think we’re civilized today. We look back in history and see inhumane things that people have done to one another, and we like to pat ourselves on the back about how much better we are. I think we’re fooling ourselves.
I think the civilization that we’re so proud of is just a thin veneer on some very ugly parts of ourselves that we prefer not to look at. I was listening to a podcast about history today (which has become one of my favorites) and I was getting into a four-hour episode about the Dark Ages when it struck me that I didn’t see as much difference between the people of that day and the people of our day as I’d like to see.
I think we’re still a lot more similar to those “savages” who fought vicious wars with one another than we want to be. You can find examples of great heights of civilization back then. Despite the pattern of wars, the people of some places — such as Rome — lived in peace and civilized tranquility for much of their time. And then they threw it away to enter the Dark Ages.
I fear a new Dark Ages ahead for us. I sense that things are less stable here than we believe, and I can see us falling into chaos and despair — not just political anarchy, but real chaos and lawlessness. Maybe not next year or even the next decade. But sooner than later. I’d like to be wrong, but that’s what I sense. And it makes me want to hate a people who could be so stupid and selfish and blind as to thrown everything away just so they can experience the rage and hatred that are so obvious in their hearts.
Some would say that humans are simply crazy if they do this. I’m sure there could be all sorts of interesting and complex sociological theories about why it happens — assuming I’m right. But I have a simpler answer.
We all have lurking in us the core of the same people who existed thousands of years ago. If you want a simple materialist explanation, you’d simply call it genetics or you’d point to the reptilian brain that’s said to be at the core of what we use today. But I’d say it has more to do with what we Christians call original sin. Every one of us has that hate and meanness — sin — at the core. Some of us are a bit better than others, but none of us can overcome it on our own. For some of us, the Good News is that there’s a God who wants to help us overcome it by teaching us what love is — because love is the only thing that truly changes us.
Whichever explanation you accept, the reality is that humans aren’t much different today than they were thousands of years ago. We’re hateful, mean, vicious and nasty. Yes, we have good qualities, too, but those evil things can sometimes override everything else.
I’ve been seeing those things more in people lately. They seem designed to make me into a misanthrope. And they make me want to escape — away from the hatred and heartache of what I see.
I won’t actually do that — not entirely, anyway — because I believe I have a responsibility to find a way to make the world a better place. I might not like most people, but I’m trying desperately to love them anyway. It’s not easy.