Modern Problems: Performative Cruelty as a Social Norm
When we take a look at the world around us, as compared to the very recent past where social media wasn't at the forefront of everyone's to-do list, it isn't a stretch of the imagination to say that performative cruelty is the new social norm. This is not to say that performative cruelty hasn't always been present, nor to say it hasn't always been used as a tool to subjugate people's opponents for thousands of years. It's only to say it is more prevalent in every conversation today than it ever was before. The nuances behind turning cruelty into a means of impressing or entertaining others that baffle me the most are the contradictions people will confidently tell you in order to defend such heinous behavior. When bringing these seemingly conflicting opinions to light, in hopes of turning the conversation in a more constructive direction, you'll often have everyone against you and the figurative spotlight of cruel onslaught shining blindingly in your face.
Despite pointing out others' contradictions often backfiring on the one doing so, it is still important to be the type of person to recognize such contradictions when they are happening so as to step back and look at the argument being presented from an objective perspective. The ever-present dark cloud of politics is one such situation, a perfect example of what I'm trying to present, where these conflicts of opinion and interest are resoundingly prevalent. Politics has not inherently been in the interest of the "little people" since the days when we were still fighting with rocks and spears to fend off saber-toothed tigers and hunt woolly mammoths. Yet anyone who has spent more than an hour on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other site where memes and conversation are hosted would know that it is a source of great controversy for people who otherwise wouldn't be involved.
Do Politicians Have Our Best Interests at Heart?
I challenge you to step into a conversation about politics, and when it becomes relevant and appropriate, ask those involved why they feel these politicians have their best interests in mind. We have all observed, and could observe through research on Google, the flip-flop/turncoat nature of politicians. Though I hate bringing classism into the conversation, most politicians come from a privileged background dissociated from the struggle of the common man, and the solutions they present make their disconnection from "lesser" people's issues very clear. An example of this would be giving tax breaks to corporations, such as Activision Blizzard, who make billions in nontaxable income already and then claiming that helps the "smaller man" who would be lucky to see even a dime of that money. People will still stand at the backs of these politicians who value only those with influence on the economy and world as a whole, however, and weaponize cruelty against the only ones who would stand at their backs in a time of crisis.
Weaponizing cruelty isn't a new concept by any means, but doing it for the attention and performative value without any objective gain is. Whether it be getting all those dopamine-lever-pulling reacts to a meme or status you post, or noticeably causing long-term trauma to someone and their reputation, weaponizing cruelty in a performative manner often does not offer anyone anything of staunch value within their lives. It is a rare few that I can get a coherent and valuable response from as to why it is they do and say the things they do to other people. The main reason I receive from others is that in the face of all the world's struggles, from climate change to increasing poverty rates and widening wage gaps, the only real release for them is to go on social media and bully others. We all know that bullies tend to have some of the most relatable and traumatic stories in their life, and because of their lack of recourse their attitudes never get a real shot at changing. Sadly, and to most individuals' dismay, the ones who could offer us all a respite are the ones dumping fuel endlessly into this social fire.
Once again it is necessary to touch on financial class, once again I have to state how much I loathe pointing this out, and the importance of getting those with the most influence to stop encouraging this type of behavior. It seems like every day now someone of influence and privilege is encouraging activists to go out and harass their opposition or do something that is otherwise not in their followers' best interests.
Greta Thunberg is a great example of a privileged individual calling for change, but offering solutions that are irrelevant or otherwise outside of the realm of possibility for someone below her lifestyle. Pay more taxes, give the government more power for change, donate to my already comparably vast wealth, and raise my already lifted status even higher in order to solve the problems you face. Then here we are, back to the good ol' grind of arguing about right and wrong when it comes to what someone disconnected from our problems has to say. Is someone flying first class on a private jet, sitting in the premier seats of a train engorging themselves on fine foods, and sailing on a boat around the world really someone to take any sort of misguided advice from as far as the issues of the common man? Perhaps, because everyone should be given the chance to have their opinions recognized and validated, or at the very least considered in the larger scheme of things. Nonetheless, without considering the psychology behind it all and taking a step back to create an environment sensitive enough to allow everyone to have a say we cannot press forward into a brighter future.
Using the term as loosely as is probably possible, the psychology behind performative cruelty seems to be the topic least touched on. I asked myself why anyone would even want to bring attention to it since it is such an easy tool to utilize, and the only answer I could come up with is that anyone who would seek to understand the reason for it all would also be the type of person to be most likely to manifest constructive change. It would seem the most accurate way to describe performative cruelty would be to call it an institutional problem, almost like trickle-down economics, but it is trickle-down cruelty. The one percent gets the ball rolling, and it travels downhill like a snowball getting bigger and bigger, until finally it causes the greatest destruction at the very bottom of the financial pyramid. Being one of the people standing at the bottom of this pyramid, I'd like to stop getting hit by these snowballs and suffering from the long-term damages they cause; but what is the solution?
What's the Solution to Performative Cruelty?
This has been a long-winded and, most likely, irrelevant spiel but I feel it is a spiel that never needed to be written due to the simplicity of the solution to the problem. In the face of such simplicity, I find myself bewildered as to why I even need to express it, and how society has even come this far under such great stress emotionally and spiritually. For the sake of clarity, and hopefully swaying a few minds to the proper path of thought, I'll lay the solution out for scrutiny. Are you ready to read the solution through open eyes and with a mind clear from prejudice?
The solution to performative cruelty is not just hearing what someone else has to say, but having the patience to figure out and letting them explain why it is they came to their conclusions. Someone of sound mind, who isn't out simply to hurt you, is able to express why it is they feel the way they do without ever feeling as if they need to defend themselves with cruelty.
It is upon the listener to do what their title states, listen, and even further ask for a deeper understanding of the one speaking. Often times I use this strategy and come to find that the root of the opinion has nothing to do with the opinion at all. The opinions of others tend to stem not from the topic which they are discussing, but the traumas and experiences they've been through in their past. Taking the time out of your day to care about the root of their opinions, rather than what is being presented on the surface, is the first step to forming a functioning long-term relationship that leads to constructive outcomes. I hope for all of us to take this time for each other, because we are all we have as we get spit on by those hiding in their ivory towers.