Children, Aufpassen… Schadenfreude!

People at my job obsess over my every move. I am Corporate TMZ’s wet dream. I come in late, disregard company protocol involving facial hair and tucked in shirts, drink steadily through Thursday lunches and rifle through cigarettes in my car despite stakes of burning red NO SMOKING ON SITE signs. I skip meetings and don’t call in sick and hold little regard for the common good of the team, yet I still have kept this job longer than most of my other coworkers. They look in wonderment at me as I stroll in at noon, smiling towards me as they stroll to lunch but secretly praying to bathroom stall gods that my final downfall rivals that of Goliath, and is in a public place for all to see.

Three coworkers came by my desk to ask about a training module I had missed this morning. Three separate John P. Encilpusher’s, whose jobs are in no way related to my performance, had to come and investigate my absence so they could mentally arrange another scene in their psychic re-enactment of Oedipus Rex, with Yours Truly, HD Wilde aka John College aka L NiNo, as the doomed, sightless sot.

Lights, camera, fuck off.

People constantly ask me why I wasn’t at the mandatory board meeting or why I missed another Friday or what was up with the extended lunch yesterday yada yada ad infinitum. It is a complete ruse; a sick jest that they think I am in the middle of. They pretend to care about what is happening in some one’s life in order to gain access to more juicy details that will in turn make juicier playbills and scenery back-drops for Opening Night of My Glorious Tragedy.

One particularly insidious and bulimic and fidgety and bronzed suburban girl from work is quite adept at the arts of subversive information gathering. She plays every angle, wanting to know if I’m medically alright enough to work or if there are baby mama problems that make it impossible to leave the home. She dips and picks her moments well and she feigns heartfelt caring brilliantly. Between her tits and bullshit most people would consider her someone who is overly sympathetic and who wants the best for all and who should be trusted as consigliore. This is where the real danger comes in, when people cannot discern others’ true intentions and confuse Schadenfreude for empathy.

Empathy is has been extensively studied in biological and social models. The most comprehensive definition I can provide is from Simon Baron-Cohen (psychologist):

 Empathy is about spontaneously and naturally tuning into the other person’s thoughts and feelings, whatever these might be […]There are two major elements to empathy. The first is the cognitive component: Understanding the others feelings and the ability to take their perspective […] the second element to empathy is the affective component. This is an observer’s appropriate emotional response to another person’s emotional state.

It seems that the first part of Cohen’s explanation, the mechanical and mental aspect of empathy, is something we all have. If you have motor and mirror neurons and well-enough to do frontal lobes and an optic nerve then you have the ability to interpret and understand the feelings of others. Humans are incredible interpreters of emotion on both conscious and sub-conscious levels. We are always in tune to how others around us our feeling, whether we like it or not.

The second part, however, the affective part that triggers an observer’s appropriate emotional response, this part lends itself to problems. Whenever qualitative values come into nature, systems become more complicated.

It is the affective component that seems to be out of whack in Suburbia girl’s brain and in the brain’s of so many around me. They are able to analyze social situations and the actions and emotions of others quite proficiently, but their reaction to the whole commotion as an outside observer is skewed, at least in a culturally and socially relevant sense. Instead of responding to the down man with a helping hand, they lash out with a steel toed boot. They take the energy out of situations and other people. The heightening ego takes over and frenzies them into a singular, selfish euphoria because they cannot truly feel the pain of others. For whatever reason the emotion is lost in translation, and during the funny part of the movie where the old man is kicked in the balls, instead of wincing before laughing, they cackle steadily throughout the scene.

This is Schadenfreude: taking enjoyment from the pain of others. A distortion of the emotional fabric that has allowed sacred civilizations and collectives of diverse individuals to exist and thrive for thousands of years. The opposite of the most important ingredient for creating successful, loving human communities. A denial of our spiritual selves, our vegetable beings. Schadenfreude.

Should I blame the freuders or their environments? It seems like the physical components are all there to make an empathetic response, so what other necessary components are they missing? Are these people spiritually different than me, on some level, while they curate my tragedy? Are they no more at fault than Pavlov’s dogs salivating at the bells? And if it is their fault, how should I react to them? Can they be changed?

I don’t believe these people to be evil, but at times I find them perverse and am upset how easily they are tricked by the devils and demons that hawk through our local noosphere. I feel upset for their predicaments, their petty games and their hanging on to every word and their finding every flaw and the other warped psychological mechanisms they employ to kindle their egos. I’m not saying I’m perfect or that I don’t ever swell in the defeat of a bitter rival, but for some people the problem is more pervasive and the attitude is carried with them throughout the day, not just in moments of intense and indescribable emotions.

The cornerstone of consumer culture in our 21st Century America rests on one axiom : the ego is all and one’s own personal desires  trump all other forces in the world. It has lead to a disregard for the spiritual worlds where our ego’s don’t exist and has prevented generations of human beings the ability to truly socialize without an agenda or a widget to sell. It is a dangerous situation and I believe is a question of good and evil and the toxic byproducts are just starting to bubble up in free radical chaos. People didn’t live anything like this 50 years ago. We have no proof or idea if the way things are going is the best course, and my bet is no.  Psychic energy is radically changing on global levels, and the consequences, it seems, will involve more Schadenfreude pimps and less children of men, men who feel and react and strive toward the eternal good of Plato and St. John and Huxley and who realize the will run riot, the boundless ego, the enemy within, is the greatest enemy of all. Not only to yourself, but to all of us as well.

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