Today I am (finally) going to be writing for Prompts for the Promptless from Rarasaur! This week Rara asked us to explore the notion of Schadenfreude (that is the first time I typed it with the correct spelling on the first try, go me, it’s my birthday!). Anyway, Schadenfreude is a German term that refers to the act of deriving pleasure from another person’s pain or misfortune–sounds awful, doesn’t it?
Well get used to it, because it is a part of human nature. You, me, everyone, we all have this tendency. There is not one person who walks this Earth that can say they have never experienced this, just tune your television into pretty much any reality television show and you will see what I mean. Schadenfreude is a part of life (I’m reading Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle right now, it seems very fitting to this discussion).
Have you ever been jealous of someone, and then become secretly gleeful when their life hits misfortune? That’s schadenfreude. Have you ever laughed at the youtube video of someone falling off a table while dancing: that’s schadenfreude. Have you ever cut someone down in conversation and felt momentarily triumphant? Schadenfreude, baby!
Have you ever seen your cat meticulously dismember a lizard, that’s also schadenfreude (cat’s may not be human, but they are definitely masters of schadenfreude)! I often wonder at the feeling hunters get when they have satisfactorily made a kill, yep, that’s also schadenfreude.
The essence of understanding schadenfreude lies in understanding that pleasure is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is a deeper and more lasing emotion, whereas pleasure is more fleeting and less satisfactory. Pleasure speaks to our baser urges and should not be confused with true happiness. Schadenfreude does not mean that seeing others suffer makes you happy. It speaks to the darker parts of human nature, the part that thinks it’s funny to see someone get kicked in the balls.
Like every part of human nature, schadenfreude has a purpose. What I’m about to say may rub some people the wrong way, and I would like to preface by stating that I mean absolutely no offense by this. I simply want to fully explore this facet of human nature in light of the idea of universal truths.
Adolf Hitler, an awful person, is an excellent example of schadenfreude. The crimes perpetrated against humanity by this person, and the people he managed to control, would be unimaginable had they not happened. The same can be said of colonialists, conquistadors, Catholicism, and a number of other things throughout history and in the present day. However, we would not be where we are without them. It is disturbing to think of this, but the horrendous human experimentation that was part of Hitler’s awful actions also helped to advance medical science. There will come a point in time when the lives saved may outnumber the lives lost. This does not excuse or justify his actions, just as being where we are in history does not justify the actions of the other forces I’ve mentioned here. It is simply a fact of life.
Let me give you a more modern-day example: Steve Jobs (no, I am NOT comparing Steve Jobs to Hitler). I have had a hard time liking Steve Jobs. He is known for having made his employees work too hard, for throwing chairs across a room and otherwise mentally abusing his employees when things did not go right, he killed the palm pilot simply because he thought his technology was better, one of his major tenets of business is to be ruthless, and his competitive nature with Bill Gates and other technological giants is well-known. However, we would not be where we are right now without him. His attitude was necessary to enact the many fantastic technological advancements we now enjoy today. This hearkens back to my post concerning Gil Scott-Heron and his assertion that without his arrogance and selfishness he would not have been who he was. This means he would not have been able to accomplish what he accomplished in his lifetime.
I had a great dislike for Steve Jobs until seeing an image on Facebook posted by Cristian Mihai. This image made me realize the true power and nature of schadenfreude. I have said before, and will say again, that ego is the root of insecurity. Ego has also had it’s place in history and advancement. However, I believe the time has also come to leave these things behind.
We are growing up. Part of growing up is giving up the idea that personal accomplishment should be motivated by jealousy and insecurity. We have reached the age of information, largely thanks to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (and many more), and I believe this age of information marks a turning point for humanity.
Schadenfreude is a part of who we are. The scary thing is not schadenfreude, it is a person incapable of admitting that this darker half exists within his or herself. A person who cannot see his or her dark side is also prone to giving in to it. What does this say about the future of humanity, then? If we all carry this within us, then how can we hope for a future where people do not hurt each other? How can we build a future without using things such as jealousy, insecurity, ego, and competition?
By accepting who we are. You see, acceptance is the first step to overcoming any addiction.
I’ve been doing a lot of interesting reading on the human brain lately. Most notably is this academic article from the Journal of Neuroscience, which details what goes behind a person’s ability to discern between imagination and reality. I wrote a post the other day which talked about a person being able to fully immerse oneself in what he/she is imagining, to a point where it can feel as though that thing is actually happening, but then to also be able to leave this behind when the moment is finished and still know it to have been imagination. Is it possible for us to outlet our schadenfreude in other ways?
There is a lot of debate today regarding whether or not violence in television and video games causes people to wish to enact violence in real life. I believe that, to a certain extent, this is true for now. I say for now because we are an ever-evolving species. What if we manage to evolve our imagination to a point where these things do not cause us to want to enact violence? What if we could reach a point where engaging in these activities is our outlet for the darker aspects of ourselves?
The Sims, a popular video game, is an excellent example of this. I recently read this article, which talks about the psychology behind The Sims. Basically, The Sims is such an effective and widely loved game because it allows people to engage with their characters like no other game. It is a model of real life, and people often use it as an outlet for their desires. These desires are as far ranging as idealizing oneself, which has actually been proven to cause a temporary boost in self-confidence, to torturing the characters created by the player (yep, schadenfreude). I believe, and the article backs me up on this, that this is effective because The Sims mirrors real life and necessitates interaction with the characters well enough to allow a person to relate to their in-game actions better than with other video games.
Now I would like to return to my point regarding Hitler and other shady characters of history. Hitler attacked the parts of himself that made him insecure. He idealized things he was not but wanted to be, he demonized things he loathed about himself. With an inability to recognize his own weakness, he gained the power to destroy on a global scale–and to encourage others to destroy with him. Self-loathing is a multi-headed hydra which all of us will come to battle with eventually. The secret is not to cut off the head of the demon, but to crush it’s hold on our hearts. Recognizing the capacity within ourselves to do both evil and good is an important step for humanity; learning to love those who could not do this is an even bigger one.
Bruce Banner & Me (from the lovely Rarasaur)
Links to my Posts mentioned/Linked in this Post
Other Responses to Rarasaur’s Prompt
- AlienRedQueen- The Cycle
- The Daily Dilly Dally – Pratfall
- ReviewerRose- Schadenfreude
- OneStarvingActivist- The Army of Unanticipated Motion
- Serendipity- Funny Story
- TheCutterRambles – Sports Hate
- Adventures of an Aussie Girl in London – Schadenfreude
- Indira – Schadenfreude
- Mind of a Mouse – Schadenfreude
- Ecofinanalysis – Schadenfreude
- ElectronicBaglady’s Bag of Bits – Strength in Weakness
- Beeblu- In the Ring
- Breathing Space – Lazy Man’s Method
- MamaBear Musings – Schadenfreude
- Heart and a Half – Literary Schadenfreude
- Fish of Gold – Schadenfreude
- Ecofinanalysis- The Colonial Contest