Why... so... serious?

Post date: Aug 23, 2010 2:57:08 AM

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 5:04 PM

I went to go see The Dark Knight on Saturday. For those of you that have not seen it I highly recommend it. The Jokers performance is definitely Academy award caliber, who would have thought that this movie would get me thinking about my research. The character questions social norms that we find acceptable. The line that got me thinking was:

" their morals, their code, it's a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you. When the chips are down, these... these civilized people, they'll eat each other."

Tomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan, postulates a condition which he calls the state of nature. In this state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This inevitably leads to conflict, a "war of all against all", and thus lives that are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (xiii).

To escape this state of war, men in the state of nature cede to a social contract. According to Hobbes, society is a population beneath a sovereign authority to whom all individuals in that society cede their natural rights for the sake of protection.

Are we civilized only because society expects us to be? Is a human's natural state brutish and nasty? Have we learned to be polite and kind only because if we are not, there will be someone or some institution that will correct undesirable behavior? Take a second to think about it, it may sound ridiculous at first, but there may be some truth to this perception.

Social norms have given humans a very particular way of looking at the world; anything that falls short is an exception of the rule, a stigma, a freak of nature, and any other word or phrase that one may choose to describe it. How many people do you think expect to live their life outside the norm? Most people don't picture spending the rest of their life with someone who is not considered "normal" in the traditional sense. Someone who lives with autism, obsessive compulsive disorder, or some other condition? How many people in this world picture the family home with their white picket fence and their children, with a wheelchair ramp leading to the front door?

The new social concept of universal design is starting to break with this way of thinking. Is universal design the product a societal change forced upon us by the recognition that a change is needed in social norms? If somehow societal mechanisms were to collapse would humanity resort to social Darwinism? Is humanity controlled by social regulation? Would we even consider assisting the less fortunate if society as we know it didn't exist? Would I as a person who may not fit the established norm completely, have the right to speak my mind? When it's a matter of survival would we hold on to the human qualities that we claim makes us different from animals? Is our instinct for self preservation stronger than our ability to be civilized? If the answer is yes, then how can we claim to be human? Are we truly civilized? When the chips are on the table, does our humanity go out the window? These are very intriguing questions that I would love to hear people's thoughts on, especially those who I haven't heard from in a while. I'm just curious to know what people think.