Schadenfreude: pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.
A quick fill-in-the-blank exercise if you will:
Vikings/Packers fans are __________.
Republicans/Democrats are _________.
Public/private sector employees are ______.
Union members are _____.
Rich/poor people are ______.
Liberals/conservatives are _______.
Homosexuals are _______.
Your dander up at all? If not, try a different combination, and consider the following excerpt from a very real sports blog I changed just slightly in order to make my point:
“. . .we Packers/liberals/republicans get to bask in the joy and ecstasy of not just a victory, but also in the delicious Schadenfreude that comes from a debilitating Vikings/conservatives/democrats loss. That makes it twice as sweet!
Their loss and pain is our gain. Why? Because the Vikings/unions/conservatives and their fans/supporters are our enemies. They and so many of their fans/supporters epitomize all that is soulless and wrong, albeit inept.
Given the good nature of most Packers/liberals/private sector employees, the importance of this is sometimes lost. We know how to love our Packers/republicans/union members, but sometimes we forget how — or why — to hate the Vikings/liberals/public employees and those who support them.”
Now, relax. This propagandizing is just all in good fun right? To be fair, surely Vikings/democrats/conservatives use this sort of language too. And so do Bears fans and Pistons fans, and Minnesota drivers, and deer hunters, and loggers, and DNR officials, and business owners, and city council members, and terrorists, and hate groups.
The key step here–and it’s amazing how easy this is to do–is to separate or distance oneself from another in order to create an “Other”: an entity that different from you. Once that distinction has been made, this “Other,” just naturally becomes less human, more monstrous and much easier to hate or fear. This “Other” then easily becomes the enemy, and the more pain and misfortune he or she suffers, the better.
In any contest, we prefer the side that is more like us. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as the Association Principle. The distinguished and prolific author, Isaac Asimov put it this way:
“All things being equal, you root for your own sex, your own culture, your own locality . . . and what you want to prove is that YOU are better than the other person. Whomever you root for represents YOU; and when he (or she) wins, YOU win.”
The ego-self is clearly at stake. Our prestige rises when our side wins, and it falls when our side loses. We feel real and escalating emotions of joy and pride the higher the perceived stakes. Just listen to the language fans use after a victory. We say, “WE won!” and “WE’RE number one!” not “They’re number one!” or “Our team is number one!” Unless, that is, our team has just lost, in which case we will often distance and protect our fragile ego-self by saying, “They lost. . . the bums.” The devil is in the pronoun.
Looked at objectively, this is insane. Seen through the lens of a sports fan or political junky or religious fanatic however, not only does this make perfect sense, it’s an admired trait! The more emotionally invested a person—the better fan or voter or follower he or she is. The more pain they feel after a loss, the more euphoria they feel after a win. We call these people true and diehard fans/constituents/believers.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should admit that I am Viking fan/public employee myself. Over the years, this association has given me the unique opportunity to feel very real and physical stress responses during the course of any game, political contest, and professional career—muscle tension, increased heart rate, sweaty palms—as well as the emotions of joy and agony—lately, mostly agony.
Love me or hate me, it is clear that somewhere deep within in our warped and fragile psyches, we believe that the Vikings and public servants everywhere really are me. For many, this makes me less human, more monstrous, easier to kick when I’m down. The enemy.
Perhaps however, bigger questions loom, like: Who are you? Are we really that much different? Do our associations really make us winners and losers? And, what is it, exactly, that you win, when I lose?
Waiting for clarity, John glanced down from the steam softened image in the mirror to a sink full of whiskers and the letter outlining the exhilarating debauchery of this night. He closed his eyes. It was the letter that did it. Decision made, John touched his reflection and turned. His dignity, he believed, he took with him. His ideals however, he left dripping in the symbols traced in the glass behind him.
Meanwhile on a Horror Writing Discussion Forum
Date/Time: 3/12/2001 8:23 pm
Subject: RE: The Course
Give Up Your Day Job and Stick To Writing. It’s not often I tell someone this; after all, most non-published writers (and especially those who’ve invested with PODs for the privilege of belching out “my novel” to anyone who will listen) suck at story-telling.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: When you find something at which you are talented, you do it until your fingers bleed or your eyes pop out of your head. I suggest starting out by submitting to small town magazines. Get a few under your belt, then find yourself a reputable agent. You have talent. Enough said.
Date/Time: 3/13/2001 1:40 pm
Subject: Do it ’till your fingers bleed . . . eyes . . . pop out . . .
. . . Hmmm . . .
I’ve heard that before . . . somewhere . . . or read it . . . just recently . . .
. . .Hmmm . . .
Could be just my imagination.
Anyway, gosh and golly. Thanks for the encouragement! I printed that one out and will tape it up when those doubts start start to crawl back in from their dusty corners, like they so often do. You speak with so much authority. So much confidence. . .
. . . Hmmm . . . Could it really be?
Would someone go to such lengths to imitate? Guess it wouldn’t be that difficult to use the lame language–give the same advise . . . in the same way.
But . . . what if.
Date/Time: 3/13/2001 5:48 pm
Subject: RE Men do what men do . . . and usually it’s for a woman
Life is full of many questions. They’ll edge at your mind until it explodes. If you read it in some book, then good for you. Sales are up. Good for me. I suggest you browse through it once and then throw it away, burn it in the fireplace, give it to your neighbor, or use it to wipe your whatever clean. It’s not a bible; it was never intended for that purpose. You either have what it takes or you don’t have it at all. No book will ever change this fact.
. . .and a draft escapes, rank and stale: the breath of a dead man. Sunlight slips in like a bright knife through a dead fish. Then, a gaunt figure. A pale grimace. A wet rattle as his purple lips, cracked and bleeding, slip into a snarl. Yellow teeth fill outlines of black rot. A pair of beads, set deep, shine and squint and dart.
“Eh, Christ,” foam collects at the corners. “You’re still standinare , eh?”
You don’t answer.
A heavy sigh. A nervous fidget. An impatient squint–first at you, then back into the darkness.
“How long ya figure hangin’ ’round, then?”
Inside: a heavy thump. A shuffle . . . then–somewhere deep in the bowels of it–a muffled curse, drags its muck up dank stairways, slithers though moldy corridors, crosses still thresholds. Damp paper peels from the walls as it sulks by. Closer, closer. It’s inside. Deep at first. But it’s coming.
The old man turns, but the door won’t shut.
Then it’s there, and it slips by him and through the crack in the door. Angry from years underneath, the curse slaps you with a wet paw as it wafts, putrid, into your face– marking you like a dog does a tree. Without reason, a kernel of rage spins in your chest.
A knowing look. Unspoken, the words “What I tell you,” mingle with the dust escaping on the slice of sunlight holding the crack open, burning into the darkness behind him.
A grunt. “Hangin’ ’bout for this, eh? Gonna get weird. Little gross prolly. A lot maybe. Imagine. What I’m sayin’ . . . you prolly should leave now.”
His head tips back into the darkness–away from you.
“I’m not sure all what’s in there.”
Author’s note: To all those still subscribed to this blog, leave while you still can.
“Rationalism and doctrinairism are the disease of our time; they pretend to have all the answers. . . In view of all this, I lend an attentive ear to the strange myths of the psyche, and take a careful look at the varied events that come my way. . .
Unfortunately, the mythic side of man is given short shrift nowadays. He can no longer create fables. As a result, a great deal escapes him; for it is important and salutary to speak also of incomprehensible things. Such talk is like the telling of a good ghost story, as we sit by the fireside and smoke a pipe.”
–Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections