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A Brief History of Human Violence

  • Children torture objects, animals and even other children. We are born little Hitlers and then a complex apparatus of "education" (family, school, police, ...) spends years teaching us not to be violent, cruel and sadistic. We have built an elaborate system of physical and psychological coercion to curb human nature, which is inherently violent.
  • What is the instinctive reaction of a teenager when he sees a sign that says "Fire Hazard High Today"? Strike a match!
  • Mauro Fortissimo is an artist who became famous for restoring old pianos and dropping them along the coast of California for people to play them. For a while this simple eccentric idea helped cement a sense of community: people were playing the piano and neighbors or beach goers would come to listen. The county took most of them away but spared one piano by Tunitas Creek. One day that piano was destroyed. Here is what Mauro wrote to me: "That piano was destroyed by young kids: they blew it up. When I went to see the piano, the destruction of it was unbelievable, shredded to pieces". The county (the evil uniformed bureaucrats) had spared one. Local kids did not spare it.
  • In 1986 Lucasfilm invited 500 people to beta-test "Habitat", an online virtual world over Quantum Link (the progenitor of America Online) meant to foster collaboration and the creation of large-scale communities. Within a few days the pioneers (mostly very young) had slaughtered each other and Habitat was shut down. Eventually the game designers disabled the function "homicide" and reopened it.
  • In 1997 the videogame "Ultima Online", designed as a social and economic experiment, succeeded in quickly enrolling about 50,000 players of all ages, but they rapidly destroyed all flora and fauna, and then started killing each other, including the avatar of the creator himself, Richard Garriot (named "Lord British" in the online world).
  • Footnote: Jane McGonigal, said that "multiplayer games are the ultimate happiness engine" in her 2008 South by Southwest conference keynote speech. In her book "Reality if Broken" (2011) she argued that videogame players are "our most readily engaged citizens". If you know what happened in 1986 and 1997, these two statements sound disturbing.
  • In 2014 David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University built the Hitchbot, a happy robot (the size of a child) that "wanted" to travel from Canada to San Francisco by hitchhiking. One year later it was destroyed by unknown vandals for apparently no other reason than destroying something that cannot defend itself.
  • When we grow up we pretend to have become peaceful, but we still betray our real nature in cases of tragedy. I was standing in line at the post office when a woman picked up the phone and started screaming "What?!? My house is on fire?!?" and she ran out screaming. Everybody in the post office started laughing. Where's empathy?
  • In 2017 two Chinese companies, Ofo and Mobikes, backed by the government, introduced a system of shared bicycles in the largest cities in order to alleviate traffic congestion and pollution. A smartphone app can locate a bicycle near you, and, when you are done, you can just leave the bicycle anywhere. A few months later, several cities (Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Wuhan and Beijing) started banning the bicycles because users were vandalizing them and/or dumping them in already crowded public spaces, resulting in more congestion and more pollution.
  • When the system of coercion collapses (see Syria, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, etc) we gladly return to our natural state of maximum senseless violence.
  • It is really difficult to find someone who tells you "technology can help heal conflicts and create trust" with no caveat. The caveat is always "but others can weaponize the same technology and create conflict (or marketing to sell you things you don't need)". These others, in general, have more money than you. A lot more money. Hence we already know, from the moment we start developing it, that any "peace" technology WILL be hijacked for non-peace purposes.