According to Emma Young, schadenfreude, which is to take pleasure in another person’s misfortune, may turn you into a temporary psychopath. I think social media takes it one step further. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter are the four most widely used social media platforms. Facebook, more so than the other three, tends to be the platform in where everyone becomes “friends” with people from middle school and high school. In truth, you rarely, if ever, talk to any of these people. Moreover, you probably didn’t speak to them much in the past either. So why do we add these people on Facebook or allow them to follow us on Instagram, Snapchat, and/or Twitter?
It’s a specific kind of schadenfreude that Young calls rivalry schadenfreude. Young explains:
“Rivalry schadenfreude” is related to some extent, but is rooted in personal competition – the desire to do better than your peers. Envy can have a part to play in this, and Wang’s team note that both schadenfreude and envy emerge around 7 years of age (in fact some work has found jealousy, and subsequent schadenfreude toward the target of that jealousy, even in two-year-olds).1
Given this, most people don’t add their old middle school and high school classmates on Facebook because they have fond memories with them. They add their former classmates because of this personal competition. If you’ve started a family, you want to see if that guy who ended up dating your high school crush started a family. You still hold that against him! He took the girl of your dreams. Perhaps a part of you wants to see if they’re still together.
You also want to see where they are in their careers relative to where you are. You want to get some idea of how much money they’re making. Social media has become an arena for an array of comparisons, all designed to evaluate whether or not you are successful. The less successful people in your past serve to make you feel better about yourself while the more successful among them not only make you feel less successful, they make you feel as though you haven’t accomplished enough. Phillip Ozimek states that “users who use social networks passively, i.e. do not post themselves, and tend to compare themselves with others are in danger of developing depressive symptoms.”2
It’s likely that these (mostly teen) users’ depression is rooted in rivalry schadenfreude. The ensuing feelings of low self-esteem come from the fact that they evaluate themselves as being less successful than others. Unfortunately, this personal competition is an obvious addiction, so rather than delete any and all social media accounts, users continue to log on. It’s to the point that there’s a built in iOS app that monitors screen time. While there doesn’t appear to be any relevant statistics on general social media use, Locke Hughes admitted the following:
Like most people with social media accounts, I’ll confess that I spend way too much time staring at a small illuminated screen in my hand. Over the years, my social media usage has crept up-and up, and up-to a point where my iPhone battery usage estimated I spent seven to eight hours on my phone as a daily average. Yikes. What did I do with all that extra time I used to have?!3
Yikes indeed! It’s probable that other people’s experience align with Hughes’. There is another side to this coin. Social media runs the risk of increased narcissism, which although a tetrad category of its own, is a hallmark feature in psychopaths. Tetrad personalities have egoism in common: “This is the excessive need to put your own needs first at the expense of others. In philosophy, egoism means one’s self is the motivation and goal of all their actions.”4 This excessive desire to put your needs first, even if it’s at the expense of others, is precisely why rivalry schadenfreude is so deeply rooted in many social media users.
Though more research is needed to establish any link between narcissism and social media use, a recent study suggests that a person becomes “friends” with as many people as possible because they are a grandiose narcissist.
Grandiose narcissists are encountered more frequently in social networks than vulnerable narcissists. Moreover, a link has been found between the number of friends a person has and how many photos they upload and the prevalence of traits associated with narcissism. The gender and age of users is not relevant in this respect. Typical narcissists spend more time in social networks than average users and they exhibit specific behavioural patterns.5
So while rivalry schadenfreude might partly serve as motivation for adding old classmates, the greater motivation is in narcissistic behavior already present in such individuals. In other words, such a person doesn’t add old classmates for sake of comparison, but rather because they want to be seen by as many people as possible. S/he wants to broaden his/her audience and is not so much interested in the success or failures of others, but derives pleasure from people seeing his/her success.
In any case, the motivations for excessive social media use aren’t good. There appears to be, on one side, narcissists delighting in rubbing their success in people’s faces and, on the other side, people delighting in schadenfreude, awaiting the fall of their rivals. Then there are the vulnerable people in between, who have no real stake in this game and are pulled in by algorithms reminding them that its someone’s birthday, telling them they’ve received a message, and advertising a recently viewed eBay or Amazon product to them. What’s clear is that social media drags people away from the real world, from real human connection, all while serving as a mirror to an unsettling and repulsive vanity. It may be the best way to see who you truly are because it makes manifest unconscious or subconscious behavioral traits. It would appear that a large segment of “Generation Me” needs to hold itself accountable.
1 Young, Emma. “Schadenfreude may turn you into a temporary psychopath”. Big Think. 10 Aug 2019. Web.
2 Ozimek, Phillip. “Depressed by Facebook and the like”. Eureka Alert!. 18 Jul 2019. Web.
3 Hughes, Locke. “I Tried the New Apple Screen Time Tools to Cut Back On Social Media”. Shape. ND. Web.
4 Dodgson, Lindsay. “The 9 dark personality traits of narcissists, psychopaths, and sociopaths — and what they mean”. Insider. 8 Oct 2018. Web.
5 NA. “Narcissism and social networking”. Science Daily. 18 Apr 2017. Web.
Whenever philosophers speak of the human condition, of either a specific group or in general, their treatment can be seen as proto-psychological. Consider, for instance, Nietzsche’s influence on Freud.1 While I do not think Christianity is true, I am now considering whether, from the perspective of a given individual, it is necessary. I do not mean to invoke philosophical necessity, but rather a necessity akin to inevitability. When considering Korsgaard’s proto-psychological prognosis on morality, namely the internalization of man, there is the idea of instincts that discharge themselves outwardly, and one such instinct is forgiveness.2
Since self-forgiveness is difficult to come by, especially when given that a greater degree of guilt or shame sometimes corresponds to a greater offense, some may feel that forgiveness has to be discharged outwardly. It would appear that most Christians don’t feel guilt for the “sins” they commit, but rather shame. The distinction, although subtle, is important and crucial to understanding why the externalization of forgiveness is an unhealthy coping mechanism. Tangney explains:
“When people feel guilt about a specific behavior, they experience tension, remorse, and regret,” the researchers write. “Research has shown that this sense of tension and regret typically motivates reparative action — confessing, apologizing, or somehow repairing the damage done.”
Feelings of shame, on the other hand, involve a painful feeling directed toward the self. For some people, feelings of shame lead to a defensive response, a denial of responsibility, and a need to blame others — a process that can lead to aggression.3
From a Christian perspective, feelings of guilt would result in repentance. He has fornicated with his girlfriend. He then thinks that if he can get himself to feel that Jesus has forgiven his sin it is tantamount to forgiving himself. As most Christians can begrudgingly attest, this is not what happens. Most Christians go on to “live in sin,” which is to say that they persist in an “ungodly” lifestyle. They go on to reoffend because they enjoy “sin.” Therein lies what makes Christianity inevitable: the subservient are a shameful rather than guilty lot. Their propensity for shame only continues the cycle because in Christ they find the ultimate scapegoat who grants them unconditional, boundless forgiveness. There’s no personal responsibility to be had.
Guilt is the positive correlate to shame because guilt is reformative. Guilt is the precursor to changed behavior. A guilty person doesn’t blame their “accomplice,” namely the girlfriend he’s sleeping with outside of marriage. A guilty person is also actualized in that they realize their contribution to the “sin.” The need for Christ to forgive an offense is the mark of immaturity and even puerility. Forgiveness should not be discharged outwardly, externalized; it should instead and always be internalized, for when it is externalized, it is shame serving as motivation rather than guilt, and as such, one can readily predict that repentant behavior will not follow.
Perhaps this is why Christians, especially in the United States, tend to be vile individuals who curse at, threaten, and dehumanize non-Christians, especially atheists. This may explain their penchant for censorship and execution throughout the centuries as well because most of them are incapable of feeling guilt and therefore, reforming unacceptable, even unlawful, behavior. What they feel is shame and the externalization of forgiveness is more than enough for them to feel better about themselves. While self-forgiveness is difficult to come by, it is imperative that you learn how to do so because when you place the responsibility on someone else’s shoulders, it is likely that you don’t feel guilt over what you’ve done; what you feel is shame.
In doing away with the onus to hold oneself responsible, one then rationalizes one’s behavior. It’s the old “she made me do it” an abusive partner defers to after hitting his significant other. In Christian circles, it can take a more base, preordained turn: “God already knew how you would sin, when, and how often, so you just have to realize that you’ve already been forgiven!” This is how I’ve heard young people justify fornication. This is how I’ve heard cheating spouses justify adultery. This is how I’ve heard Christians justify losing their temper. While such a Calvinistic idea isn’t the norm in all Christian circles, it is a popular idea among American Christians.
On atheism, Christ’s sacrifice is meaningless because atheists reject the concept of sin. We reject the notion that Christ died for offenses we did not commit. Actualized atheism will lead an atheist to truly divorce himself from the religion he once subscribed to. For atheists in the United States, Christianity is that religion. Even in known atheist circles, guilt hasn’t replaced shame and that’s why some atheists are no more morally admirable than Christians. They have not internalized forgiveness.
The most damning and refutable idea that Christians hold is that someone else is ultimately responsible for forgiving you. While it is true that the person you’ve hurt has to forgive you, it is still left to you to figure out a way to forgive yourself for hurting that person. There is no Christ, no priest, no brethren that can do that deed for you! Forgiveness is resolutely characterized by self-forgiveness; forgiving oneself is primary, indeed the true end of moving on from something you’ve done wrong.
So long as forgiveness is externalized, in that the responsibility is rested on the shoulders of someone else whether ideal or actual, you will remain a subservient, shameful person prone to reoffending. The Christian psyche is prone to such shame and given the widespread influence of Christianity, an influence that extends into Islam, more than half the world’s population is wallowing in shame. Collectively, we must unlearn the feeling of shame and its ensuing, destructive proclivities. Anyone who has rejected Christianity has this responsibility, first and foremost.
1 Chapman, A. H., and Mirian Chapman-Santana. “The Influence of Nietzsche on Freud’s Ideas.” British Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 166, no. 2, 1995, pp. 251–253., doi:10.1192/bjp.166.2.251.
2 Korsgaard, Christine M. 2010. Reflections on the evolution of morality. Amherst Lecture in Philosophy. The Department of Philosophy at Amherst College. http://www.amherstlecture.org/korsgaard2010
3 Tangney June. “After Committing a Crime, Guilt and Shame Predict Re-Offense”. Association for Psychological Science. 11 Feb 2014. Web.