|Deep Thoughts from years spent on a Trident submarine.|
Probably the most difficult part of life on the sub was going without sleep while you had to be alert and thinking. It's a little like being a medical intern but, according to a friend who was an emergency medical doctor at a large city public hospital, the sub was worse. After about 30 hours, coffee taste really really bad. It was in these situations that I saw some evil things happen.
When you are deprived of sleep for a long time, you start to focus on nothing else but how you can get some sleep. For example, say you've been up for 30 hours and are repairing a generator. You have 15 minutes left on your shift. You have 10 minites of work left to complete the repair and 15 minutes after that to clean up. If you clean up, the next shift will have to spend 15 minutes breaking out the generator again, 10 minutes to finish, and another 15 minutes to clean up again. If you have been up for 30 hours, often you will take the option of cleaning up now and getting to sleep 10 minutes earlier, even though this means that the next shift has to do extra work. This sound like a little thing but when everyone is stressed and sleep deprived, these little thing start to pile up. There were much worse things that happened (including murder) for similar reasons but I don't want to gross anyone out. Suffice it to say that whatever you can imagine, something probably worse happened.
But given enough sleep and the normal comforts in life and these same people are extraordinarily good. They are the brightest and fittest America has. They work very hard and unselfishly.
Different people's morals would deteriorate in different ways under stress. Some people became self destructive. Some people just shut down. Some people became agressive to others.
And the level of stress at which people crack varies greatly by person. Some people could take an enormous stress but only for a short period of time. Some people who had been on subs for 15 years would suddenly crack, having been worn down.
But the point is that I think everyone has some point where they will crack and be capable of doing evil either to themselves or to others. It's a point where the rational and moral thoughts stop but the baser thoughts of life remain.
But at the same time, the level of comfort needed to avoid this is rather less than we generally have. So long as you have food, warmth, sleep and some friends, you have the capacity for doing good things.
Iterated Prisoner Dilemma studies show how cooperation can arise from the interaction of selfish beings. This is a very primitive understanding of human interaction but might help explain why selfish and unselfish people get alone together as well and we do in our society.
My general feeling is that given the basics of life, most people are good. Take that away and most people are evil. And there are of course many exceptions to this.
Aug 31st, 1998: Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma (IPD), biology and evolution. by Chris McGraw
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