culture, environment, International News

Human vs. Nature vs. Human Nature

There’s nothing like nature to provide a clear reminder that all the political scandals in the world are irrelevant in the face of human suffering in the wake of natural disaster.

The death toll from Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda is already nearing 2,000, and the official toll is expected to be somewhere in the region of 10,000. Already the scale of the disaster has led to crucial delays in bringing aid to the country. The suffering of thousands continues, and will be abated only through the hard work and dedication of aid agencies and volunteers from around the world – aided by donations from millions around the globe.

The damage and loss of life are terrifying, and the response inspiring – but this is the time when another phenomenon starts to emerge, one that is a demonstration of the darker side of humanity. It was probably less than five minutes after the storm had passed that the first scammers raising funds in the name of typhoon victims started to emerge. Fortunately, various news and information outlets are cautioning people about the danger of falling for these scams, and some valuable resources exist for the public to educate itself, but the question remains: how can people do this? What kind of a person could undertake such a despicable act?

The psychology off criminals is, I must admit, somewhat difficult for me to understand; this is likely a good thing. Lex Luthor I ain’t – I’m reasonably clever on a good day, but I certainly couldn’t come up with some of the ideas that scammers do. It reminded me of the following exchange from the first Bond movie, Dr. No:

Dr. No: I’m a member of SPECTRE

James Bond: SPECTRE?

Dr. No: SPECTRE. Special Executive for Counter Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, Extortion. The four great cornerstones of power headed by the greatest brains in the world.

James Bond: Correction. Criminal brains!

Dr. No: The successful criminal brain is always superior. It has to be!

I don’t know that it is superior, but it is obviously unfettered by any sense of empathy for victims or any moral qualms about taking advantage of the generosity of others. From what I know of psychology, I suspect that the ideal personality trait for a con artist is narcissism – the need to aggrandize oneself, often at the expense of others. Narcissists at their worst are ruthless, manipulative, and focused only on their own gain. The inability to internalize and a callous disregard for the norms of society is also a symptom of antisocial personality disorder, which I would refer to as sociopathy. I offer the following helpful illustration:


I guess the point is that there are some bad people out there who will not hesitate to profit at the expense of others or exploit the pain of thousands for personal gain. This should never stop us from doing what we can to help. Donating to well-established charities is the best way to ensure that help will go where it is truly needed. On a daily basis, all of us need to recognize that others are less fortunate than we are, there is suffering on our own doorstep, and we have the power to effect change. Volunteering is a great way to give back – giving of yourself can be more valuable than throwing money at some problems.

Right now, however, the people in the Phillippines and Vietnam need help, and I would urge you to lend a hand. Here are two suggestions:


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