Almost everyone who went to my high school hated it and I have written repeatedly as to my own experiences and why I came to hate it. I have analyzed the cognitive biases and insularity of cliques and ingroup/outgroup biases. Yet, possibly, on the most fundamental level the reason why people were so cruel and the society so sadistic in many ways was the inability of many, if not most, people at the school or, at least, in the popular classes of it to restrain themselves from indulging in hedonism in any way. Basically, that they were incapable of doing things they didn’t want to do or not doing things they wanted to do in the absence of positive or negative consequences for their sacrifice. They lacked character and honor and would do whatever metaphorical or literal drug got them high. If they felt schadenfreude, they had nothing to stop them, internally, from acting on it. That’s an almost universal emotion so the fact bullying, hazing, and other cruelties were so common is quite explicable.
One of the main reasons that I mentioned earlier was the inheritance of classist prejudices from their parents and applying them to their micro-society. That is their subconscious belief that unpopular kids were morally inferior owing to their subconscious assumption borrowed from their parents’ classism that the poor are lazy, indolent, and thus immoral. That and if corporal punishment, tough-on–crime politics, and economic sanctions are appropritate for the immoral outside adolscent society, then logically they are for within it. Furthermore yet, the insularity of cliques means that, through contact theory and expanding circle theory, the more insular the cliques are, the less humane their constituent members are toward outgroup people. I have suggested that extra-curricular exchange programs would mitigate these issues using the two aforesaid theories and breaking clique insularity.
On a chemical level, much of this is the dark side of oxytocin, also mentioned in earlier articles on here. That chemical engenders anti-outgroup bias which definitely contributes to clique insularity and the resulting inhumaneness and ingroup bias which probably contributes to people inheriting the social beliefs of their family. Yet, what has been often too neglected in studying these things is the dopamine released by acting on sadistic schadenfreude and moreover the inability to resist it. The latter is more interesting to me as someone who abstains from all recreational drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sex, violence, and more. I don’t feel a desire to do any of those things and not doing them carries no symptoms of want or grief. For the most part, I lack the acute passions other people do and, instead, have softer, warmer, serotonin-based passions and not the intense dopamine and stalkerish oxytocin-based passions. For instance, I’ve never had a crush on a girl although I used to claim to when my Asperger’s self thought that term described it whenever one found another pretty. When I learned that a crush entailed an emotional bonding or connection, I ceased claiming to have them since I’ve never felt that toward anyone in a romantic context.
This all intersects with another of my interests which is philosophy, specifically, ethics. One of the great criticisms I have made of contemporary popular ethics is that it is foremost Rawlsian. The children may have been taught generic kindness but they were never taught any thick system of ethics. I mention on my website that I am a virtue ethicist, a deontologist, and a utilitarian in that order. I know what I believe and calculate and do calculate moral equations on a daily basis. Yet, in a Rawlsian society people don’t do moral calculus regularly and mostly go through their days without giving much thought as to the moral value of their behavior. It has not been impressed upon them what is worth sacrificing for and how much and what duties they should put ahead of and behind themselves. So long as they aren’t acutely harming someone, they not only think it isn’t wrong, they just don’t think about it. The lacking inhibition to self-reward becomes a habit when self-discipline atrophies from chronic disuse. When they act on their schadenfreude, it is not so much that they are so immoral as to do it but that they are so amoral that they lack any practice in self-control.
To what degree this can be mitigated, I don’t know. Certainly, the cultural mores should change and people should be more humanistic and morally responsible. Again, my variant of ASD denies me experience with the sharper emotional pleasures and passions. I know not what a strong dopamine rush or oxytocin high feels like much less what it is like to be chemically possessed by one. Those neurochemicals can be blocked but only in the most extreme cases, one assumes, would that be an appropriate response. Cognitive therapies are successful in training self-control, combined with a thicker moral education, that could work well. Whatever the case, controlling this type of hedonism is the only way we’ll get a kinder society on a large scale. Wando was an especially hedonistic place and so is my current college and this level of hedonism is not conducive to a healthy people. Hopefully, soon, we will have the social and psychological science to address it.