Tea Time With Jesse

Six of One, Half Dozen the Other

Schadenfreude

Posted by middlerage on December 29, 2012

The inspiration for this post is a website (which I won’t link to because it angers me) of a webcam aimed at a particular low overpass where, several times a year, some hapless soul drives into it with his too-tall truck. To much dust, noise, and crashing. And amusement for web surfers. Schadenfreude = joy in the misery of others.

Now, I agree that a professional, OTR trucker should have precise training and knowledge of the height of his semi and how to watch for warning signs, but many of the hapless truckers caught in low-overpass-bedlam are folks like you and me: a harried, non-professional, who has rented a moving van for the day, and is just trying to find his/her destination, get unloaded, and return the truck before another day’s charges. I have self-moved across country twice in my life, and I can tell you that navigating strange new cities in a strange new moving van, whilst worrying about a new job, new apartment, and new life leaves little brain-space left for worrying about POOR ENGINEERING.

[Because of the frequency of accidents, the overpass is heavily signed and outfitted with warning lights, essentially saying, “The bridge you are about to pass under is wayyyy too low, and we, the uncaring government, have decided to never build a reasonable underpass, but instead have decided to ignore 100 years of psychological science, and simply install distracting flashing lights and let you crash full tilt into truck-frame-shattering spectacle!” ]

I think the webcam is indicative of a larger problem – a gamelike worldview where there are rules, winners, and losers. The winners feel like understanding the rules puts them in first place, while the losers are folks who had the same opportunity to abide by the rules, but didn’t, and now in a festival of Schadenfreude, the winners lord it over the losers. I see this all the time online, in forums about unfair cell phone contracts or outrageous credit card fees. There is always some troll who blames the person for not reading the mouse print and falling into a well-crafted money trap. It’s a game and I played by the rules, and I didn’t fall into the trap, and therefore you suck for having the temerity to complain about it. I see it in the corporations who craft these game rules, luncheon the senators for favorable regulations, and mistreat workers in favor of CEO pay. I see it in academia where PhDs study the move towards mandatory arbitration, and byzantine loan economics and come away bewildered.

Everything is become a strategic game, and we are required to be on alert 24/7 or become violated and laughed at.

I recall the halcyon days of my youth (I know. There’s no such thing as a “golden age,” and no time was halcyon. But indulge me for a moment…) where it seemed like what interested mankind was defeating raw mother nature: folks were interested in how to be a mountain man or how to soup up cars, you delighted in receiving the Fox Fire book series for your birthday. Now we’ve had a sweeping technological revolution and everything is this new “game paradigm.” An unheard of number of twenty-somethings now have no driver’s license, and the only Fire Fox they know is a web browser. And I weep for them, because I am no smarter than they are, but when I was twenty-something and I fucked up I didn’t sext pictures of my crotch to the whole college. I didn’t pay $35 dollar bank fees because the bank decided to deposit my paycheck after they cleared all my debit card charges and ran the account negative.

And there wasn’t an online troll to tell me it is my fault and I should’ve known better. The signs were all there!

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3 Responses to “Schadenfreude

  1. Dahveed said

    Great post. I hadn’t really thought about it in that way, but you’re right. There *is* always the one guy, arms folded with a smug, self-satisfied smirk on his face, saying, “Didn’t you read the fine print?” (Hate to admit it, but I’ve probably been that guy a few times.) Right now, what bugs me is the game/sports mentality applied to important shit, like approving federal budgets. Enough with all the political posturing and trying to leverage a situation into some kind of meaningless (to the average person) political advantage. Just do the !@#$ing job we elected you to do. Stop playing games and get it done!

  2. Jerry said

    That’s a very interesting observation, and my gut agrees with it. The prevalence of the phrase “gaming the system” would support your thesis.

    I read an article once, long ago, spinning our litigious society in a positive light: it is a sign that in our country we respect the law and turn to it for recourse rather than other means. The writer compared us to Russia and other corrupt nations where the economy is severely hampered by corruption – by lawlessness. They don’t respect the rules.

    Which is a good point, and an encouraging one. But… when one part of the government sues another part, the only sure winners are the lawyers and the only sure losers are the taxpayers. The rules have become so powerful that there can be no common sense, no negotiation, no bar 100 feet before the underpass that, if hit, activates a stop light. “We put up signs. If you don’t know how tall your truck is, then too bad for you.”

  3. middlerage said

    Excellent counterpoint. I def don’t want to live in a corrupt society. I hear it just drains you, and India is another famous example (and mexico). I guess moderation in everything? Not too few laws and not too many, perhaps.
    It’s just that (and you’re not disputing this) that rules-based sense of superiority in observers. And I feel like the guy who meticulously measures his rent-a-van and prints out comprehensive driving instructions may also be the guy who unwittingly pays too much in mutual fund fees. Or whatever. We can’t all have PhDs in game theory AND economics AND law AND…
    so I repeat myself. Already said it in post. I am glad for the two reactions because I wrote a damn good (IMHO) post in my mind, then got to the computer and wrote half of it and set it aside. The second half was forgotten and I rushed it out week later. Not happy with thing as a whole.

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