“It is not enough to succeed; others must fail.”
– Gore Vidal
These reactions by the public have given me time to ask the question, “Why does society want to see individuals fail?” Thought not unique to politicians (see: Tiger Woods), society loves to see a person fall from grace. Psychology offers the best chance to understand our own depraved minds.
First, I believe human beings suffer from a serious problem with inadequacy. Humans have an impulse to want to feel special; to be important. And yet, when an individual surpasses what we are unable or unwilling to accomplish, we have a problem with such a notion. Why? Because the success of another suggests our abilities, skill set, and nature are diminished. If people have gone beyond us, we are no longer ‘as special’.
Shortly after his rise to the top of polls, allegations quickly surfaced of sexual harassment from his time as president of the National Restaurant Association in the early to mid 1990s. Also, Cain was recently accused by a woman of having a 13 year long extramarital affair.
Cain started his candidacy for president last winter and made his announcement official in May. Why did these allegations against him surface only now? Regardless of whether or not the allegations are true, these women (or other candidates) pushed the information forward because they couldn’t bear the thought of Herman Cain becoming a prominent government leader. Could it be possible that personal inadequacies became the driving force in ‘outing’ Cain?
A similarly related aspect of our psychology involves not only dealing with inadequacy, but in somehow emphasizing our own superiority. We are able to put others beneath us and protect our insecurity while accentuating the greatness and just nature of our actions.
In the case of Herman Cain, a large number of Americans will think to themselves, “I’ve never cheated on my spouse or harassed anyone else.” We revel in our own moral superiority. And when another human seems to exceed our own morality and accomplishments, it lessens our superiority complex. We can’t ever imagine how anyone could conceivably be ‘good’.
I liken this concept to what Tim Tebow is currently experiencing in the National Football League. As a quarterback, Tebow is subjected to a high level of criticism, but a number of fans and commentators seem to be waiting for Tebow to start losing. Why? Because he holds a high moral standard, is articulate, and has an optimistic approach to life most people can’t understand. Tebow embodies personal qualities most can’t live up to and critics anxiously await his demise. They wait for him to lose his temper, curse, and even root for him to lose – because he is what they are not.
Why should we pretend politics exhibit any different behavior? I find this whole situation bizarre. No one seems to care if the allegations against Cain are true, but the mere implication is enough to force him out of the running for president. He obviously must be too good to be true and now accusations justify what people already hoped (and secretly knew) – Herman Cain is not perfect. All society needed was public verification of this to soothe our egos.
Another intriguing part of why we like seeing people fail is that we believe they somehow deserve it. Have you ever seen a car speeding by on the highway and later saw it pulled over by a police officer? You probably thought the same thing I do: serves them right. I can’t pretend my primary concern was the safety of all other drivers or pedestrians. My concern was seeing that driver punished. They deserved it. And I probably had a smug smile on my face for the duration of the drive.
|No need to sweat Herm, |
it's all over...