There is cruelty in all of us deep down, as well as a wealth of good and love. As a palmist, I see that at least 80 percent or more of the people whose hands I read are totally dependent on their kinships and society. They cannot live alone or act without the constant presence of people. For many, a special relationship will serve to keep them sane and content, but for many, a larger social support is required. Given good leaders, a stable society, humane and fairly enforced legal system, and personal protection, they will function as the good, normal, middle-of-the-road people we all look to for the stable social norm. Given bad leaders, unequal protection and law enforcement, and official or implied sanction for brutal behavior, their need not to be abandoned by the mainstream will lead them to do horrendous things -- the Holocaust, the killings in Bosnia (and Angola, and Ruwanda, and, and, and), streetgangs and lynchings. All things that indicate the loss of social support for the humane side of our natures.
The other 10-20 percent of the hands I read are rebellious, independent, self-motivating, and fully capable of living and surviving both emotionally and intellectually on an iceberg for several years. We are a mixed bag -- saints and sinners alike. So much depends on early experiences with human society. But most of the independent types can change themselves -- you can see the lines actually change on the hand from year to year, while the lines of the majority of people remain static. People who have the marks of independence -- unless they are too far damaged by their inability to fit into the norms of their particular societies -- can and do change from the inside out, and some will gain the kind of personal enlightenment that can be transcendental.
I don't know what the answers are. Law enforcement is only a bandaid, but of course we grasp anything that will help, and in many cases it is the only straw we have. But slowly the fundamentals of society have to be humanized. The history of humanism up to the early 1900s was one of fairly linear progress in the western world. The norms were never the ideal, but there seemed to be a greater and greater number of people and leaders who desired them. Then there were the two great world wars, and things have been uneven ever since. Increased brutality and craziness on one hand and increased humaneness and sanity on the other. And we are not yet factoring in the rest of the world, where brutality and cruelty are sanctioned by religions or customs (stoning or cutting off limbs, public floggings, female circumcision, female infanticide...) alongside rigid, and often admirable, forms of manners and charity.
The way I see it, several things will contribute greatly to future progrress in the "right" direction. My basic is always to teach meditation, and behavioral psychology (the idea of sentencing animal cruelty offenders to working with animals under supervision, the idea of sensitizing abusive parents or spouses to the humanity of their vicitims...) is also a good beginning. But living abroad as I do, and in one of the world's most troubled and socially mixed (and in some cases, primitive) areas, I have become very much aware of the impact of both the internet and satillite TV. Don't laugh. I see kids beginning to absorb the values of the sitcoms and the soap operas and the movies so that the society growing up here (both Jewish and Arab) is beginning to show signs of homogenization of ideal standards. This is not as terrible as it seems, because shows like West Wing show the vital workings of a democracy, ER and the other excellent hospital shows are beginning to create a standard by which to measure local medical and health care systems, the sitcoms show a kind of idealized home environment (teaching basic hygine, manners, respect for the opposite sexes and other ethnic and racial groups) with the jokes directed at what is unacceptable (thus encouraging the alternate view) -- the best of them (Tool Tiime comes to mind, as does the more dramatic series Sisters, The Sopranos, a number of excellent British series on BBC Prime) encourage emotional growth and recognition of the complexity of relationships and personalities. Even on very violent shows, there is often the recognition of good vs bad. Lethal Weapon (1,2, and 3) was much admired here, and raised all sorts of subconscious concepts to the fore in the minds of some of my students (not to mention the Terminator movies). The best of the science fictions movies is beginning to open up the horizon to include Mars and the asteroid belt and the outer planets for children whose religion has taught that there is only one sun and one earth because that's what it says in the scriptures. The various generations of Star Trek (to Subspace 9), x-file, and the new (for us) Andromeda are stimulating imagination and greater openness to the unknown. A real hero can cry, a loving family relationship can exist, good can (and should) triumph, blacks and whites (Arabs and Jews, Serbs and Croations, aliens and humans...) can work together, emotional problems are not a sign of weakness, talking out your problems is a healthy thing...).
The internet is another thing. These forums (perhaps not all forums, but let's say many or most) connect people from all over the world and increase the move toward some homogeneity of standards. Granted internet users are only 10 percent or so, but this is the cutting edge, and the beginning of a global set of norms. There are no frontiers anymore, no matter what the maps say. We have on this forum someone from China, others from Finland, South America, and the Middle East.
So don't despair. I have seen a lot of change in my lifetime, and hope to see more before I cross over the Bridge. But I have faith in the rebels and independents of this world -- that there will be a growing number of humane leaders from among them to offset the damaged ones. Consider that you guys are the gatekeepers, holding the gates open so the light can shine through -- so that the beacon of progressive humanity will draw more and more adherents. Next millenium perhaps people will look back and say of our 1000 years that, even though it started out rocky, it was an era of great social and spiritual advancement.