A Nice and Obedient Girl

Sunday, August 8th, 2010 at 1:10 pm
by Borg

Have we killed him?

“…at the end of the day, we are only human. I mean to say we are quite primitive when you think about it. We are still animals. Look at all the wars and the suffering we cause each other. Not even animals take pleasure in seeing others suffer. Only humans.  We are nasty, ferocious even. Maybe we deserve to die like the virus we are?”

Often towards the end of a discussion some people express these kinds of opinions. The dialogue does not tend to start that way, only after reviewing some thorny issue like patriotism, greed, poverty, corruption, exploitation, ecological crisis, threatened animal species and so on, does it end up there…followed by a sigh that signals a despondent end of the talk.

It´s because people are good they can be coerced to behave badly.

I don´t think this view has found the crux of the biscuit. My view of the so called human nature is that most people are good and decent, and that it is this trait that can be effectively exploited by the few rotten apples. When people draw pessimistic conclusions about human nature looking at the number of wars and genocides etc. they fail to analyse the dynamics properly. It is not because people are evil and cruel wars happen. It is because they are too good, too eager to please, and too controlled by their emotions of loyalty to their group, fear of doing something wrong. Their emotionality makes them weak, and people who lack empathy can thus easily pit one group against another. If people did not care so much about what others thought about them, they could stand up against injustices, speak out when something seemed wrong, fight fire with fire, but instead it only takes one criminal to terrify an entire neighbourhood.

I have proof supporting my view. Recently social scientists (BBC 2009) reproduced Stanley Milgram´s experiments on Obedience, originally performed in 1960, where ordinary decent people were willing to fulfil what they thought was expected of them to the point of administrating lethal electrical shocks to a stranger. The video clip above shows a cute 19 year old girl giving 405 volt shocks to someone, and smilingly asking the instructor if “they” have killed him. Is she the kind of evil animal you have in mind when thinking of Nazi prison guards?

To say we are “only” human is in itself bizarre. Especially when it means to say we are really animals. What else is there? Are we being compared with angels? We are the most sophisticated being that we know of in the universe, like super amazing fantastic…and still, they say, we are only human. What more do they expect?! It´s all we have to work with.

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3 Responses to “A Nice and Obedient Girl”

  1. Guy Says:

    Very good point. Strange how we fall so easily into the un-analysed despondent position. Possibly the un-empathic encourage this as it tends not to challenge the status quo.

    The film 'The Wave' also treats how evil can spread through obedience.

  2. b_o_r_g Says:

    I found this quite interesting blog about how Chinese philosophy is different from our dualistic pessimistic outlook. In contrast to the complete lack of mainstream analysis on how Chinese values might influence the West in the coming decades, I found it quite interesting and uplifting.

    In recent decades, many empirical studies of human behavior have converged on the theory that, back in Paleolithic hunter-gatherer days, humans evolved an instinctual set of social responses encompassing what we call empathy, altruism and a sense of fairness.[1] This is a radical change from traditional Western thought, which posits a natural state for humans that, in the infamous words of Hobbes, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” In the received Western tradition, we humans are saved from this horrible fate either by the imposition of Christian values or by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps through the development of social institutions that control our violent nature.

    In contrast to the Western view, as Munro points out, these recent scientific findings are more consistent with the dominant traditional Chinese view of human nature, which is expressed most powerfully in the teachings of Mencius (c. 372 – 289 BCE). Mencius is famous for arguing that humans are naturally good and that when we act badly, it’s because of external factors that have caused damage to our original nature. He gives an example of a person seeing an infant falling into a well, when no-one else is around, whose immediate instinct would be to rescue the child from drowning.

    This reaction would not arise because this person wanted to get into the good graces of the child’s parents, nor because of a desire to be praised by their fellow villagers or friends, nor because they were loath to get a bad reputation [for not having helped]. From this it can be seen that a person lacking the heart of compassion is inhuman… and a person lacking the heart of right and wrong is inhuman…[2]

    For centuries, Western intellectuals have dismissed this view as mere wishful thinking, but this is exactly where modern science has shown Mencius to be right. In fact, modern neuroscientists have identified a specific part of the brain – the ventromedial prefrontal cortex – which, when it’s damaged, may lead a person to become what we call a psychopath.[3]

  3. Jeb Says:

    There probably hasn't been much mainstream analysis of "how Chinese values might influence" the West because that's somewhat laughable. Especially here in America. I mean "influence" by something noticeable to even the untrained eye; I challenge you to find me somewhere that American culture (outside of our love of Chinese food) finds itself poring over anything Chinese, culture or value wise. I don't see most people screaming, "Communism sounds great!" Maybe authoritarianism, but just in a different sense. Certainly not a chinese one.

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