Posts Tagged ‘Human nature’

Aug 8 2010

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.