On human nature…

There’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and that is human nature. Watching the news by itself is enough reason to make someone wonder what human beings are capable of, and whether we are good, evil, or both depending on the situation. The revolutions that have been happening around the world, as well as the economic crises, natural disasters, and increasing insecurity in life in general, have stripped societies of their thin facade of civility and made people act in ways that are both shocking, disturbing, and yet also expected.

One thing the recent uprisings have highlighted is the behaviour and brutality in the police force and military. Psychologically, it is very interesting to see the way police and the army can literally kill, torture, and beat anyone in their way, whether a fellow countryman, woman, or child. Is it just about them being trained to obey orders, ANY orders? Is it about the banality of evil, as Hannah Arendt suggested, namely that we all have it in us to act this way? This is probably what I’m leaning more towards these days – this idea that we are all, individually, capable of doing amazing good but also unspeakable evil.

Arendt was talking about the men who committed the Nazi crimes in Germany and the rest of Europe, and pointed out that at home, they were all caring, loving fathers. This has always baffled me. How does a police officer in Egypt, for example, torture prisoners during the day and then go home to his family and children? Is it really possible for the human personality to exist in such an extreme binary form? These things can obviously not be explained from a purely social perspective but rather a psycho-social one. In fact, I really think that what is missing int he analysis of the recent uprisings is the psychological component: how those in power act, think, feel; how the police and army act and think; how power is reproduced and justified; how the silent majority continue to be silent; all of these issues are largely psychological.

How will a post-revolutionary society ever fix the old problems if we don’t understand how they were caused? If the new Egypt has an army and police force (which I’m assuming it will), shouldn’t we at least understand how the old versions got so messed up? Of course the ultimate goal (as an anarchist) is to have a non-militarized world, but until that happens, it is inevitable that any nation state will continue to invest heavily in its military. But we can at least try to not repeat the same mistakes.

I also wonder whether we’ve basically been lied to about human beings in general. I have always been told that humans are essentially “good” but that some get corrupted. But is that really the case? Isn’t it more likely that we are neutral beings, and that most of us are good and bad together, while some go to either extreme? Then is it a choice? What about people who are living in systems or situations where they are forced to do what society sees as “wrong”? When a poor man steals to feed his children; or when a Palestinian throws a rock at an Israeli soldiers – are these even “wrong”?

Just some thoughts…

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6 thoughts on “On human nature…

  1. Interesting thoughts. I just read an article about newborn babies being killed in Pakistan because the families cannot afford to feed them. I guess we should ask is that wrong since they were forced to do this out of necessity and want rather than evil cruelty. The world is in a sorry state.

  2. The thing about human nature is it’s very diverse, and so there’s no way we can sum it up in a stationary way (like we did with rest of animals, which was fucked btw)

    I see the soldier who kills others but goes home to hug his family as very very convenient and actually makes sense to me in this society. You see, we have the least idea why the “other” is behaving in a way that is bad to us (and even bad itself is relative to the environment) so other people can control our behavior by trying to explain that behavior for their own use. I read that during the war between US and Japan, American soldiers were shown footage of Japanese people raping their women, I later understood the reason behind that, especially after I also read that Nazi soldiers were shown videos of people eating food like hungry wild crazy animals (that indicate that they should be treated as animals, the way hunters treat animals) and I ALSO found the same pattern in worldwide armies: they use morals to make the image of the enemy in the minds of the soldiers and therefor you can have those soldiers do ANYTHING for you. A soldier will never kill if it’s morally bad for him, they need to be told that the ones they are killing are enemies or trying to destroy their homeland or trying to kill other people and so the soldier will feel as a protective figure who feels the need to protect other people by attacking those, at least subconsciously

    We are truly lied to about our nature and potential. To quote Gabor Mate: “the greatest achievement of modern culture is the brilliant selling of samsara (suffering)…. the very culture that we live in denys there is truth, makes people hungry, hurts people, leaves them isolated, therefore empty, therefore wanting satisfaction from the outside, therefore addicted. and then it creates all these products and all these activities and all these cultural diversions to fill the emptiness that it creates. and then they say: that selfishness is the nature of human beings.”

    1. “The thing about human nature is it’s very diverse, and so there’s no way we can sum it up in a stationary way.”

      You’re right.

      I LOVE the rest of your comment! We are taught to “Other” people from when we are born until it almost becomes our second nature…

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