Friday, July 21, 2006

I think this really needs to be said. I know that it might not sit really well with some people. I’m ok with that. I am really. Sometimes you have to say things that seem a little unpopular.

Often I see people talking about the causes for war, the things that inspire nations to clash. Often you see land, resources, religion and political power cited as reasons. I will grant you that those things have caused wars, at least on the surface. But there lies a deeper and darker reason for all man’s hostility against his own kind. The reason is that we are intrinsically flawed creatures. We seem to be naturally violent. We are smart enough to invent the weapons that may lead to our undoing but not smart not say that things ought never be used and destroy them before anyone can use them. Man is seemingly destined to fight to try and bring about his kind’s own Armageddon.

No religion has ever dropped an atom bomb. No pile of money has ever raped a woman. No oil well has ever shot hundreds of bullet into a house full of children. No political ideology has ever tortured a prisoner. In the end there is only us to blame. We are a part of a species that is a dichotomy. We are capable of acts of incredible kindness and incredible sacrifice. But unfortunately the acts of violence and fear and greed outnumber the good acts.

Chimpanzees, our cousins genetically speaking, often hunt, torture and kill other chimpanzees for reasons other than food. They will as a group hunt down another chimpanzee and will beat and kill them. Dolphins, usually regarded as a very smart mammal, have a violent streak in them as well. So maybe this violent streak is instinctive.

I once got into a rather heated discussion with someone about human nature. I argued that we are born with an instinct for self-preservation and little else. When we enter this world our goal is stay alive. We have to be taught generosity and compassion. Some people learn better than others. Some people seem to never learn. They want or need to believe that every problem can be solved with force and violence.

So am I a total pessimist? Do I think we are destined for war after war? I hope not. I really do. But it’s going to take a major shift in the zeitgeist. As long as wars make people money and people think that violence makes them safer I’m sure it will not happen any time soon. People that support a large military and being aggressive militarily always look to World War II. They use it as the last great, noble and just war. But what they never mention is it wasn’t the atom bombs and D-Day that really ended the threats of Germany and Japan. It was the fact that Japan and Germany were rebuilt and not allowed to suffer after defeat like Germany was after World War I. It’s not mentioned in history books very often that it was an action of prudent kindness that ended the German and Japanese threats not military might. Had they been left to suffer who know what might have risen from the ashes of defeat?

Again our nature seems to lead down the path of self-destruction. But I’m quite sure that the reason for all man’s lackluster history of violence and bloodshed is himself and nothing else. If you outlawed religion, property ownership and governments tomorrow it’d take about day before people were gathering into groups and fearing other groups. We like the safety of a group. It’s much easier to hate and want dead a nameless faceless group member than an individual. That seems to be part a large part of the problem. We are territorial animals. We mark our precious territory and don’t want anyone crossing over into. We fear anyone that is alien to us. I’m quite certain though that if we let our guard down just a little we wouldn’t be so afraid. We would see that the common ties that bind us all together are much stronger than any of our differences.

Maybe there is hope for us after all. Maybe it will all work out and eventually there will be a utopia. I certainly hope so. Though given the state our world is I have my doubts. We had thousands of years of civilization to work out our differences and move towards a less violent planet. We’ve just made it easier to kill more people. When the crossbow was invented the Catholic Church was shocked and terrified because it could so easily penetrate armor. The Church thought it too awful to ever use on the battlefield. It almost seems quaint now. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, thought that he could create a weapon so horrific that humans would never use it and wars would cease. He was wrong.

I don’t mean this essay to seem like an indictment of the human race. There are many wonderful inspirational people out there. They are truly angels in our midst. But the angels aren’t very loud. They seldom seem to run the governments and corporations and churches. Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut have both implied that the problem with the US presidency is that no sane person would want the job. Only lunatics would want to be in charge.

I hope it all does work out. I hope I’m wrong and sometime soon this species of ours turns the corner and starts behaving itself. Maybe we’ll get smart and let the angels in our midst be in charge. Either that or we’ll get to meet the real angels.


Anonymous Carissa said...

I like the way you think, Eric. I have always believed that people are inherently good, but the older I get, the more I wonder...

9:50 PM  

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