The common man, after all the ages, is still very common. He is ignorant, reckless, unjust, selfish, easily misled. All public affairs bear the stamp of his weakness. Especially is this shown in the prevalence of destructive strife. The boasted progress of civilization is dissolved in the barbarism of war. Whether glory or conquest or commercial greed is war’s purpose, the ultimate result of war is death. Its essential feature is the slaughter of the young, the brave, the ambitious, and the hopeful, leaving the weak, the sickly, and the discouraged to perpetuate the race. Thus all militant, nations become decadent ones. Thus the glory of Rome, her conquests and her splendor of achievement, left the Romans at home not the sons of the Romans, but of the slaves, scullions, the idlers and camp-followers whom the years of Roman glory could not use and did not destroy. War blasts and withers all that is worthy in the works of man.
When we look at human nature in detail we find more of animal than of angel, and the “veracity of thought and action,” which is the choicest gift of Science, is lost in the happy-go-lucky movement of the human mob. “To see things as they really are” is the purpose of the philosophy of Pessimism in the hands of its worthiest exponents. But we know what is, and those alone, even were such knowledge possible, is not to know the truth. To the philosophy of Pessimism, the child is a mere human larva, weak, perverse, disagreeable, the heir of mortality, with all manner of “defects of doubt and taints of blood,” gathered in the long experience of its wretched parentage.
According to Schopenhauer, we move across the stage of life stung by appetite and goaded by desire, in pain unceasing, the sole respite from pain, the instant in which desire is lost in satisfaction. To do away with desire is to destroy pain, but it also destroys existence. Desire is lost where the “mouth is stopped with dust,” and with death only comes relief from pain.
(Adapted from Project Gutenberg’s The Philosophy of Despair, by David Starr Jordan)
Take a cursory glance at the news headlines for any random day, and it’s not hard to develop a pessimistic attitude towards your fellow man. The endless reports of thieves, bombers, murderers, bigots, racists, and bullies is enough to make you lose all hope humans are capable of one day living in complete peace and harmony. Are we genetically predisposed towards “evil” behaviors like selfishness, violence, and cruelty? Or, is it an unfortunate side effect of our society? Not even those who make a living studying human behavior (psychologists, anthropologists, etc.) can come to a consensus on our inherent nature.
There were an astounding 237 wars between 1900 and today, starting with the Boxer Rebellion and continuing to the war in Afghanistan.
After watching any of the military training documentaries on the Discovery Channel, it indeed appears like some men were born for battle. They absolutely thrive under the high-pressure, aggression-filled environment of war. Not to mention, they really, really like their weapons. It makes you wonder what these men would do if there was no need to fight—could they even survive a desk job.
In some ways we aren’t much different than the ancient Romans with their gladiator games and fascination with blood and gore. For instance, prime time TV is full of shoot em’ up cop shows and gruesome crime scenes, most news agencies stick with the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ philosophy, and one of the most violent sports in existence, mixed martial arts fighting, has been dubbed the fastest growing sport in the world. Without a doubt, we have a definite attraction to violence.
While most of the research regarding violence in entertainment has to do with how viewing it affects our behavior, perhaps the bigger question is why we like watching it in the first place? Maybe we’re drawn to it as a way to vicariously live out our savage instincts, or possibly we’re not so much attracted to the violence as we are the excitement. Some scientists argue our humdrum, civilized lives lack sensation and the thrill of conflict and danger provides a type of escape. The only problem with that theory is it doesn’t explain why native people also have ritual violence—unless it breaks up the monotony of their days too.
Towards the end of his life, Freud became largely disenchanted with the human species and considered us one of the worst types of animals. Granted, a lot of his feelings were based on the tumultuous time period in which he lived, as he witnessed World War I and died just as another major war, World War II, was getting started. In his 1930 book, Civilizations and its Discontents, he wrote “…men are not gentle creatures, who want to be loved, who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness.”
Hundreds of years before Freud, philosopher Thomas Hobbes had a similarly pessimistic view of humanity and famously wrote that the life of man in his natural state is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Essentially, he believed all men were equally capable of killing, and when two people want the same thing the inevitable outcome is war. In his mind, government and civil society were the only ways to curb the brutishness, yet he admitted even governments and the elite were full of corruption.
So, if we ignore Freud and Hobbes for the moment and assume other thinkers are correct, like Jean Jacques Rousseau who thought humans were naturally good or John Locke who believed we all started as a blank slate. Then it makes sense to presume babies—people who have been influenced the least by the world—would lean towards goodness or neutrality. But, is that really the case? It’s difficult to say because, if you’ve spent any time with a toddler, you know at one point in the day he might be smashing his brother on the head with a wooden block and then five minutes later he’s generously offering you the soggy portion of his half-eaten cookie. Also, we have to teach them how to behave in a socially acceptable manner (i.e. don’t hit, bite, steal, and always, always share). If humans are naturally good, why do we have to spend so much time teaching children how to behave?
The simple fact that we have any type of government suggests we believe society would spiral into absolute mayhem if there wasn’t someone making and enforcing laws. Essentially, we have very little trust in our fellow man to not kill or steal from us, so we willingly give up many of our own personal freedoms for the sake of protection. This in itself is pretty strong evidence that we believe a large portion of people isn’t innately good.
But would pandemonium actually ensue if we abolished government and lived in an anarchist state? It’s hard to say since hardly any major anarchist groups have existed throughout history—and perhaps that’s proof enough they don’t work. Even most hunter gatherer and tribal people, like the Australian Aborigines, rely on a group of elders to guide their community.
(10 Reasons Humans Are Naturally Evil, S. Grant May 23, 2013 at
Now there are definitely degrees of evil. Some degree of evil is all around us. We notice some degree of evil almost every day. This does not mean that we (or anyone) must retreat and become a hermit — in order to extinguish all evil from our lives. That choice would be sub-optimal. There are too many folks who have some evil in them, but still harbor some good, for us to write them off wholesale — upon their first evil act. The things to watch out for are a person who militantly avoids introspection or any questioning of their motives, while simultaneously offering up others as sacrificial animals. The key is consistency. Truly evil folk are completely consistent in their behavior. They are almost predictable.
The easiest historical example of evil might be Adolf Hitler who, through militant evasion, irrationally held that the Aryan race was superior and entitled, while holding down the Jews as the scapegoat for any and all of society’s ills. Dealing with evil is unavoidable; dealing well with evil is something we ought to learn how to do well. It has been said that the only thing that evil “listens to” is brute force or coercion — that all attempts at persuasion with “the evil” are doomed a priori. Rand herself said that compromise with evil was, itself, evil.
(Human Evil: The Only Kind There Is, Human Evil: The Only Kind There Is by Ed Thompson at
We prefer to think great evil is limited to a few depraved individuals, but that’s not true. Large populations commit heinous crimes.
In the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1989, the number of people killed for political reasons or who died in prisons or camps ranges from 20 to 26 million. These staggering numbers include the 6 million Ukrainian citizens whom the Soviets forced to die of starvation in 1932-1933.
No mercy was shown the starving peasants. During the famine, detachments of workers and activists were marshaled in the countryside to take every last bit of produce or grain. Activists and officials went through peasant homes with rods, pushing them into walls and ceilings, seeking hidden stores of food or grain; yards were dug up or poked with rods in the search; and dogs were brought in to sniff out food…. Baked bread was taken. All reserves and the seed grain needed for planting were seized. The peasants were left with nothing. To isolate the victims, the Ukrainian borders were sealed off to block the importation of food. The peasants simply starved slowly to death throughout the Ukraine.
One party official wrote, “The most terrifying sights were the little children with skeleton limbs dangling from balloon-like abdomens. Starvation had wiped every trace of youth from their faces, turning them into tortured gargoyles; only in their eyes still lingered the reminder of childhood. Everywhere we found men and women lying prone, their faces and bellies bloated, their eyes utterly expressionless.”
Was this inhuman? No. Humans did this.
Under the Chinese communists a conservative estimate is that 26 to 30 million “counterrevolutionaries” were killed or died in the prison system. Of course, a statistic doesn’t capture the horror. Consider the words of Mao Tse Tung who boasted in a 1958 speech to the communist party, “What’s so unusual about Emperor Shih Huang of the Chin Dynasty? He had buried alive 460 scholars only, but we have buried alive 46,000 scholars.” Burying people alive must be a metaphor! But further research proved that burying people alive was a common method of execution.
Within a few weeks beginning in December of 1937, the Japanese army raped, tortured, and murdered over 300,000 Chinese in the city of Nanking. The Rape of Nanking should be remembered not only for the number of people slaughtered but for the cruel manner in which many met their deaths. Chinese men were used for bayonet practice and in decapitation contests. An estimated 20,000–80,000 Chinese women were raped. Many soldiers went beyond rape to disembowel women, slice off their breasts, nail them alive to walls. Fathers were forced to rape their daughters, and sons their mothers, as other family members watched. Not only did live burials, castration, the carving of organs, and the roasting of people become routine, but more diabolical tortures were practiced, such as hanging people by their tongues on iron hooks or burying people to their waists and watching them get torn apart by German shepherds. So sickening was the spectacle that even the Nazis in the city were horrified, one proclaiming the massacre to be the work of “bestial machinery.”
The Rape of Nanking, as it is called, was front-page news across the world, yet most of the world did nothing to stop it and Japan officially denies it today. But humans did it.
(We Don’t Take Human Evil Seriously so We Don’t Understand Why We Suffer, Clay Jones at


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