"We're not sinners because we sin; we sin because we're sinners," said once a preacher. His meaning is clear: it is the difference between a choice and an unfortunate quality. Although this was not profound insight on the preacher's part, since the topic had been heavily debated during the Enlightenment, he hit the bullseye in the center. Humans are simply too self-centered, too inclined to do what is best for themselves and not for what is actually right to be able to do what is good. It was Thomas Hobbes who initially put this into words, with his carrot-or-stick philosophy laid out in the Leviathan. Humans do everything for the sake of reward or to avoid punishment. This truth is found everywhere: in literature, in history books, even in the newspapers and magazines of today.
The basic question of good versus evil was explored especially during the American Renaissance before the Civil War. Transcendentalists, such as Emerson, found goodness in the individual's actions. "Let us... find a pure standard in the idea of man," he said. However, is that possible? There are good people in the world, but not enough for man himself to be seen as good. Friends betray friends for their own sake; money and business predominate the world. Is that good idea? No. Emerson also says, "And we are now men and must accept... destiny;... not cowards fleeing before Revolution, but guides, redeemers, benefactors, obeying the Almighty..." Men do not have the character, nor the strong morality, to be faithful servants of God... 'redeemers'. Not even ministers or priests can be seen as pure, as Nathaniel Hawthorne so blatantly states in 'The Minister's Black Veil'. It is Poe that enlightens the matter: under stress, under trying times, men are not able to hold up a façade of goodness or morality. They succumb to insanity or depression or anger. Even Emerson cannot dispute this: all of this happened to him after the death of his son.
History teachers will be forever baned with the question, 'What's the point? Why is this relevant?' Well, the generic answer, 'So we don't repeat our mistakes' both holds and it doesn't. Yes, that is a clear self-contradiction, but it's true. We watch what human nature has done to us in the past, we see the indisputable facts of what has already happened – and we vow 'Never again.' I believe that we are moral enough to not let the mass carnage of the Holocaust or the Armenian Genocide happen again. However, we did let it happen the first time – people would watch as hundreds of people were treated as cattle and look the other way simply because they were too selfish to speak out against carnage; for fear of their own lives, they would not intervene to save nine million others. Self-preservation is a tricky part of human nature. However, Hitler has almost nothing on Stalin; over the Russian's communist regime, he killed anywhere between twelve and twenty million people. It would be interesting to see someone preaching 'man is good!' hear those statistics. They would perhaps say that there are always a few bad apples in every bushel – but Stalin and Hitler themselves didn't slaughter the innocent. They had millions of subordinates who did it for them. They were 'following orders', as if that is an excuse for mass murder. Leaving behind the overused although relevant concept of genocide, the thousands of wars over human history will also demonstrate human evilness. One huge, although almost-forgotten war, is the Thirty Years' War in the 16th Century. Millions upon millions of people were slaughtered – and all in the name of the supposed personification of Goodness, Jesus Christ. In a war of Catholics versus Protestants, Christians slaughtered Christians over a disagreement of doctrine. How does that reveal the goodness of human nature? That we are willing to fight for our beliefs? No, that doesn't hold, if a person who is commanded to love his enemy decides to stab him instead. One more war that needs to be mentioned in World War I. The statistics are irrelevant to be stated, since everyone knows them already. It is the end that worries me. In 1918, the Treaty of Versailles was signed. The war was over. Yet the bullets still tore through the air. Why? Because everyone was desperate to fire the last shots of the war. They paid no heed to the fact that they were killing. They went after forgotten and terrible glory instead. History is there for us to learn from our mistakes. However, we also have the stupid yet inevitable habit of repeating them.
Human evilness is not distant. It is not only a thing of wars and literature written one hundred fifty years ago. It goes on today. On September 11th, 2001, I was eleven years old. And I watched on TV as six men killed three thousand people so they could get into Heaven. So that they could have glory. How did we respond? Well, we attacked the country that had nothing to do with it. They slaughtered innocents, so we slaughtered innocents right back. Even as victims, things aren't black and white; our own shade has darkened indisputably. One more issue (although definitely not the only other issue) is the fact of global warming. People will deny it and deny it, not wanting to worry about it because they are so selfishly caught up in their own lives that they don't want the burden of caring about disaster in the future. Or, once again, the issue of money is brought up. God forbid we damage the economy if we are trying to save the world. As Al Gore put it, "Well, if we don't have that (the world)..." But, of course, our Ferraris and mansions predominate over the globe. It is just how we think.
Religions talk of the goodness of spirit. This is true for some; the vast minority. If the spirit was good, if we believed wholly in our goodness, well... 'If what you believe dictates what you do, then you will spend your energy and effort on things you believe are worth doing.' Humans are selfish, and that is obvious. Goodness does not prevail. The whale of Hobbes' Leviathan has long since crushed it.
I realize that the middle paragraph is about as big as the other two put together... but oh well. :) I wasn't looking much at organization, I was trying to not be late to my third period, haha.