One of the great fundamental questions of philosophy is whether humans are fundamentally good or evil. In the waxing hours of my adolescence I participated in what was probably the closest thing to a test of that question. That was Occupy Wall Street. It was the first major protest I had done, although I had done a handful of smaller demonstrations prior. It made assumptions about human nature. The protests themselves were led by and mostly peopled with the most naïve of hippies. Possessing a Marxist belief in a false consciousness, it was merely a matter of lifting that veil and then the social constructions of the plutocratic few would give way to the core truths of the moral universe. Universal, unconditional, and perfect love was but a mere movement away.
It was on that naiveite that some of the worst punishments of my life were doled out. It is that belief which tells youthful idealists that they can walk into no-man’s land, stop the guns with spiritual power, and expose the hubris and folly of the absurdity of the scene. It doesn’t occur to the innocents that, in fact, many people actually like war and they haven’t been duped into it by a conniving cadre of the super-rich. Rednecks collect guns and greasers get in fights and aristocrats duel and it is not because they were gaslighted by society’s powerbrokers but because they actually enjoy violence. In 2015, I was shocked to learn with the release of the opening installment of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise that there is, in fact, a major sexual fetish where people enjoy human suffering and degradation.
Even those that do not collect guns or brandish sex whips seemed to not have oriented their lives in the direction that I thought they would have. I looked in politics to find that actually most people get into politics to advocate for whatever identity they belong to. I have pressed, recently, on issues related to autism and disability but I never neglected warfare or poverty or the environment. As it turned out, gay people fought for gay rights, women were active feminists, black people did racial justice, and so on. The number of natives versus allies in the various political movements seemed to betray a pervasive selfishness. Almost never would any of those identity activists even join a protest for a cause that wasn’t their own. If that was a representative sample of humanity then it did not speak well for the species.
As I have written in an earlier article, the Emmanuel Nine survivors forgave Dylann Roof after a week while Taylor Swift still hasn’t forgiven Kanye West. One of Taylor’s earlier hits was about burning someone in effigy and her general modus operandi in her early years was to exploit the immense power of global stardom to punish her enemies for nothing more than slights. It was bringing a nuke to a fist-fight. Perhaps, in most heterosexual relationships, men have more power than women but that certainly could not be said there. All of this justified by an egocentric self-pity. Not a reflection that mercy should be shown to the, often, minor and almost celebrities listed on her resumé. What is most disturbing is not that any particular pop star was grossly unethical but that she was narrating the vengeful fantasies of the consumers who elected her to represent their values. That is to say that it is not that she burned someone in effigy but that so many people related to that.
To continue with the pop culture examples, Nickelback and Justin Bieber have gotten hate campaigns that appear to be far larger than Richard Spencer or Steve Bannon. For the crime of what? Having low-quality music? Since when does that warrant an emotion so vile as hatred? Well, in a culture where burning someone in effigy over a low-quality boyfriend as opposed to a rapist or a murderer is considered normal, it stands to reason that hatred over pop stars’ music quality would trump genocidal racism as a reason to disown a member of the human family. It all begs the question of whether the average human considers any offence too small to warrant hatred?
The answer, sadly, is probably no. There is a scientific answer to this question, too. According to social psychology, people only love the members of their kin group. Then, I guess, the question would be whether people can overcome their instincts and obey an abstract morality. If the examples I have used are any illustration of the human condition then it seems that humans are weaker than their neurochemicals. This would also seem to answer why people mostly only care about issues that affect themselves or their group. Then the final verdict on the human condition is that humans are animals with no abstract ethics or morals. Whether that means they are good or evil depends on what school of ethics one belongs to but aside from postmodernism, Rawlsian minimalism, and, perhaps, Ayn Rand’s philosophy, it would seem that humans lack the ability to live by any semblance of morality.
My young self knew none of this and naively drinking Marxist analyses, I believed that humans were fundamentally good. Years later, I have come to the belief that humans are fundamentally evil. What does that mean for the future? I don’t know but a happy ending is unlikely. It is, I believe, that Francis Fukuyama was correct in the sense that major wars will mostly end and that human progress will plateau. Yet, that plateau is not going to look like the 1989 that Fukuyama was writing from. For all that humans practice violence, hatred, and callousness of one another, they are also made absolutely miserable by the results. The modern world is a dystopia where everyone has access to everything they have ever wanted and it makes them intensely miserable. They watch hardcore pornography and are less satisfied with sex. They want seclusion in the suburbs and they feel lonely and kill themselves more. If this adolescence began with the belief that humans are a single movement away from losing the false consciousness that leads them to err, it ends with the belief that the end of history is a future of hatred, low-level warfare, and human misery all because humans are weaker than their base urges.