At the root of our NATURE (whatever that means) are we GOOD (whatever that means)?  Or are we EVIL (whatever that means)??

When looking at events like the Holocaust or the Bosnian Genocide or countless other atrocities, can we conclude that our basically self-interested and evil tendencies are held back only by a few thin threads?

Or is it that deep down we are ultimately good??  That we have some fundamentally innate tendency towards compassion?  Even if it is within some ambiguously defined in-group.

After all researchers like Frans de Waal argue that our moral building blocks are evident from research by primatologists and evolutionary biologists.  We are pro-social by nature.  One of my own favorite anecdotes is the fact that unrelated adult chimpanzees, sometimes at the expense of their own lives, will rescue drowning infants.

Christianity and Original Sin however argue we have an amalgam of both.  At first, we had perfect and good natures, later corrupted by sin.  Zoroastrians believe that the world and our own natures is a fierce war between Good and Evil.

So what do you think??

Are we basically Good or Evil?   Or Good that can be made Evil?
Or maybe viceversa?

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  1. Charlie Nixen says:

    I think we are ‘survivalists’ by nature.

    The reason we are often pro-social, is because pro-social groups have a higher rate of survival, than anti-social groups. The reason that adult chimpanzees might rescue an ‘unrelated’ infant, is because pro-social groups where this behavior is the natural tendency, have ‘out-survived’ anti-social groups that don’t have a natural tendency toward this behavior.

    I also think that ‘a higher rate of survival’ is why peace, cooperation, industry, commerce, trade, friendship, family structures, and culture are they way they are, because in each case, over the years, these have had higher survival rates, than the alternatives.

    So, why do we have war, killing, brutality, poverty? Because, when resources are scarce, these become either necessitated, or perceptually favorable survival strategies for some individuals and some groups.

    Want to promote peace?

    1) Make the payoff for peace for all involved a higher survivability rate for all.
    Those with the lowest survivability rates have the highest risk of switching to a non-peaceful survivability strategy. So, think welfare programs, like subsidized housing predicated on pro-social behavior, which increases the survivability rate of these sub-groups, and you will see decreases in anti-social behavior.

    2) Or, make the penalty of war/anti-social behavior higher for all involved. Think ‘Mutual assured destruction’ as an answer for the threats of war. If starting a world war reduces one’s survivability rate to zero, then no one will want to start a war. Or, war crime prosecution. Or, even peacetime criminal prosecution. etc, etc.

    The good news?
    ‘Peace, cooperation, industry, commerce, trade, friendship, family structures, and culture’, probably have a higher survivability rate than the alternatives, for most people and groups.

    The bad news?
    There is a big difference between ‘most people’ and ‘everyone’, and thus for ‘some’, the ‘alternatives to peace, etc’ will be the path with the higher survivability rate, especially when resources are scare, and/or when resources are unequally available.


  2. Samantha says:

    I believe that humans are selfish by nature and that selfishness drives most of the decisions they make. Selfishness is often what makes them “good”. They dislike when others see them badly, as we are indeed social, and will desire to do good for others so they can feel good about themselves for doing it. They could then expect the same in return as well. As Charlie has mentioned, even the social aspect might hold a subconscious selfishness (perhaps more of an inherited trait from natural selection). Experiments have shown that most toddlers will choose a “victimized” puppet to play with over the accuser puppet, which does indicate that they have a tendency to be “good”, but it does not prove that it is entirely selfless as the use of toddlers as subjects is meant to signify because the selfishness could be an instinctual behavior.

    The same goes for evil. People are evil because they have pangs of selfishness. Those same toddlers chose a puppet to play with that had similarities with them over one that did not; in this case it was a similarity of food preference. They also showed to enjoy it when the dissimilar puppet was ‘punished’, which might speak a lot about the Holocaust. This is merely a personal belief that I have yet to convincingly disprove to myself. I got the experimental information from an episode of Through The Wormhole on the Science channel.

  3. Benjamin Miller says:

    Most people need to realize that “the Good” and its sinister counterpart, “Evil”, are nothing but constructed concepts.

    To argue on the issue of the inherency of Goodness is risky business. Sure, one could say that there is some level of accessible Good, but this too is constructed. I tend to say that this is part of the role of Religion in general; religion (another construct) allows people to tap into that mysterious source of goodness, given the name of ” the Good” by philosophers who basically use it as a substitute for the concept of a God. To unite with this Good (also given labels of the Infinite, the Blessed, the Sacred, Brahman, etc.) is essentially the goal of all major religions.

    I sincerely believe that humans beings, and any other living creature or thing, are inherently neutral (though I tend to agree with statements like the one above mine, stating selfishness as having a certain level of psycho-biological inherency). A scale-based construction that determines if your Good or Evil is too crude (if not too limited) a thing to be truly accurate in describing human nature.

  4. Greg says:

    Like the previous comments, humanity is neither good nor evil, but is based around what all living things are: surviving and thriving. This means self preservation, self advancement, and self interest on an individual level that is in relation to a larger, social level.
    The notion of good and evil has been constructed in an attempt to persuade humans to behave more in one direction, as opposed to the other direction. Such notions are often constantly manipulated, again, as an end result to increase one’s own rate of survivability and advancement in life.
    Humanity is based around agendas that everyone has, in relation to each other and in opposition of each other that drives constant conflict. It is an ideal notion that everyone will be sympathetic and/or empathetic towards each other, when again, the end result is often advancing one’s own interest or agenda ahead of everyone else without appearing harmful in the process.
    Humanity has created many structures in an attempt to create that ideal form of existence for everyone that is somewhat of a folly in of itself. Religion can be seen as observations on human nature and an attempt to regulate it through philosophical/psychological standpoints supported by a heavy dose of mysticism and belief, but still people do what is considered “evil”, as the need to survive and thrive in human nature even out rules religion. Systems of governance have been formed across the world to regulate these human activities and even then, humans still find a way around the system or to use it to their own benefit, again, to increase their odds of survival and security in the world, rather than just adhering to it. Medicine and counseling has also been another form to “fix” these behaviors, but even that has failed or even caused more damage than it tried to “fix”.
    Humanity is something that has attempted to regulate and set up a system for itself over the centuries, as we can see with the rise and fall of civilizations, as well as the future civilizations that draw from previous ones.
    Again, humans are not evil or good, they are self interested and drawn to that which promotes those self interests and shares them, while avoiding or attacking that which threatens those interests. Just because you do well and good does not always mean you will receive the same in kind, as again with self interest, most will often take goodwill and run off with it and not bother to repay it.
    The difficulty lies in that humanity cannot be forced to be fair or to adhere to a system or a philosophy. They can be motivated or pointed towards it, but if they decided to walk away from it, well that’s the result.

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