Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Majority of Men Are Evil


“The majority of men are evil” - One of the most earth-shattering statements in the history of philosophy. It was coined by a man called Bias, the most famous of the Seven Sages.
So acutely aware was he of its implications that he was actually reluctant even to express this judgment. It’s easy to see why, if we just think about it. 

Can you imagine what would happen if we took it seriously to heart? It has the power to devastate the foundations of relationships, families and whole societies.

Relationships are based on trust – but how can we reach out to our fellow man, if we harbour in our hearts the suspicion that he is, more likely than not, evil? We wouldn’t even be able to get started.

Businesses are built on contracts – but who would join in a venture if he didn’t trust his associates? The meaning of even money itself is based on a promise to ‘pay the bearer’. Would it be possible for such mass cooperation to take place without faith in our neighbour to act fairly?

Societies are built on law – but how can the law function in an environment where most people are evil? Sooner or later it would have to disintegrate.

But surely with the advantage of hindsight we can see he was mistaken… wasn’t he?


But then again, how do we account for the holocaust, the transatlantic slave trade, the genocidal wars that have marked human history across the globe into ages past? How do we account for the greed and selfishness that surrounds us every day?

Is there any hope for humanity?

Is it rational, or even sane to have any hope at all in human nature?

I would welcome any thoughts any of you may have on this.

This post has been written by a guest writer called Alex, who I know personally and have invited to contribute this week. He'll respond to any comments.

22 comments:

  1. I think the problem lies in our categorizing people as good or evil in the first place; we are all capable of both. Personally, I don't view mankind in this way. I like Lao Tsu's observation: "What is a good man but a bad man's teacher? What is a bad man but a good man's job?"

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    1. THIS REPLY IS FROM ALEX:

      Hi Kris
      I see what you're saying here. It's unhealthy to have a mentality that groups people together into 'them' and 'us', or 'goodies' and 'baddies' - as someone once noted, the line between good and evil does not divide person man from another, but runs through each one of us. I'm inclined to agree with this BUT...
      I think, if I have understood him correctly, Lao Tsu is being a little overoptimistic here... the last thing a man devoted to doing bad is looking for is someone to teach him to do good!

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  2. I think that the society will not disintegrate. And one of the reasons is the fact that in every society there are people who believe in good. And others who propagate their ideals. And teachers who can teach children to have respect for their neighbours. And great innocents and great martyrs. And moralizers with their speculative and impracticable wisdom. I don't think that hope is irrational, it is also useful in human society. Hope is like the white dove in a flock of pigeons, the last to get out from Pandora's box. Did you ever notice that usually in a flock of pigeons there is only one white dove?
    I think that we are all responsible for the greed and selfishness that surround us every day. I am answering to that question. My life conclusion after 41 years (of great suffering and abuses upon me) is simple but very few can understand this: "ONLY EVIL IS THE CAUSE OF EVIL AND ONLY GOOD IS THE CAUSE OF GOOD". They don't attract each other but they blend into each other, they support each other to some extent. The good ones are not to blame if the evil propagate, those who speak the truth are not to blame. We are responsible in some cases for what happens around us, not in the society as a whole.
    I found an interesting quote on the net:
    "Hell has three gates: lust, anger and greed"
    (Bhagavad Gita). I my life span I found, also beyond my own experiences, that I lived in hell in the world because I didn't open any of those doors. I wasn't greedy, I had no lust at all, I was never angry in a wrong way. I was calm and compassionate. And I saw others climbing the social ladder because they opened those gates. But inside my soul, inside my heart, the paradise remained unchanged. I lived my life reading a lot and suffering much more. I lost my beliefs that good and truth can win only when I was almost 40. But I didn't lose hope completely. People think that I am insane and I was isolated although I was thinking and doing only good. Many times I saw the evil ones gathering together, having power in the society, having fun and money and everything they need. I was not even vain because I was pure and good like some can suggest.
    But now I think that those who trust God and goodness like I was are the main reason for what is good in the world and for the stability of the society. And compared to the evil ones, at least we have the greatest happiness when we are young, the real peace of mind and joy to love the others and to think good about the world and its citizens. The happiness to be a part of goodness, to enjoy beauty and truth.
    But human nature itself doesn't change, morals change but man is always the same. The evil ones are stronger because they take forcefully what they need and then they seem to be annoyed or disturbed by those like me, this is the proof that they also have their troubles, they don't let us simply be, they try to annihilate us, they continue to hit us as if they have something to hide...or maybe to protect. Many times I heard and I read that the real nature of power is to corrupt or to be corrupt. You can find these ideas everywhere. But I still think that being good is not irrational and having hope is the real engine of humankind, like Martin Luther said:
    "Everything done in the world is done by hope."

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    1. THIS REPLY IS FROM ALEX:

      Hi Christina
      Thank you for drawing our attention towards looking for the good elements in society. 

      It's also true that there seems to be a natural, ingrained hostility towards people who try to do good. While it is appreciated by some it still seems to me that the better a person tries to behave, the harder a time they have in life. As though goodness isn't welcome in this world!

      Yet we all have the potential to turn our lives to something positive but you're absolutely right. First we have to hope, and to do that we have to believe.

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  3. I've often said that, "The only reason I am alive, is because everyone I've ever met has make the choice to let me live." Its not that all human's are innately evil, its that everyone has that choice, everyone.

    Normally the 'evil' path is the easiest or the easiest one to gain from. But in the end, I fully believe everyone has been given a morality they can chose to ignore or not.

    And then you have the concept that evil is entirely subjective. The best example from outside humanity is wolves. When one of the pack becomes injured, the rest of the pack kills it. Might have this wolf survived and become stronger? Maybe, but injured, it will slow the pack down and bring in other predators because of the smell of fresh blood. Is this ideal evil? Some consider it so, survival of the fittest in the animal world is the rule, so its just part of nature.

    Its a tough comment to tread, in the end, the best thing I can say is, "Every Man, every Human, will be considered evil by some other Human in their lifetime."

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    1. THIS REPLY IS FROM ALEX:

      Hi Dan
      Hmmm, can even animals choose good or evil, or are we the only inhabitants of this planet gifted with the ability to make moral choices?

      I suppose wolves etc. live by obeying their instincts which come from their animal nature. I don't always see this is humankind. One potential definition of evil could be for a human to behave in a way that comes short of their true humanity.  

      I know this depends upon how we define 'true humanity' but just consider for a moment how often we behave in a ways that are incoherent with our own values... we know what we shouldn't do, yet still do it. Or we know what we should do and don't do it. 

      So I would make a twist on your statement and suggest that every human will actually consider themselves 'evil' at some point in their lives, even by their own standards!

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  4. I do not believe men are evil. Society can be. Society is about who is on top and who on the bottom. Keeping down and oppressing others to help the ones at the top rise. This is done by promoting bigotry and hatred, dehumanizing the ones who are at the bottom rung of society. But when man stops listening to the crap society is throwing and see other human beings, then men can be good. Unfortunately men are social creatures. If only we could all be equal, but society does not want that.

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    1. THIS REPLY IS FROM ALEX:

      Hi Jamie
      True, there is most definitely a systemic element to human misbehaviour. But let's not forget that the societies humans live in are all made by humans, including the evil elements. They weren't imposed on us by any other creature. So surely they must reflect or express something about our nature, no?

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    2. As do the laws that protect us from a mob mentality.

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    3. THIS REPLY IS FROM ALEX:

      True, Jamie. Wouldn't you agree that this issue is a case of 'the closer you look, the more you see?'

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    4. Absolutely. The worst in mankind is horrifying, the best angelic. We are neither angels nor devils, good nor evil, and even our perceptions of good and evil change.

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  5. Hi Alex, nice to meet you!

    I think that the greatest witness against Bias supposed remark, is reality, as we understand it, which is not warranty it is the right way.

    Anyway, it is too old philosophy, even Socrates, as Plato wrote in his book Protagoras, was doubtful about the sentences of these seven persons who not all agree who they were. In those times, 6th Century BCE, it would seem logical, I guess, that human behaviour was not a sample of kindness.

    As time went bye, there was, and there is, I must regretfully write, a kind of parallelism in General History. But, if we delve into the human history, things seem just the contrary. We could keep making humankind go on because most humankind is good. The questions you made about what would have happen if all our species were evil are absolutely truth, humankind would have collapse and disappeared from the face of Earth.

    So we are not Evil, at least not the majority.

    Then, how to explain the other questions you pose in your post about Holocaust, the transatlantic slave trade, the genocidal wars that have marked human history across the globe into ages past? How do we account for the greed and selfishness that surrounds us every day?

    I think that the answer is simple: pride, followed of insecurity, and vulnerability, and closed by greed.

    As you know, Pride is the mother of anything Evil, when arrogance starts to feel threatened by the environment, discover its vulnerability and feels insecure, there is a real possibility to lose everything, and greed cannot allow that, then WE turn to look for help in Evil.

    But, fortunately, if we are all affected by the same disease, very few of us can reach the stage where we start the chain reaction that takes us into Evil. So, most of us are "good", just because! I guess there are some really good persons on the world but I am more on the side of Diogenes looking for an honest (wo)man with his lantern.

    Thank you for letting us stir the axons!

    PS:
    Regarding the title of your post!

    Fine!, I guess we can relay on most women to be good and save the world! :) (I am PC kidding, of course!) :)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. THIS REPLY IS FROM ALEX:

      Hi Untony
      The inescapable dilemma that confronts us as we approach the subject of history is well summed up by your statement that Plato, tells us that Socrates was doubtful about Bias's statement. On this basis, how can we know anything?

      The beauty is that we can still critically evaluate these statements and look through them as through a prism to see if they give clear light, whoever said them and whenever they were said.

      I love Diogenes - part philosopher, part performance artist - though I sense that if we had ever met he would have beaten me with a stick!

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  6. you ask some women and this is a truth-filled statement

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    1. THIS REPLY IS FROM ALEX:

      Hi Theory
      Hmmm... I sense that their response would probably be based upon their experience of the behaviour of specific men in the context of a relationship, as opposed to a generic statement about the condition of the human heart.

      But even so there's a flip side to the gender argument too - Have you read RumPunch's other article 'women behaving badly'?

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  7. Alex, Thank you for the post, another thought provoking statement that belongs on this page. Unfortunately I don't have an answer, the same questions plague me. But thanks for making me think.
    Rumpunch, I've been out of commission for a while, but I'm back at it. I have recently addressed an honor that was given me by MenopausalMother and I will have the post published a little later this evening. Please come by and check it out.

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    1. THIS REPLY IS FROM ALEX:

      Thanks Jon
      I've had my mind stimulated a lot by this blog and, what can I say... once you start it's hard to stop. From when you ask a question, it lingers until you get an answer and from when you realise something it's hard to un-realise it.

      True, there's a lot of unanswered stuff you just have to live with - but what's the alternative? I see a lot of ignorance and it's far from bliss, so I'm determined to try to use my mind and associate with those who will share the journey with me.

      Also a message from RumPunch who says welcome back to blogging and will definitely be checking out your new posts!

      Delete
  8. May be, just may be, it's true that majority of men are evil! Don't you ever fought yourself against evil thoughts, and came over almost of the times?

    Its may be the fears of bad actions will do bad for themselves, keep 'em being good! May be laws, the practices of the society, and mostly how a person grow up in childhood made most people the opposite! In times, most people actually practices that of good!

    I guess, evilness inside human push the good forward! History prevail, only if we ever learn from that history time would always be nicer- :))

    Thanks Alex!

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    1. THIS REPLY IS FROM ALEX:

      My pleasure, Moonomo
      I agree with you, the potential for evil and the temptation to do evil things is there in each one of us so I suppose we could define the 'evil' person as the one who allows their life to be governed by that mind-set, those impulses etc.

      It does raise the question of what holds us back. Why don't we do evil when part of us wants to? I think you've made a good start with your list - The fear of negative consequences, good parenting/education, a just legal system... you might add an inner sense of conscience, a basic awareness to treat others as we would want to be treated.

      Probably there are many other factors. It bears thinking about if we want to see our communities and this world become a better place.

      Sadly, when it comes to history, I see little learning and much repetition.

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  9. Hi Alex,

    I believe that mankind both trusts and distrusts one another equally. Ancient Greece was essentially a lawless society, yet the people established a system of hospitality among themselves. In those days there were many wayward travelers who often stopped at the homes of strangers for food, shelter, water, etc. According to this system, the host, or in other words 'homeowners,' had a set of responsibilities to follow...provide food, shelter, and other necessities while at the same time offering a gift. Without police or attorneys or any sort of real government, this custom was all they had to depend on. Of course not all hosts were benevolent, and this was practiced at the discretion of the traveler...

    My point circles back around to your own argument--how could function in society without trust? As humans we are masters at discriminating one another, but contrarily, we are also masters at taking care of one another. I think it's just one of life's many paradoxes.

    Great discussion. Glad you posted.

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    1. THIS REPLY IS FROM ALEX:

      Wow, Katie! I'm re-reading Homer's Odyssey right now and you're right, it's full of this sort of thing. Just one of those gift packages would set a fella up for life!

      Perhaps we may regard traditions this strong and commonly held as a form of law... however, another example of human decency emerging in various forms. I have to say that the faith in human nature I've seen here reflects well on the populace of the blogosphere!

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  10. Weird...I was thinking of The Odyssey when I wrote my response! Certainly the Cyclops is NOT a good example of a gracious host :)

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