Human nature has both a bright and a dark side. Which circumstances bring one or the other to the fore? I think, we may best answer the question by looking at times of war when the largest numbers of people are driven by the dark side and atrocities reach extremes.
Let’s take a brief look at the famous (or infamous) second world war. Adolf Hitler and his partners in crime had spread narratives of hate not unlike those currently being spread by American right-wing extremists. Then they gave horrid orders that those who were either perfused with the hateful narratives or blindly obedient to authority diligently fulfilled when German troupes invaded other countries, especially in the East. Their atrocities included forced labor and mass executions which – unlike the holocaust – were widely known from the get-go. The peoples of the Soviet Union were especially hard hit with massive deaths, cruelty, and destruction. Accordingly, they were filled with wrath.
When the tide of the war turned, Soviet soldiers committed massive rape and sex-enslavement of German females (including minors). Even children of German ethnicity were then being labeled as evil Nazis, a form of human vermin deserving often times neither food nor shelter. When the leaders of the allied nations (including the U.S.A.) met, they agreed on an eviction of ethnic Germans from their homelands in the East (making them pay for the crimes of Germans in the West). They were robbed of their possessions, homes, jobs, communities — of everything, and driven out of their homelands into Germany where they had to try to survive and start new lives. Germany, already having suffered huge destruction, came under a refugee crisis. The new arrivals were being seen as outsiders and unbidden rivals for already scarce resources (like immigrants in the U.S. are perceived by some today).
Their own fellow Germans in the lands that remained nationally German regarded their deported ethnic fellows as invading vermin and labeled them as evil Russians. Allied military police had to enforce their housing in spacious intact houses whose no-more no-less German owners had nothing but loathing and hate for these Eastern bums, as they regarded them. So, the displaced ethnic Germans were being treated as outsider vermin first in their homelands and then in the remaining nation of their ethnic equals to which they had been deported. Even their children, who had not even peripherally been involved in the deeds that resulted in all the destruction and misery, were treated that way, constantly put down and beaten up as evil Russians. Families were ripped apart. Children were separated from their families. Farmers showed up upon refugee arrivals to take in and employ strong or strongish males in slavelike conditions on their farms where they replaced the forced labor the Nazis had previously stationed there. These occasions were like slave markets, just like under the Nazis, but this time without Nazis at the top arranging things that way. The dark side had taken over in countless people who were not living at the top of society. The victims of war were treated like vermin by people who behaved like vermin.
Much of this eerily reminds me of things currently happening in America. And without claiming to have any scientific support of my impression, I’ll share my impression to let my readers test it against their own thoughts.
My impression is that the dark side of human nature – the one that mostly derives from our pre-social, pre-human ancestors – tends to rise above our good side (the one that make healthy societies possible) at the extreme ends of wealth and prosperity. On one end, I see sociopathic behavior reigning throughout the upper class, causing it to raid people’s social security and health coverage in order to maximize their profits and give themselves giant tax breaks, or starting wars to pillage whole countries, or moving production to cheap-labor countries in order to cut salaries and thereby improve their own unearned profits – as if those profits taken from other people’s labor weren’t already excessive without such cruel measures. I see them making decisions that destroy the ability of Earth’s ecosphere to support human life in the foreseeable future. This is definitely the dark side ruling.
On the other end, I see people at or near the bottom driven by fear and desperation to abide by the principle that one’s own survival excludes even the smallest scraps for others; resulting in fear, aggression, and hate directed at “outsiders” such as refugees and immigrants, or against anyone who doesn’t rally with them around demagogues who lie through their teeth promising to be on their (the desperate haters) side.
The good side, on the other hand, seems to me to dominate over the dark side among everyone not living on these extreme ends of society — people who are neither so high up on a dungheap society to disregard everyone below them as cattle, nor so low that desperation drives them to letting go of the good side which distinguishes us from non-social animals ready to devour their own kind.
This middle of our all-too-steep socio-economic pyramid thus has a special responsibility not to support the inequality machine which our current socio-economic and political system represents. Unfortunately, they often tend to be ignorant of the suffering at the bottom and the corruption at the top that those in the higher middle often actively support in pursuit of their own privileges.
I think that those of us who are not psychopaths or sociopaths, or driven by despair and manipulation to antisocial extremist views, need to dedicate ourselves to supporting a system that will provide a good life for all, to an accompanying benevolent mindset, and to spreading both commitments among as many fellow humans as we can. The way things are developing, this is not only necessary for a good life but for mankind’s survival.
By the way, don’t suspect all poor people as selfish extremists. The most generous, benevolent, and humane people are often found among the poor — as long as desperation doesn’t push them over the edge. That’s because these social characteristics are the basis for mutuality which has allowed the human species to survive this long. So, poverty doesn’t automatically rob us of our humanity. There exists a breaking point beyond which the social instincts that make us truly human collapse and allow the dark side to dominate, stimulated by an environment of distrust, abuse, and pure self preservation, such as the world in which true vermin (insects and such) live. Besides hardship and lack of recourse, mind manipulation from the top can easily push susceptible people over the edge, even the less desperate, by twisting concepts such as property into justifiers for exploitation and oppression and by instilling false narratives such as that all human beings are purely evil by nature.
This is nonsense propagated by evil people and their stooges in order to justify their evil. We carry both bright and dark elements within ourselves, and it is up to us to choose one over the other. And the type of society we promote, create, and uphold is the result of that choice.
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