In the previous post, we mentioned how a dedicated analysis of misanthropy is due. Misanthropy is generally defined as a dislike of humanity as a whole – that is to say that the misanthrope judges the net value of humans as negative. A misanthrope will look at the state of the world and conclude that, while there are good people, most people are bad, or that people are inherently bad, and even the good people can and probably will do bad things. This immobilizes and neutralizes many people who know what is just and would otherwise act in the face of evils but instead deem humanity not worth fighting for. This is a mindset that is very pervasive in the west and exists as a retort to criticisms of capitalism: ‘it is just human nature to be greedy!’. We will analyze the most common reasons for misanthropy and assess their validity.
However, before we begin to break down our analysis, let us first mention the genealogy of this topic. While this has likely been discussed for much longer than half a millennia, Thomas Hobbes argued in the 17th century that humans are essentially ‘bad’ by nature, specifically that without a state they toil and war in misery, whereas Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that the bad in humans are brought out by civilized conditions and the natural state of humans as they existed in the wild is good. Of course, the real arguments of these two philosophers are more complex and have much more to them than this simple dichotomy makes it seem. Nonetheless, drawing attention to this will serve the purpose of this article in which I argue that man is made bad.
One who holds that it is human nature to be greedy must make the ridiculous assumption that it suddenly became human nature to be greedy when civilization began a mere few thousand years ago. The nomadic hunter-gatherers did not accumulate material possessions past what they needed or, at most, had small trinkets and decor, mostly for spiritual purposes. There were and are even many civilized societies who do not hold the want for accumulation of material possessions past what they need. The paradigm of greediness exists, for the most part, in developed industrialized nations where the economy depends on having a large base of consumers who are conditioned to accumulate material possessions just for the sake of doing so, usually because it is a surrogate activity. Consumerism, as we know it today, was born, depending on the country, around the 18th to 19th century in Europe during the ‘consumer revolution’. Prior to then, the only people who were seriously obsessed with commodity accumulation were aristocracies who did not have to exert themselves for much of anything, hence their consumerism was a surrogate activity to fill the void of a lack of power process. While there are modern peoples who are not very materialistic, there are also ancient peoples who were materialistic (that is the classes in those societies above the slaves were) such as the Aztecs. However, all greedy peoples are civilized.
Humans have a great potential for social plasticity, but their core nature did not change in the relatively quick transition from nomads to sedentary civilizations. That nature, which can be reasonably observed to be mostly egalitarian and shared, evolved over hundreds of thousands and millions of years of gradual change, and is not going to be re-written in a few hundred years by industrialism. I will give an example for plasticity and for the conflict between modern conditions and human nature. With regards to social plasticity, there was an immense change in the way of life for peoples in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. Lands that had hitherto been lived on and worked on by a tight and organic community began to be encroached upon by the rise of capitalism. The mercantile class forcefully and violently seized lands from all those who were members of communes of this time. This made out of the population a herd of landless people who had no choice but to move to the cities and sell their labor to a member of the capitalist class in order to be given money.
- ‘At the same time (and this is the second factor which made for the plasticity of the social milieu) a systematic campaign was waged against all natural groups, under the guise of a defense of the rights of the individual; for example, the guilds, the communes, and federalism were attacked, this last by the Girondists. There were movements against the religious orders and against the privileges of Parliament, the Universities, and the Hospitalers. There was to be no liberty of groups, only that of the individual. There was likewise a struggle to undermine the family. Revolutionary legislation promoted its disintegration; it had already been shaken by the philosophy and the fervors of the eighteenth century. Revolutionary laws governing divorce, inheritance, and paternal authority were disastrous for the family unit, to the benefit of the individual. And these effects were permanent, in spite of temporary setbacks. Society was already atomized and would be atomized more and more. The individual remained the sole sociological unit, but, far from assuring him freedom, this fact provoked the worst kind of slavery. The atomization we have been discussing conferred on society the greatest possible plasticity-a decisive condition for technique. The breakup of social groups engendered the enonnous displacement of people at the beginning of the nineteenth century and resulted in the concentration of population demanded by modem technique. To uproot men from their surroundings, from the rural districts and from family and friends, in order to crowd them into cities still too small for them; to squeeze thousands into unfit lodgings and unhealthy places of work; to create a whole new environment within the framework of a new human condition (it is too often overlooked that the proletariat is the creation of the industrial machine )-all this was possible only when the individual was completely isolated. It was conceivable only when he literally had no environment, no family, and was not part of a group able to resist economic pressure; when he had almost no way of life left. Such is the influence of social plasticity. Without it, no technical evolution is possible. For the individual in an atomized society, only the state was left: the state was the highest authority and it became omnipotent as well. The society produced was perfectly malleable and remarkably flexible from both the intellectual and the material points of view. The technical phenomenon had its most favorable environment since the beginning of history.’ -From The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul
Society transformed from close communes to herds of wage-slaves with no real community (not anywhere near the kind of meaningful community that existed before, despite being crammed into a city and surrounded by people), often times no real family, and made to scrap for subsistence by performing incredibly specialized labor which, among many other things, alienates them from a sense of purpose. It is difficult to overstate just how severe this change was. People went from securing their psychical necessities in varied and interesting ways as an individual or part of an autonomous small group to performing a specialized task handed down from some detached authority. Clearly, humans have a high degree of plasticity in what they can be culturally conditioned to do. However, this does not mean that their nature has been changed. They are just playing by the rules of the system that they inhabit.
There are many clear symptoms of the contradictions between the way human nature evolved for hundreds of thousands of years, let alone the general nature of an animal that has evolved for many millions of years, and behaviors the cultural environment produces in humans. This manifests itself in many ways, and we have previously touched on a major source of suffering in the modern world in a previous post, that being an inability for modern man to satisfyingly go through the ‘power process’ or to do so with autonomy. A major source of conflict, directly related to the lack of autonomy and power process, is the change of man from a human and into a machine. Whereas man was once a living organism who spent his day as he pleased and securing his psychical necessities in any way he saw fit, our technical civilization is in the process of technicizing everything, including man. More and more, everything has to be mathematically efficient and rational. You must be as productive as possible. The lack of meaning and spirit in modern life produces all sorts of social ills. We have previously covered the very high rates of depression and suicide in modern man but there is also boredom, demoralization, low self-esteem, inferiority feelings, defeatism, anxiety, guilt, frustration, hostility, spouse or child abuse, insatiable hedonism, abnormal sexual behavior, sleep disorders, eating disorders, et cetera.
It is not that these things did not exist in pre-industrial societies, but they are extraordinarily exacerbated by industrialization and urbanization. These things were incredibly rare in hunter gatherer societies. That is because man was evolved to exist in his environment.
Technique has penetrated the deepest recesses of the human being. The machine tends not only to create a new human environment, but also to modify man’s very essence. The milieu in which he lives is no longer his. He must adapt himself, as though the world were new, to a universe for which he was not created.Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society
As I’ve argued, I believe that most of the bad in man is brought out of him by civilization itself. But is there still bad in man in the wild? Of course there is. There have been interspecies and intraspecies conflicts since there were complex species. I suppose the question is how much conflict can there be before life is judged ‘not worth living’ or the man is judge ‘inherently bad’. It does not appear that war was rampant among hunter gatherer peoples partly because there was very little provocation for war. The lands were wide and vast, the population of humans was small, and people could move to a new spot for any reason. There were no lands to defend as groups were nomadic. The life of primitive peoples can be read about in works such as Against Civilization by John Zezran. This is a passage from a letter to David Skrbina from Kaczysnki:
- It would be instructive to compare the psychological state of primitive man with that of modern man, but such a comparison is difficult because, to my knowledge, there were hardly any systematic studies of psychological conditions in primitive societies prior to the time when the latter were disrupted by the intrusion of civilization. The evidence known to me is almost exclusively anecdotal and/or subjective. Osborne Russell, who lived in the Rocky Mountains in the 1830s and 1840s, wrote: “Here we found a few Snake Indians comprising 6 men 7 women and 8 or 10 children who were the only Inhabitants of this lonely and secluded spot. They were all neatly clothed in dressed deer and sheep skins of the best quality and seemed to be perfectly contented and happy … .I almost wished I could spend the remainder of my days in a place like this where happiness and contentment seemed to reign in wild romantic splendor. … ” Such impressions of very primitive peoples are not uncommon, and are worth noting. But they represent only superficial observations and almost certainly overlook interpersonal conflicts that would not be evident to a traveler merely passing through. Colin Turnbull, who studied , the Mbuti pygmies of Africa thoroughly, found plenty of quarreling and fighting among them. Nevertheless, his impression of their social and psychological life was on the whole very favorable; he apparently believed that hunter-gatherers were “untroubled by the various neuroses that accompany progress.” He also wrote that the Mbuti “were a people who had found in the forest something that made their life more than just worth living, something that made it, with all its hardships and problems and tragedies, a wonderful thing full of joy and happiness and free of care. ” Turnbull’s book Forest People has been called “romantic,” but Schebesta, who studied the Mbuti a couple of decades earlier than Turnbull, and who as far as I know has never been accused of romanticism, expressed a similar opinion of the pygmies: “How many and varied are the dangers, but also the joyous experiences, on their hunting excursions and their innumerable travels through the primeval forest!” “Thus the pygmies stand before us as one of the most natural of human races, as people who live exclusively in accord with nature and without any violation of their organism. In this they show an unusually sturdy naturalness and heartiness, an unparalleled cheerfulness and freedom from care.” This “freedom from care,” or as we would say nowadays, freedom from stress, seems to have been generally characteristic of peoples at the hunting and gathering stage or not far beyond it. Poncins’s account makes evident the absence of psychological stress among the Eskimos with whom he lived: “[The Eskimo] had proved himself stronger than the storm. Like the sailor at sea, he had met it tranquilly, it had left him unmoved … .In midtempest this peasant of the Arctic, by his total impassivity, had lent me a little of his serenity of soul.” “Of course he would not worry. He was an Eskimo.” “[My Eskimos’] minds were at rest, and they slept the sleep of the unworried.”
I believe that the natural state of man as he was crafted in the wild is that of peace, plenty, and psychological security. The state of a man who dwells in a lunar world of stone and glass for which he was not made is generally selfish, materialistic, fragile, greedy, egotistical in all the worst ways, depressed, etc. Of course, some are able to adjust and cope with the effects of modernity better than others. But it is that, coping and placation. Most of the misanthropic diagnoses made by modern people are symptoms of a technological and civil problem. However, in our societies, we have an obsession with treating symptoms and doing anything we can to avoid treating or even recognizing the underlying problem.
Stay safe – Normandie