Are Humans Naturally Evil Essay

By: Megan Sprance

Everyone has a secret. Some are darker than others, but everyone has one. The man sitting next to you sipping coffee could be an assassin. The woman walking by you fixing her hair could be a sociopath. No one is as they seem, and the scariest part about it is that they may even be fooling themselves.  If given an opportunity to answer the dark whisper in your mind, the one that aches to know how complete, utter power over another human life feels, would you answer? The immediate answer should be “No, of course not, that’s wrong.” However, think on how many “ordinary” people like doctors, firemen, police officers, and even your neighbor have ever answered this question – have ever had this opportunity and made a choice. Can we say with certainty that there has never been someone who has said yes? Can we? No. For there is something of an internal evil in all of us, regardless of whether we choose to embrace or suppress it, it is there.

World War II had many horrific components, but not all are clearly known to the public. History has taught us about the victims and the pain they suffered through – there are many books and films that document their horrid experiences. However, little is said about the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. We tend to imagine them as monstrous, uniformly inhuman. We put as much distance between them and us as we can.  However, how much distance can we really get from them? The amount of Jewish deaths in Poland alone is astonishing (three million PolishJews, over 90% of the pre-war Jewish population of Poland) but practically speaking there should not have been enough soldiers present to carry out the genocide. During this time, Hitler was making a claim on Stalingrad and had almost all of his army focused there. So who was left to engineer the genocide in Poland? Meet the Reserve Police Battalion 101, a battalion filled with “ordinary” men. Middle-aged men, men like your uncle, your brother, even men like your father. Amongst these men were firefighters, shop owners, local heroes, and teachers. Ordinary Men is a book written by Christopher R. Browning in which he discovers and discusses the horrors that this battalion committed in Poland during WWII. What makes this book different from others of its subject is that it is not the story of a victim, but the tale as seen from the perpetrator’s eyes. About researching the battalion, Browning has said, “Never before had I seen the monstrous deeds of the Holocaust so starkly juxtaposed with the human face of the killers[1].”

The Reserve Police Battalion 101 was the group that carried out the atrocious killing and mass evacuations of Jews in some parts of Poland. They were, according to Christopher Browning, ordinary men who were drawn from ordinary citizens. Before the Holocaust, these men were most likely working-class individuals in Germany, mainly from the Hamburg area. He also suggests that most of them were relatively young, between the ages of 32 and 42. What is most startling from Browning’s description of the perpetrators is the fact that most of them were not members of the Nazi party. Only about a quarter of the Order Police were affiliated with the Nazi party. So what does this mean? It means that men who had no obligation to a political party murdered thousands upon thousands of innocent people. The following is an excerpt from the book Ordinary Men in which the leader of the Battalion gives the men their orders for the killing.

“He then turned to the matter at hand…There were Jews in the village of Józefów who were involved with the partisans. The Battalion had now been ordered to round up these Jews. The male Jews of working age were to be separated and taken to work camp. The remaining Jews—the women, children, and elderly—were to be shot on the spot by the Battalion. Trapp [the leader of the group] then made the [Battalion] an offer: if any of the older men among them did not feel up to the task that lay before him he could step out[2].”

These men, these “ordinary” men were given the chance to keep their hands clean from the stain of innocent blood. At the first rallying and sorting of Jews in Józefów, not all the men participated, but even the best of the “ordinary” men could not say no twice. Therefore, on the second raid, every man participated in the genocide of the Jews. How could they be so easily convinced? Perhaps they too would have been killed if they refused. If that is the case, is there anything man is incapable of, if given the right incentive?

Sigmund Freud would say “No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the struggle unscathed[3].” Freud’s view of man is an evil one. All men are innately evil and aggression lies within the human as part of his nature. Our inclination to aggression is apparent in one’s relation with his neighbor, and is apparent in everyday casual behavior. Freud also states that as a civilized society we use violence only on criminals, and that the law is not able to prosecute those who hide their inner evil. In the case of the “ordinary” men, the reason that was given to them for the useless murdering of women and children was that women and children in Germany were getting bombed and dying as well. The Battalion pushed the guilt of the innocent German wives and children on to the already starving and oppressed Jews. It was clear that they were not behind the bombings, but that did not prevent the Jewish community from having to pay for it. We use violence only on criminals, although a majority of the time the one doing the punishing is the one who deserves it.

Another great mind with strong opinions on the inherently evil nature of man is Thomas Hobbes: “The life of man in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short[4].” From this depiction, it can be understood that the natural condition of man is not good at all. It is miserable since man is an enemy to his fellow men. Hobbes implies that the natural condition of man necessitates some regulations; otherwise, he cannot survive, and he unavoidably leads a miserable life with the fear of being killed by his fellow men. This theory stands akin to the “survival of the fittest”, or “kill or be killed” adages. Yet, believing this throws all morality out the window; you against the world means you alone against the world. Look at those around you—the ones you hold closest—could you kill them if it became your life or theirs? Pretend a crime has been committed, a horrid one and you were the one you who committed it. Instead of you, someone else gets caught and sentenced for your crime, and they are put on death row. You do not know this person, but during the trial you meet their family and talk with their kids. Could you let this person die for you? Could you kill this person?

Psychologists have been debating the point of the innate evil nature of humans for years through several different experiments, such as the Stanford Prison experiment. During this experiment, college students were given roles as either guards or prisoners. They were divided into groups of three: three guards, three prisoners. The prisoners were dressed to feel demeaned and humiliated, while the guards were to wear sunglasses in order to appear more detached and less humane. A discussion of the reasons is here:

”It should be clear that we were trying to create a functional simulation of a prison — not a literal prison. Real male prisoners do not wear dresses, but real male prisoners do feel humiliated and do feel emasculated. Our goal was to produce similar effects quickly by putting men in a dress without any underclothes. Indeed, as soon as some of our prisoners were put in these uniforms they began to walk and to sit differently, and to hold themselves differently — more like a woman than like a man[5]”

Guards were also given the right to treat and react to the prisoners however, they deemed appropriate. In order to demand respect guards could force prisoners into doing menial tasks that take more of a toll on a person’s psyche then one would think.

“When we saw the guards demand push-ups from the prisoners, we initially thought this was an inappropriate kind of punishment for a prison — a rather juvenile and minimal form of punishment. However, we later learned that push-ups were often used as a form of punishment in Nazi concentration camps. It’s noteworthy that one of our guards also stepped on the prisoners’ backs while they did push-ups, or made other prisoners sit or step on the backs of fellow prisoners doing their push-ups[6].”

Like the men in the Battalion, these college students are ordinary. However, when put in a position of power and authority, they resort to cruel and menial forms of punishment – forms of punishment that were implemented in the Holocaust, no less. What does this say about the natural state of man? This proves the points of both Thomas Hobbes and Sigmund Freud; there is no animal crueler than Homo sapiens. History proves it.

Christopher R. Browning has said a lot about his book Ordinary Men. He says simply that it is a book about “How a unit of average, middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews[7].” He is not alone in thinking that as several other book critics share his opinion on the tragedy that is the Reserve Police Battalion 101. From the New York Times:

“Finely focused and stunningly powerful… Christopher R. Browning tells us about such Germans and helps us understand, better than we did before, not only what they did to make the Holocaust happen but also how they were transformed psychologically from the ordinary men of this title into active participants in the most monstrous crime in human history[8].”

And from a fellow author:

“In this remarkable book, Christopher Browning shows in minute detail the sequence of events and individual reactions, which may turn “ordinary men” into killers. It is an important contribution to the understanding of one of the most incomprehensible aspects of the “Final Solution”: the psychological adaptations of the perpetrators[9]”

These are only two of the thousands of reviews people have made about this book. A secret has been uncovered and people are now coming face-to-face with the question of whether humans are inherently good or evil. The facts can be ignored no longer. The world is being forced to take a long hard look in the mirror, forced into putting oneself into the terrifying hypothetical situation of what one would do in a dire situation when they have complete control of others’ lives. The story that Browning tells and the truths he reveals are chilling, but they justify the claims that have been made in this essay: humans are inherently evil. Some do their best to conceal the deeper darker thoughts and others give in when the opportunity comes to avoid scrutiny and relish in power rises. Saying “I would never do that!” does not mean you would actually never do that. It means you do not know, just like the ordinary men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 did not know they would become sadistic mass murders all for the sake of a party more than half of them did not belong to, just like the college students at Stanford did not know they would treat their friends and classmates like animals. What else do not you know? Your conscience is not infallible. Beware.

 

 

Resources

[1] Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men, (New York: Harper Collins, 1993) p. XVI (from preface)

[2] Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men, p. 2

[3] Sigmund Freud Quotes,” Sigmund Freud Quotes, Accessed December 1, 2014,

http://www.notable-quotes.com/f/freud_sigmund.html.

[4] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, (USA: Wilder Publications, 2007 reprint) page 186

[5] Philip G. Zimbardo, “Stanford Prison Experiment”, Stanford Prison Experiment, accessed December 5, 2014, http://www.prisonexp.org/psychology/10

[6] Philip G. Zimbardo, “Stanford Prison Experiment”, Stanford Prison Experiment, accessed December 5, 2014, http://www.prisonexp.org/psychology/15

[7] Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men, (New York: Harper Collins, 1993) back cover

[8] From Walter Reich, New York Times Book Review (printed on the back cover of Browning’s Ordinary Men)

[9] Saul Friedlander, Author of Nazi Germany and the Jews (printed on the back cover of Browning’s Ordinary Men)

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Mankind: Naturally Good or Evil? Essay example

699 Words3 Pages

Let us face it, mankind admires violence. It may not be moral, but it is entertaining. For example, fighting is prohibited, but wrestling is just a popular pastime. As a result of loving unreasonable habits such as violence, one might wonder if the nature of mankind is naturally evil or good, but they do not know what to do without adults. Mankind is born naturally evil, however, your surroundings can determine whether or not you stay that way.
In regards to this, William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies, is a story is told about many guilty boys, however, the boys are very young. In so, many wonder if the boys are naturally evil or good and they do not know what to do without adults. As Simon said in Lord of The Flies, “Maybe," he…show more content…

Let us face it, mankind admires violence. It may not be moral, but it is entertaining. For example, fighting is prohibited, but wrestling is just a popular pastime. As a result of loving unreasonable habits such as violence, one might wonder if the nature of mankind is naturally evil or good, but they do not know what to do without adults. Mankind is born naturally evil, however, your surroundings can determine whether or not you stay that way.
In regards to this, William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies, is a story is told about many guilty boys, however, the boys are very young. In so, many wonder if the boys are naturally evil or good and they do not know what to do without adults. As Simon said in Lord of The Flies, “Maybe," he said hesitantly, "maybe there is a beast." [...] "What I mean is, maybe it's only us.” (Golding 89). In Lord of the Flies, the boys are afraid of an imaginary figure called “the beastie”. In the novel, there really is no beastie, but the idea of the beastie represents fear and evil. This quote means that there is nothing for the boys to fear but themselves. So, in a sense, the boys are “the beast”. Piggy exclaims his fear of Jack to Ralph by stating, “I'm scared of him, and that's why I know him. If you're scared of someone you hate him but you can't stop thinking about him. You kid yourself he's all right really, an' then when you see him again; it's like asthma an' you can't breathe.” (Golding 93). Jack bullies Piggy endlessly throughout

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