People Are Basically Good—Discuss

There is more criminality today than in past centuries.

  • Agree.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Disagree.

    Votes: 4 57.1%
  • Impossible to know.

    Votes: 3 42.9%

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Jerry_B

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'Human nature'? One would have to ask if any such thing existed. And let's not forget that, if humans were so bad, there would be no society in the first place.
 

krobone

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Lollypockets said:
I think in children it's human nature in the raw, obvious state - we just grow up and learn to hide it better :D
That's an interesting point - children can be selfish, cruel and willfull, and what are children but humanity at it's purest? But somewhere in all that, children are also loving and sweet, and are very capable of showing goodness. Besides, kiddies are so cute! :)

But good or evil, we have both in us and free will to boot (although that's debable as well), which makes it extremely difficult to assign inclinations towards good or evil in general.
 

Thirtysixth_Bee

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JerryB said:
'Human nature'? One would have to ask if any such thing existed. And let's not forget that, if humans were so bad, there would be no society in the first place.
I guess that a lot of my assumptions about human nature are based on the fact that we are genetically similar to primates. I think we can make some generalizations about ourselves in comparison to the rest of the animal kingdom, such as: humans are more sociable and group-oriented than cats (with the possible exception of lions), but more individualistic than cattle.

I think talking about good vs. bad in human nature is a way of assesing how closely we think we embody our ideals. Quantifying criminal behavior (in this context of this thread) is a way of using something more tangible than 'good' and 'bad' to determine how well we live up to those ideals.

From a philosophical standpoint one could ask, "Dose anything exist?". Who knows? I think the idea of "human nature" is a product of our awareness of ourselves as a seperate species. Self-aware? Self-absorbed? Human nature? :hmm:
 
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I think for the most part that people are good but easily swayed. All is takes is a tyrant like Alexander the Great, Hitler, George W. Bush, to do so.

I like animals as much as the next person but really they are worse than we are. I once watched baby turtles canniblize an injured sibling.
 

Thirtysixth_Bee

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shonda said:
I like animals as much as the next person but really they are worse than we are. I once watched baby turtles canniblize an injured sibling.
Humans practice cannibalism as well. I'm not saying that humans are better or worse than animals, I'm saying that we are animals and different species posess various behavorial traits to lesser or greater degree than other species. So what are our behaviors? (Humans.) We are both social and individualistic. At least one other poster in this thread equated selfishness(a variant of individualism) with bad/criminal behavior. So are 'good' and 'bad' words we use to describe how benificial or detrimental something is to the larger group? And isn't this value judgment the basis of how we determine what we will and won't call a crime?

Why did watching a baby turtle be cannibalized seem bad to you shonda? I know why it would seem bad to me: because I have way over-the-top nurturing tendencies. I empathise with living things who are suffering. Not all humans do. I can think of two or three people I know (and dislike intensly) who enjoy watching tragic, gory spectacles to the point where they will instigate or perpetrate some cruelty themselves just to get their jollies. There are also people who don't seem to care either way. It seems like you were using your own emotional barometer to evaluate the turtles behavior. How could any of us do otherwise?
 

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shonda said:
I like animals as much as the next person but really they are worse than we are. I once watched baby turtles canniblize an injured sibling.
But how is that worse than humans blowing each other up with bombs (for example)? It doesn't make the turtles any worse morally than humans. The moment that turtle became injured it was classed as "non-viable" - a burden and a threat to the others as it may attract predators. To them, it is a life or death situation. Is that better or worse than blowing someone up because they think differently to you?
 
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Is that better or worse than blowing someone up because they think differently to you?
You mean like the people who oppose abbortion, claiming its murder and then go out to bomb a clinic?
Maybe animals aren't worse but are just as bad sometimes. I've known some that seem to kill for the sake of killing.
The blue jay that tore a whole nest of baby sparrows to ribbons and then flew off into the blue.
The tomcat that attacked female, male, kitten or cat and even human and dog. Attempts on my part to run him off did no good and I had to commit the unthinkable. I regret having done it but for all I know he could have had rabies.
 

glamour_dust

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In my experience people are basically selfish and cruel. They just conform to what society expects because it makes life easier to do so. Given the chance to hurt someone else with impunity, I believe most people would just because they had that power. Usually there's a choice to either consider others at little inconvenience to yourself or be flagrantly insensitive. Time and again I've seen people do the latter once they could get away with it.
If murder, theft even sexual offences were not punishable by law - how many people would control their baser instincts out of "the goodness of their hearts"? From my observation and experience - not a whole lot.
 

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Dana said:
In my experience people are basically selfish and cruel. They just conform to what society expects because it makes life easier to do so. Given the chance to hurt someone else with impunity, I believe most people would just because they had that power. Usually there's a choice to either consider others at little inconvenience to yourself or be flagrantly insensitive. Time and again I've seen people do the latter once they could get away with it.
If murder, theft even sexual offences were not punishable by law - how many people would control their baser instincts out of "the goodness of their hearts"? From my observation and experience - not a whole lot.
I agree up to a point and it's quite cynical but I think of lot of what holds society together is an unspoken mutual agreement not to do unto others that which you would not want done unto yourself. That agreement is reinforced by the law and by whatever moral strictures we put upon ourselves (through religion or personal belief).

I don't believe that in the absense of law chaos would descend nor would there be a utopian garden of eden, crimes are by their nature too complex to suddenly end. Before the Peelers and before them the various city militia policed the cities there certianly were more crimes but there wasn't chaos, society existed because of a mutual agreement not to commit crime, it would collapse it that wasn't there.
 

Jerry_B

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That's true - and laws arose out of a need to maintain some sort of stability. Given the choice, I assume that people in general would assume that stability over a more general (and literal) lawlessness. Yes, some people would indeed take advantage of any lawless situation, but probably not the majority. One things humans have always seemed to fear is chaos and a lack of stability. Society and civilisation would simply not have arisen if all humans were truly driven to look out solely for themselves.
 

meanderer1

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Dana said:
In my experience people are basically selfish and cruel. They just conform to what society expects because it makes life easier to do so. Given the chance to hurt someone else with impunity, I believe most people would just because they had that power. Usually there's a choice to either consider others at little inconvenience to yourself or be flagrantly insensitive. Time and again I've seen people do the latter once they could get away with it.
If murder, theft even sexual offences were not punishable by law - how many people would control their baser instincts out of "the goodness of their hearts"? From my observation and experience - not a whole lot.
Strewth, that's a bit bleak. I'm glad I don't live in your part of the world! I find people basically helpful if you treat them right; if you expect to be cheated/hurt/etc I find that is what tends to happen. I'm not saying all is sweetness and light - and I have been proved wrong in the past - but mostly I find people ok.
 

jarmaniac

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Dana said:
In my experience people are basically selfish and cruel. They just conform to what society expects because it makes life easier to do so. Given the chance to hurt someone else with impunity, I believe most people would just because they had that power. Usually there's a choice to either consider others at little inconvenience to yourself or be flagrantly insensitive. Time and again I've seen people do the latter once they could get away with it.
If murder, theft even sexual offences were not punishable by law - how many people would control their baser instincts out of "the goodness of their hearts"? From my observation and experience - not a whole lot.
There are important extra-legal sanctions in the equation too, of course.

1) People care what other people think of them - this was more of a force in the past, when communities were smaller and more static, but it's still a universal. The rare exceptions to this are termed "sociopaths" and the proposition "All people are sociopaths" collapses of itself.

2) If someone were to rape my (hypothetical) sister, I would sort him out. And he would probably be wishing he'd been arrested instead before I finished with him. The wise rapist would think carefully about this before dropping his trousers.

People also do lots of good stuff, but you won't see it in the newspapers because as a matter of fact it's normal. For my part, if I were going to kill someone, it would not be the result of a careful calculation of the possible consequences. People don't commit crimes on the assumption that they will be caught. In their minds, criminals act "with impunity". Are we all criminals?

Of course I haven'f had Dana's experience, but I don't think I've lived my life surrounded by an unrepresentatively angelic subset of the general population, either.
 

glamour_dust

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This is why I love FT. So many interesting and intelligent responses. All points well taken.
I still believe though that the underlying motive for most people's actions is selfishness. People are "good" when it suits them, when society praises them for it, when they think god will reward them etc. etc. It's all about what they get from it. Remove all the rewards and constraints, and I think people would rather just do what they want.
 

meanderer1

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Please don't take this the wrong way Dana, it's just the obvious question that springs to mind when reading your last post - do you, personally, only do something for somebody else when you feel you will profit from it? Have you never done something for someone just because it needed doing, or because you knew it would make life a little better for them?
 

jarmaniac

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Dana said:
This is why I love FT. So many interesting and intelligent responses. All points well taken.
I still believe though that the underlying motive for most people's actions is selfishness. People are "good" when it suits them, when society praises them for it, when they think god will reward them etc. etc. It's all about what they get from it. Remove all the rewards and constraints, and I think people would rather just do what they want.
Remove all the rewards and constraints, and why would people want to do anything? That's not a rhetorical question, by the way: I'm genuinely interested in answers.
 

Jerry_B

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Dana said:
I still believe though that the underlying motive for most people's actions is selfishness. People are "good" when it suits them, when society praises them for it, when they think god will reward them etc. etc. It's all about what they get from it. Remove all the rewards and constraints, and I think people would rather just do what they want.
If that were true, then we'd have no society or civilisation. It would never have gotten off of the ground. It seems that humans banded together and co-operated in prehistory in order to survive. If all humans were 'naturally' selfish (i.e. were intrinsically selfish, driven mostly by what they want as an individual) then this would never had happened. This isn't to say that all humans in prehistory were like Rousseau's 'noble savage' - but it's clear that co-operation = survival.
 

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Meanderer said:
Please don't take this the wrong way Dana, it's just the obvious question that springs to mind when reading your last post - do you, personally, only do something for somebody else when you feel you will profit from it? Have you never done something for someone just because it needed doing, or because you knew it would make life a little better for them?
I'll go with Dana some of the way, I do believe that altruism can have occasionally a very selfish, albeit unconscious motive, I.e. getting in good with God or your peers and human beings are (when you get down to basics) able to live with one another because of restraints that the do unto others mutual agreements and moral restraints and laws dictate with an important difference:

We are all out for the 'I' because that is all we know (we aren't a group mind), we gain empathy as we grow and the empathy for others (not sympathy but empathy, we feel how others would feel if we were in their place) allows the mutual agreement not to harm others to exist. Sociopaths, those that lack that empathy are trapped in a baby state of 'I' only, nothing else matters and they are free within our soceity to harm others without conscience or moral restraint however that is derived.

Thus I will agree that often people do have a selfish motive for their actions without even them realising why on occasion but they still help none the less and that surely is the important thing? The world isn't all the cold selfish place that Dana paints but neither is it the warm fuzzy altrusitic selfless place that people might like.
 

glamour_dust

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Meanderer said:
Please don't take this the wrong way Dana, it's just the obvious question that springs to mind when reading your last post - do you, personally, only do something for somebody else when you feel you will profit from it? Have you never done something for someone just because it needed doing, or because you knew it would make life a little better for them?
I highly doubt it. I may not have been aware of it but there must have been personal gain of some sort.

Dr. Phil's Life Law #3
"People do what works."
"If you did not perceive the behavior in question to generate some value to you, you would not do it."
 

Thirtysixth_Bee

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I was thinking about the time I stopped to help this (homeless?) drunk guy who'd been attacked and left to die in the street. It was an altogether dangerous situation to put myself in, yet I did it. I accept that civic obligation played a part in my decision, but I also know that a big reason I helped him (even though he was obviously dying) was rage. Not rage against a person, but rage against death.

I'm angry about, and afraid of my own death, and I derive a certain angry pleasure in helping other people stave death off. We are each other's enemies in the survival game, but the need to play that game (mortality) is the ultimate, common enemy of every living thing. Perhaps compassion and a sense of community are outgrowths of our knowledge that we are all pitting ourselves against a remorsless, harsh and ultimatly undefeatable enviornment.

We cannot escape the fearsome truth of our own mortality. Perhaps that fear lives at the core of all strong emotions, and everyone knows passionate emotion can overide self preservation instincts. So maybe our feelings should be considered as something seperate from survival-based self interest when evaluating how good/law-abiding or bad/criminal people are as a species.

EDIT: Oy ~ I just noticed the "Fear Of Death" thread in the "General Forteana" forum. I know I've been spending too much time here when I start intuiting threads I haven't looked at yet. Sorry if this post is redundant. :roll:
 

OldTimeRadio

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I'm Confused

I'm in my usual state of confusion.

The running title asks if people are basically good. The answer to that one is NO.

But the actual question asks whether there is more criminality today than in past centuries. The answer to that one is no, too, but the questions are hardly the same.

As a cop said to me once in regards to this very is-there-more-crime-today? issue, "There are neighborhoods where you run a serious risk of being mugged if you walk through them at night. But had you walked through that same neighborhood a 150 years ago, nobody would have ever seen you again."

Take the Old Brewery, a large slum dwelling house at Five Points in pre-Civil War Manhattan. There was estimated one murder a night there for more than 20 years. Cops refused to come within three blocks of the place.

One five-year-old beggar girl was given a coin and ran through the hallways joyously screaming "I've got a nickel! I've got a whole five cents!"

The girl's body was discovered a few minutes later. Minus the five cent piece, of course..
 

Pietro_Mercurios

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Depends what's meant by 'good' of course. Would the vast majority of people get along just fine as long as they had life's essentials and room to breath? Probably.

But then there are always the mentally deranged, psychotic, individuals who want more than everybody else, no matter that they've already got more than enough.

Unfortunately, we tend to believe, follow, and elect them.
 

OldTimeRadio

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Pietro_Mercurios said:
"But then there are always the mentally deranged, psychotic, individuals who want more than everybody else, no matter that they've already got more than enough."
Alas, there are a good many serial killers and other violent criminals who are entirely sane, at least by any accepted legal definition. They are certainly not psychotic. The high level of functionality Dennis Rader (the BTK Killer) and John Wayne Gacy exhibited within their communities clearly demonstrates this. Rader was a veteran community ordinance enforcement officer and a "respected" church member. Gacy was a successful businessman, a community activist, had himself photographed with the First Lady of these United States and was Grand Marshall of Chicago's major Polish Day parade.
 

EnolaGaia

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There is an older (1980's?) book called "The Mountain People" which if I remember correctly, chronicled an anthropologist's observation of the decline of a (tribe?) of Ethopian or Eritrean natives. Apparently due to a prolonged famine, they went from an orderly, compassionate, joyful society to a group of people who stole food from their own children, laughed at and scolded their kids while their kids lay starving in the dirt and then remorselessly threw their children's wasted carcasses in the trash heap. This drastic change happened in the space of five or ten years I think. And throughout these people's ordeal I presume the anthropologist author was busily taking pictures and notes and munching protien bars. I don't remember him even once mentioning that he tried to help anbody. He interviewed plenty of them though, and went on to write an acclaimed book about their suffering. We can't be basically good. I think we just do what we think we're supposed to. At best, our species' good - bad ratio is 50/50.
Update for clarification and closure ...

The book was The Mountain People by Colin Turnbull, published in 1972. The people he studied during the mid-Sixties were the Ik people of Uganda. Turnbull studied them during a period of famine brought on by displacement, raiding by other groups, and drought.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ik_people

Moving on ...

Newly published research has demonstrated the Ik people are no more self-serving (or less generous) than other groups worldwide.
Uganda's Infamous 'Selfish' Tribe Has Been Misunderstood For Almost 40 Years

The Ik people of Uganda are a small mountain community with a big reputation. Except there are researchers who now think that reputation is wholly undeserved.

In the 1960s, a prominent anthropologist by the name of Colin Turnbull published a book that described the Ik people as extraordinarily 'unfriendly', 'uncharitable', and 'mean'. He named them "the loveless people".

Today, new research suggests this small ethnic group is no more self-serving than any other community struggling under a famine.

In fact, far from breeding a culture of selfishness, the Ik are normally just as generous and cooperative as the rest of us. Turnbull simply caught them at a time when resources were running dangerously low.

"Turnbull's claim that the Ik have a culture of selfishness can be rejected," the authors of the new study write.

"Cooperative norms are resilient, and the consensus among scholars that humans are remarkably cooperative and that human cooperation is supported by culture can remain intact."

Using an experimental game which tests a person's generosity, researchers at Rutgers found the Ik are, on average, no less magnanimous than the hundreds of other people around the world who have played the same game. ...
FULL STORY: https://www.sciencealert.com/anthro...-uganda-and-find-they-re-actually-decent-folk
 

EnolaGaia

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Here are the bibliographic details and abstract of the published research about the Ik people ...

Generosity among the Ik of Uganda
Cathryn Townsend, Athena Aktipis, Daniel Balliet and Lee Cronk
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 May 2020
Evolutionary Human Sciences
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/ehs.2020.22

Abstract
According to Turnbull's 1972 ethnography The Mountain People, the Ik of Uganda had a culture of selfishness that made them uncooperative. His claims contrast with two widely accepted principles in evolutionary biology, that humans cooperate on larger scales than other species and that culture is an important facilitator of such cooperation. We use recently collected data to examine Ik culture and its influence on Ik behaviour. Turnbull's observations of selfishness were not necessarily inaccurate but they occurred during a severe famine. Cooperation re-emerged when people once again had enough resources to share. Accordingly, Ik donations in unframed Dictator Games are on par with average donations in Dictator Games played by people around the world. Furthermore, Ik culture includes traits that encourage sharing with those in need and a belief in supernatural punishment of selfishness. When these traits are used to frame Dictator Games, the average amounts given by Ik players increase. Turnbull's claim that the Ik have a culture of selfishness can be rejected. Cooperative norms are resilient, and the consensus among scholars that humans are remarkably cooperative and that human cooperation is supported by culture can remain intact.
SOURCE: https://www.cambridge.org/core/jour...ik-of-uganda/06953719700BD212126D5480C6E56216
 

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Update for clarification and closure ...

The book was The Mountain People by Colin Turnbull, published in 1972. The people he studied during the mid-Sixties were the Ik people of Uganda. Turnbull studied them during a period of famine brought on by displacement, raiding by other groups, and drought.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ik_people

Moving on ...

Newly published research has demonstrated the Ik people are no more self-serving (or less generous) than other groups worldwide.


FULL STORY: https://www.sciencealert.com/anthro...-uganda-and-find-they-re-actually-decent-folk
I worked for Dr. Turnbull in high school as a volunteer. He was a brilliant, funny and compassionate man, and his book The Forest People is a classic and is still used. He actually went out to do field work as an ethnomusicologist, and ended up as a six-foot Scots tatooed member of the Ituri pygmy tribe. It's unfortunate that he got to the Ik at the worst possible time and they obviously didn't like each other. Later in life he was not comfortable with that book. I just want to note that he was not a bad person, far from it, and I recommend The Forest People as an antidote.
 

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To step back a little: I'd like to observe that humans aren't 'basically' anything, at least not in the sense that many people seem to think. There is, I sense, a pseudo-religious folk belief whereby living things are of such-and-such a kind, but that the imperfect and demanding environments into which they are thrown (unwillingly) somehow corrupt or pervert this purer nature to produce much that is bad in people and, consequently, the societies they create.

That's nonsense.

Humans are fundamentally social creatures, and if we do have any essential nature, it's that which is revealed through the nexus of forces and relationships that constitute the world as it is. What a human potentially would, could or should be in a putatively ideal world might be an entertaining thought experiment, but it reveals little beyond the significant distance between the world that currently obtains and that blissful state.

Similarly, there seems to be a broad (and, again, pseudo-religious, semi-redemptive) faith in the notion that human nature in its truest form is often revealed in extremis. Which is to say that our 'better angels' often 'shine through' in critical situations where acts of courage, devotion, loyalty and endurance are demanded. While I don't dismiss the extraordinary feats that our species is capable of at such times, I think it's massively wrong-headed to search for any essential or universal truth about our species among circumstances that are a) comparatively rare and b) likely never to be experienced by the mass of humanity; similarly, I'm afraid to say that for every incredibly positive act that may be cited in such circumstances, there is very likely at least one utterly abhorrent example of depravity that a human has stooped to in order to save his skin--or worse maintain power.

Of course, it's only natural to prefer the idealised portrait to the flawed specimen in the mirror.
 

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There was a quote I heard in School, from a Roman Historian (I think) lamenting on society - "in the past there were few laws and few criminals, now we have are many laws and many criminals". Some-one put me straight ?
 

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There was a quote I heard in School, from a Roman Historian (I think) lamenting on society - "in the past there were few laws and few criminals, now we have are many laws and many criminals". Some-one put me straight ?
That quote has been attributed to Cicero, but I can't locate a direct citation to prove it.
 

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That quote has been attributed to Cicero, but I can't locate a direct citation to prove it.
I've heard versions of it before - often used by Libertarian types.

Can't help thinking that it's a bit of a logical fallacy - or, at least, often applied in a way that makes it so. If you don't have the law in the first place then of course, technically speaking, it can't be broken - doesn't mean people aren't out there doing that shit. It's a bit like the idea that the less medical testing you do, the less cases of a disease you'll have - which some other great thinker came up with. Forget who.
 

feinman

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I've heard versions of it before - often used by Libertarian types.

Can't help thinking that it's a bit of a logical fallacy - or, at least, often applied in a way that makes it so. If you don't have the law in the first place then of course, technically speaking, it can't be broken - doesn't mean people aren't out there doing that shit. It's a bit like the idea that the less medical testing you do, the less cases of a disease you'll have - which some other great thinker came up with. Forget who.
It reminds me of this:
Lao Tzu: “Rule a nation with justice. …The more laws and restrictions there are, the poorer people become. … The more rules and regulations, the more thieves and robbers.” Tao Te Ching,57.
 
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