June 22, 2019

QUESTION ASKED: Human nature: is it good or is it bad?

I’m wondering where the stupid idea that people are inherently good got started. Until fairly (in historical terms) recently, everyone understood that the basic rule of human conduct was, as Thucydides put it, “The strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must.” Was it Rosseau? Marx? And why would anyone believe humans were inherently good when all of human history shows the opposite?

In 1987’s The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom wrote:

A few years ago I chatted with a taxi driver in Atlanta who told me he had just gotten out of prison, where he served time for peddling dope. Happily he had undergone “therapy.” I asked him what kind. He responded, “All kinds— depth-psychology, transactional analysis, but what I liked best was Gestalt.” Some of the German ideas did not even require English words to become the language of the people. What an extraordinary thing it is that high-class talk from what was the peak of Western intellectual life, in Germany, has become as natural as chewing gum on American streets. It indeed had its effect on this taxi driver. He said that he had found his identity and learned to like himself. A generation earlier he would have found God and learned to despise himself as a sinner. The problem lay with his sense of self, not with any original sin or devils in him. We have here the peculiarly American way digesting Continental despair. It is nihilism with a happy ending.

Or as a legendary community organizer said to a Chicago Sun-Times reporter covering religion-themed topics when asked “What is sin?” in 2004,  “Being out of alignment with my values.”

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