Humans, are we born inherently good or inherently evil?
In my opinion it is a very profound question that needs to be explored, considered, and looked at thoroughly before taking a side; and really, it’s not like as if there is a right or wrong answer to this question. If we think about it, as the biased human beings we are, who are we to make these judgments about human nature? We’ve already been corrupted by several types of social interactions we’ve had in the past, we’ve already developed ways of thinking that affect the way we see this question. We have so many factors to consider and not only that, but the opinion and study of the canon of philosophers who have come up significantly in our past and in our current education. Thomas Hobbes, Immanuel Kant, and beloved contrarian Jean Jacques Rousseau who we have had the pleasure of reading of how he personally sees humans and critiquing arguments that he strongly embraces.
Rousseau believes that men are born naturally innocent and good; that civilization corrupts and robs us of our happiness once selfishness and lust for riches, property, and recognition arise and rise up with inequality. It’s interesting, it really is because as much as I personally want to see this and convince myself that humans are good and have the capacity of being benevolent, caring, and selfless it’s just really hard to picture it nowadays. Whether a person turns out to be good or bad has to do with both how we are raised and our own physiological instincts.
Take social media as an example of the idea of being born good versus bad. Social media was created with the idea of being able to interact with others on a much grander scope without actually having to interact with anyone physically. Its purpose was to share with others anything that we wanted and ultimately ends up opening up a new multi-dimensional world for us. Of course, this type of outlet has proven in my opinion that humans are not as great as Rousseau sets them out to be as does Thomas Hobbes who realistically displays human nature. Rousseau does make a point in saying that society does corrupt humans which is partly true because if we didn’t have all these platforms and ways to act on our natural evil doings then we wouldn’t be that messed up as humans. But people can be naturally nasty for no reason, and social media cyberbullying and internet trolls just proves such things about mankind.
Social media has become a dangerous place, but most importantly it has also been a window through which we can peer into to see that as a collective group we are naturally sinful, immoral, and wicked. These platforms are meant to be a place where we can share positive things, but instead horrible things can be done and said here. Humans just aren’t as nice as we want to think they are because there are so many of us that make negative comments and make gruesome attacks on others as a result of jealousy, insecurities, desire to feel powerful, and the inability to empathize with the pain that others may feel. These insecurities and desires of superiority are pretty detrimental to Rousseau’s argument that we are born good. Bad news for him, we really are not most of the time. Just take a look at the statistics shown here reflecting cyber bullying experienced collected by the Universidad de Oviedo in Spain. It’s everywhere and it cannot be denied that people are geared more to wanting to feel like they are better than someone and do whatever it takes to bring that person down to the level of miserableness which they are in.
It’s pretty pathetic, but we are not that innocent. Yes, society and civilization might corrupt us in a sense like Rousseau argues in his Discourse on Inequality, and they for sure prove “fatal to happiness and innocence” (73) but it goes just as far and beyond that. I think society can prove detrimental and good to us in many ways. Humans have the ability of doing so many things and acting in so many ways that it’s truly hard to discern whether or not we are meant to be naturally evil or good from the moment we are born. It’s even a very confusing matter that makes me question everything that I have ever been taught. I mean, according to the book of Genesis until Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge was when they realized that there was even such a thing as good and bad.
We’re selfish and not good most of the time even since birth, whether or not these traits are emphasized and instilled in us to act on them just depends. Maybe society does play a large role in this, but how much of does it actually? Rousseau does have a point, a very good one.
Image: Symbolism to peaceful state versus chaotic state of the mankind