The Cynics Are Wrong; Humans Aren’t Actually All That Bad

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It is fair to say that history has demonstrated humans have a capacity to be both destructive and corrupt. Heinous actions have plagued humanity as individual and collective evil have both shown their ugly faces. The potential for individual maliciousness and sadistic pleasure has been evident throughout history with figures such as Vlad the Impaler forcing a stake through his helpless victim’s buttocks until it surfaced at the mouth. Collective evil has also prevailed over moral righteousness. For example, the British Empire systematically worked as a bloodthirsty parasite leeching onto anything and everything it could exploit. This is perhaps best epitomised by the British Empire’s forced influx of opium into China used as a means to gleefully get their hands on China’s tea.


The cases stated above are just two options out of a plethora of examples of human nefariousness. Historians and academics have used nearly every major event that humans look back upon with guilt to emphasise the point that humans are intrinsically flawed. As stated above, humans have the capacity for egoistic selfishness. However, to suggest empirical evidence of egoism and exploitation verifies the notion that human nature is inherently centred on self-interest is both simplistic and reductive. To counter the negativity that has been associated with human history, there are many examples of benevolence to illustrate the paradoxical nature of humans. Like evil, the altruism found in humans can be found individually and collectively. From Malcolm X’s selfless dedication to civil rights to the Haitian people uniting for the common good, there are plenty of examples of human kindness.


If humans have the potential for both good and bad, then what is an accurate account of human nature? To put it simply, human nature is restricted and limited. There are certain elements about the human character which are indisputable; self-preservation, sympathy, a desire for company, curiosity and creativity. Life is precious and there is no doubt that self-preservation is at the forefront of human thought, and for that humans cannot be blamed, nor can it be looked upon as a negative trait to pursue living in safety, which is something everybody should be granted. Humans are also social and sympathetic creatures. Not only do we desire to be around others, we also desire the protection and wellbeing of both friends and strangers. Finally, people have a curious and creative side that has an ambiguous character. Curiosity and creativity have led to marvellous inventions and brilliant pieces of art but has taken a perverse form such as imperial pursuits and scientific horrors. Therefore, the few characteristics that are intrinsic to human nature are at worst ambivalent and are, for the most part, positive.


As individuals our decisions are reactions to events that take place in our lives. We have the ability to make these decisions for ourselves, but we cannot decide the context in which we make these decisions. The materialistic streak found in nearly every individual in the west is an obvious example of this. As a species we don’t inherently desire Giorgio Armani jeans or Frappuccinos from Starbucks. Instead, we have been corrupted by a worrying addiction to material possession which has insidiously developed from childhood through advertising, and has culminated in moral apathy and egoistic atomism.


Crime can be seen as the epitome of the importance that society has in determining the development of an individual. A combination of materialistic corruption and economic deprival has created a cycle of crime and punishment. As stated previously, impressionable young minds are bombarded with passive aggressive adverts convincing them to buy the latest Nike trainers. More often than not, stealing is a reaction to circumstances and requires sheer desperation. When citizens cannot afford what most people take for granted such as food and electricity, then crime and stealing becomes a necessity. This is illustrated by the fact that 41% of prison inmates are working class, and younger people are more likely to commit crimes as there is a higher rate of unemployment for young people and young people are more likely to live in areas with higher levels of crime. Is this because working class and young citizens are more likely to be inherently morally corrupt? Only the most absurd and bitter commentators would say so. The nasty side to humans can therefore be assessed as a product of economic disparity within society.


As human nature is primarily a blend of various complex ambiguities, there is no doubt that a fairer, and more just economic system can be implemented. The notion that the free market should be left alone is nonsensical. The consequences of such actions have been nothing short of a disaster. From economic disparity to institutional racism, injustice is entrenched into nearly every aspect of society. The defining characteristics of humanity are impressionability and malleability. Consequently, the argument that we are too materialistic to implement a more just economic system is nonsense, if a fairer system is implemented then our materialistic streak will diminish alongside crime as people will have the necessary resources to lead a fulfilling life.


Article written by Jackson Shuttleworth, edited by David Jeffery


  • James Wilson

    I am pretty sure that, as examples of horrific evil go, the British Empire was pretty minor league; and did give back as well as take (the ratio of taking to giving is of course debatable). Compare that to the Belgium Congo, the German Empire , the Roman Empire or the Spanish Empire, just to take the European Imperial examples.

    “The materialistic streak found in nearly every individual in the west is an obvious example of this”. Its found everywhere. Every single society a) has ‘leaders’, b) has an ‘elite’ of some kind and c) has a concept of wealth. Humans and the basic imperatives behind human behavior are identical everywhere – basically, to accumulate more of whatever is desired (wealth, status, respect). There are incredibly sound biological reasons for this.