Nature vs Nurture

A few weeks ago a friend of mine from high school made a comment on Facebook about the human condition that I challenged. Here is our exchange of comments.

Friend: I love people. So often they suck, but they’re all good at heart.

Friend: Humans wouldn’t still exist if not for inherent goodness.

Me: The inherent MO of a toddler is “mine.” Unless selfishness is the highest virtue for humanity: why would we need to be corrected?

Perhaps it’s because “mine” is inherently bad?

Friend: I feel very little sense of mine. I rarely covet, I rarely feel jealousy, and I rarely feel ownership over anything. I would love to feel special in this, but I know I’m not. Sure some of these baser instincts exist, but they don’t dominate us. Or they don’t have to. People are fooled more by society and culture into selfishness than they are by human nature. Surely to survive we must be somewhat selfish, but our species could never be where we are today if we cared only of personal satisfaction.

Me: I agree with you that mankind “could never be where we are today if we cared only of our personal satisfaction.” But that does not necessitate humans are inherently good. I think you’ll have a tough time explaining the problem of evil in this world from your standpoint.

Some of the world’s greatest thinkers saw the inherent depravity of man: Tolstoy, Nietchze, Twain, Lewis, Freud, Dostoyevsky, and the list goes on.

If we were inherently good, then there would be no crime in this world. There would be no Hitlers. There would be no Stalins. There would be no Neros. There would be no Dahmers. There would be no Mansons.

The fact that I should covet at all is an indication of selfishness, and therefore making me “not good;” regardless of whether or not I should act on it.

Perhaps I have too high of an ideal of what is “good.” Or maybe yours is too low? But one thing is for sure: that whatever is inherently good will not, and cannot, also inherently possess “bad” qualities. It ceases to therefore be good.

Now, I do not argue for the fact that humans are inherently evil because I am a fatalist (I am very hopeful for this world, just not in humanity). I argue for it because I think that awareness of our inherent evil qualities puts us in a position to recognize that we are capable of harm, hurt, and injustice toward others. And therefore we are enabled to seek change and we need help to reign in our selfishness.

Hitler, for example, did not think that he was acting out of evil/wickedness. He thought he was acting for the good of humanity. My point being: we humans are foolish to think that we are inherently “good natured.” For if we are to think that about ourselves, and believe it as true, then we could never be reformed. We could never be shown what is actually good; and strive to reach after that.

The most evil thing a person could believe or do is to think he/she can do no evil. And that they are inherently good. That person will be irreconcilable; unable to be reformed. And should be considered a psychopath, unfit to enjoy the privileges society affords.

**Unfortunately this is the end of our exchange. But if you should question whether or not I have selectively chosen to include my friend’s comments, I welcome all of your thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment and add to the discussion.
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