Thursday, January 30, 2003
Animal Instincts-Via the Great Ruffini, we have this Tacitus piece on attitudes about the human animal
We are all animals. If I may resort to purely anecdotal evidence, it's striking to me how this idea has gained such currency in the modern era. From the deeply loathesome Peter Singer to Ingrid Newkirk and her fellow-travelers to, well, Robert Fisk, there is a remarkable agreement amongst much of the intelligentsia on the inhumanity of man. Curiously, these are usually also the same people who are deeply concerned with peace at any price, in any situation, under any circumstance.OK, let's try this on for size. The peacenik left looks at man as a trainable animal that is violent and selfish in its natural state. That idea that we're trainable, that our violent and selfish nature will go away with the right education, is the core of socialist thought. However, their secular viewpoint leaves them with no standards on which to judge human behavior, leading to the stance of moral equivalency. No side has the ethical high ground from which to judge and attack an offending country.
Contrast this with a person who views man as a thing of unique and separate value from the rest of creation, with inherent and inalienable rights that are his alone. Put that formulation to a fellow, and if he agrees with it, I'm thinking you've got some flavor of a conservative -- or at least someone who doesn't stay awake at night wringing his hands over Hiroshima and Salvador Allende. This type of person doesn't mind a war so much, so long as he thinks it just and necessary. (Broad generalizations, yes. Knee-jerk antiwar leftists who believe deeply in man as a thing of unique and separate value -- I'm looking at you, Catholic Bishops of America -- need not take umbrage.)The conservative camp sees mankind as flawed as well, but as a fallen creation of God. Short of Heaven, people aren't perfectible, and a system where greed and selfishness are harnessed is needed. However, their faith gives them moral absolutes that allow for judgements of right and wrong, good and evil that will justify going to war. Ruffini objects to the animal label-
I fundamentally object to this interpretation, and on many levels. To argue that we're innately amoral and thus indistinguishable from animals, you'd have to completely disregard the role conscience plays in each of our lives. All human beings — or most of them, at any rate — feel genuine remorse when they hurt others. Failing that, there are informal sanctions in the wider community against anti-social behavior. And then there's the criminal justice system. Animals have neither the intrinsic self-restraint nor the social institutions that exist as safeguards against uncontrolled violence in the human community. What about war? Doesn't that prove that human nature is more "animalistic" than we let on? Hardly. While it might be in an animal's interest to completely eviscerate a neighbor, feeding on the mangled corpses of a rival herd, modern war, at least as it's practiced by the West, is been waged with a keen eye towards avoiding civilian casualties, and with the sincere belief that they will save more lives in the long term. Even something as horrific as the Hiroshima bomb was dropped with this understanding. Now, one could certainly find myriad examples of more wanton violence throughout history to disprove my thesis. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, to name a few. But are most people, deep down, like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot?Yes, in the since that we're all selfish, self-centered people who could turn violent given the right situation. We all have that Stonewall Jackson "Kill them; kill them all" ruthless 10-meg side to us. We're not all that pretty at the core. However, with God's help (and our culture and legal system), we can reign that nasty side in. The liberals might be wrong in that there's some things worth fighting for, but they are wrong in that we aren't perfectible and that our nasty side is due to free will and not from evolution. We're more than naked apes, but we're no angels.
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