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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

If humans are innately ”good”, why does anarchy and barbarism usually crops up when government breaks down?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (21955 points ) July 16th, 2014

I have heard it said often, here as well, that humans/mankind is innately or inherently good. Time after time when government breaks down because of war, natural disaster, etc. it disintegrates into ”big fish eat little fish”, if not stemmed by order being restored; it would eventually end up like many apocalyptic movies where the gang with the most guns rule the roost. Why does it happen if people are innately good? Is looting and such as during Katrina, or savagery as in Somalia, Darfur, Rwanda, etc. isolated examples of systemic mental illness and unnatural behavior? When temporary anarchy breaks out such as the Rodney King riots, it was ”good people” being overtaken by some force that made them a menacing mob, instead of the helpful, peaceful, benign people they are supposed to innately be?

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13 Answers

jca's avatar

Not everyone is good. People are greedy, people are violent, people want control over others. Some may want and enjoy power (see North Korea).

People may not be all bad or all good, and then their personalities and their desire for control or their greed cause them to do bad things.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

1. Because the psychopathic minority get a chance to have their field day.
2. When resources become limited obtaining them becomes a life or death scenario.
3. Certain communities are inherently selfish and have poor behavioral conditioning.

It’s not always the case, honestly it depends on who your neighbors are. There was severe flooding in Nashville a couple of years back and there was not much if any looting or crime. People came together and helped each other out. There are answers to why crime breaks out in certain areas but people don’t want to acknowledge the unpopular and often politically incorrect truth.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@jca People are greedy, people are violent, people want control over others.
If people are innately born to be nice, peaceful, benign, etc. those who are greedy, callous, mean, vicious, etc. has to have some mental defect because they are not living as what is ”normal” for humans, similar as a human that desires to walk around on all fours eating grass and weeds like a cow, or wanting to kill wild animals, eating them raw and treating off the meat with their teeth or bare hands if they can’t bite it off, right, if not, why not?

talljasperman's avatar

~Because someone really needs a 40 inch television for free. You can hear it call to you ( Steal me, take me, borrow me ).

stanleybmanly's avatar

There is no reason to suppose that human beings are inherently good, and nothing serves to demonstrate this better than times of shortages. Even the possibility of shortages is enough to bend things toward “ugly”. It is no coincidence that with the economic downturn, and the ongoing decline in middle class standards of living, gun sales are predictably through the roof.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

If people are innately born to be nice, peaceful, benign, etc. those who are greedy, callous, mean, vicious, etc. has to have some mental defect because they are not living as what is ”normal” for humans

But people are not born nice. Look at little babies with the mine mine mine me me me complex. That is what it is to be a normal human. Greedy, stubborn, whiny brats.

CWOTUS's avatar

In terms of life and death, “good” means “pro-survival”. So a “good” decision or action is one that leads to extended or improved survival for oneself, one’s family, one’s group, etc. “Good” during times when fecal matter is hitting rotating blades of an air-moving device does not equate to “polite”, “follow the old rules” and “no coloring outside the lines”.

In times of famine it becomes “good” to hoard food for oneself and one’s family. Looting television sets is still “bad” (I’ll drop the double quotes now) because it doesn’t aid survival. Looting unguarded tools, fuel, fresh water and food, if times are dire enough and if the items have been left behind by absentee owners (under whatever old regime was in place), is then a good thing. Taking those things from someone else who intends to keep the goods and use them is still bad – always bad – because it would be better for both person’s / group’s survival to find a way to exchange want-for-want.

And aside from movies that do tend to glorify evil (because people working in a field raising crops and sleeping soundly every night is nowhere near as sexy as bad guys tearing around on motorcycles and speedboats terrorizing others for no particular reason other than to do it). Green crops slowly growing in a natural cycle of sowing, tending and harvesting doesn’t sell the tickets that immediate big orange fireballs do, but growing crops and trading the produce with others for tools and fuel and other produce is just as anarchic – and actually far more representative of the human condition through most of its history. Otherwise, we never would have gotten to where we are now.

And don’t kid yourself that we’re in such an awful place.

rojo's avatar

Some people are just broken.

Haleth's avatar

Think of it in evolutionary terms. We’re descended from primates, and before that, less advanced animals. We aren’t innately good or bad, but we do have an innate drive to fight for our own survival.

In times of struggle or hardship, that fight becomes more desperate. And it’s not just a fight for “me, myself.” The biological urge is to reproduce and ensure the survival of your offspring. In human society terms, that often means “people like me” vs “people not like me.”

As humans, we’ve started becoming thoughtful and developing beyond these animalistic origins. We have the capacity to do better: to coexist peacefully, pool resources and plan for higher goals.

The earliest living organisms developed in the oceans. I like to think about the first ones who decided to explore the land. What made them different? There was a seed of potential in them that developed into all the different land animals, and us.

We’re at a similar point in our development right now. It takes a climate of peace and prosperity to give the seeds of human thought a chance to germinate. Say someone with a brilliant mind has the potential to cure cancer, or create a fast and cheap method of space travel. They can’t do that if they can’t afford to go to school, or if they’re fleeing a war-torn homeland to live in a refugee camp. The necessities of survival come first. By not solving these problems for everyone, humanity is shooting itself in the foot. We’re limiting our own capacity for advancement.

There’s a lot of evidence of backsliding in our society right now. Extreme religious and superstitious elements are gaining power and influence, and we’re slipping from a capitalist society back into feudalism. (A company owned by billionares, where the workers make $7.25 an hour, is essentially feudalism in the modern world.)

Humans are the first creatures in history that have the capacity to do better. We’re beginning to think beyond our evolutionary origins and short-term survival, and have a long-term vision. We are not innately good. That’s sentimental B.S. But we can choose to be good, if we have the will and the vision to do so. Either way, we’ll get what we deserve.

ragingloli's avatar

Humans are not “innately good”.
They are animals, and like animals they will behave when societal structures break down.

Jonesn4burgers's avatar

And yet, in the face of natural disaster and other emergent crisis, people pull together. Someone opens fire in a school, teachers shield students with their own bodies.
Tornadoes rip apart a little midwest town Brett Michaels shows up to help, and so do hundreds more.
9/11, people all over, pulling out strangers, carrying people down dozens of flights of stairs, people digging and digging through rubble even long after all hope is gone of finding anyone alive, just to find any pieces of personal property possible to help with identification.
A little girl gets shot in the head just trying to learn, and goes on to speak out in favor of women having rights to learn..
Most of us resist the bad.

SavoirFaire's avatar

There are various things that one might mean by calling humans “innately good,” and thus various explanations of why things go so badly when government falls away. By “innately good” one might mean nothing more than to say we have a natural instinct towards benevolence (i.e., caring about the good of others). But to say that we are naturally benevolent does not entail that we do not also have a variety of natural instincts that may overcome our benevolence under certain circumstances. Thus on this view, to say we are innately good is merely to say that we all have goodness in us by nature. It is not to say that the goodness always wins. It is easy to see why, on this theory, the onset of political chaos might bring about violent behaviors. When the situation changes, our other instincts take over. This is roughly the view of David Hume.

Alternatively, one might think that “innately good” means “naturally prone to being orderly and just.” This was more or less John Locke’s view: most people are predominately good, though there are some bad people, and just about everyone has some bad impulses. On such a view, the majority of human beings need some sort of impetus to start a conflict. We don’t want to fight or kill every person who walks by us, but we do want to punish those who have violated our rights or society’s laws. Locke thinks that we can live quite well in the absence of government, except for two main problems: (1) we lack an impartial means of resolving disputes, and (2) the minority of bad people have a much easier time of ruining things for everyone when there is no organized means of catching and punishing offenders. On this theory, political chaos brings about violent behaviors because it gives the bad people free reign. Lockeans tend to emphasize how many people do not loot and/or riot when disaster strikes. (It’s always a stark minority doing so.)

Finally, there is the view of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He believes that human beings really are innately good in the plain sense of the term: we’re all just good by nature, and the only reason we have any capacity for violence at all is because life before society still involved self-defense against other animals. On Rousseau’s view, it is society that makes us bad. It creates conflicts and rouses our violent capacities. But due to various means of controlling the population (i.e., the criminal justice system), our new violent tendencies are suppressed and redirected into other forms of conflict (e.g., athletic contests or economic competition). When society breaks down and political chaos comes about, all of the restraints are broken and our violence is let out.

Note that these are all simplifications. Hume, Locke, and Rousseau all have plenty more to say on the matter. So does Thomas Hobbes, though he very much thinks that humans are not innately good in any sense.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@CWOTUS In times of famine it becomes “good” to hoard food for oneself and one’s family. Looting television sets is still “bad” (I’ll drop the double quotes now) because it doesn’t aid survival. Looting unguarded tools, fuel, fresh water and food, if times are dire enough and if the items have been left behind by absentee owners (under whatever old regime was in place), is then a good thing
To do something good for a given situation is different from just being ”good”, if one can even quantify that. Taking an axe from a hardware store that was left by the owner and is not laid open by a fallen oak, maybe good for the one taking the axe but bad for the owner of the store. They only left because it was unsafe to stay, but they plan to return, thus returning to find the axe and everything else in place. Even if said axe aided someone in their survival it left the hardware store owner lighter of merchandise.

@Haleth Extreme religious and superstitious elements are gaining power and influence, and we’re slipping from a capitalist society back into feudalism.
Curious, can you explain how religion causes or makes people act badly away from the nice, gentle people they are intrinsically supposed to be out of the womb?

@Jonesn4burgers Tornadoes rip apart a little midwest town Brett Michaels shows up to help, and so do hundreds more.
9/11, people all over, pulling out strangers, carrying people down dozens of flights of stairs, people digging and digging through rubble even long after all hope is gone of finding anyone alive, just to find any pieces of personal property possible to help with identification.
The question is (and may never be fully known), is if they were never introduced to empathy, sympathy, benevolence, etc. would they know to do it without being told?

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