Since viewing the best of humanity, I've continually reflected on how homo sapiens can be so beautiful, and yet, be so monstrous. I look at the news each morning with reports of war and eminent wars, terrorist bombings, mass murderers, hatred spewing forth from the mouths of politicians, religious leaders, and comments from other viewers spouting racism, homophobia, denigrating ignorance, and a basic "us and them" philosophy.
I tell myself, "This is the way it has always been, get used to it." A popular song recorded in 1959 often comes to mind, "The Merry Minuet" by the Kingston Trio. But it is still an enigma to me why mankind has these polar opposites.
As I was musing about this dichotomy, I happened on an interview with author and educator John Horgan on NPR. He had just written a book, "The End of War"
Horgan argues that if war was really "biological" in the same sense that language is biological, it would be much more consistent in the historical record. But according to Horgan, war is actually very sporadic. There are some societies that become very materialistic, and stop fighting. There are others with long histories of fighting who then become more pacifistic. Horgan is most bothered by what he has observed as a sort of fatalistic point of view that war is inevitable. He believes that humans have much more power than some believe to plot the course of events and resolve conflicts without violence.
A popular theory about reasons for fighting comes down to resource competition. But Horgan said that while some wars are fought over land or resources, there are many in which there is no clear motivation for the conflict. He also believes that the horror of the two World Wars have changed how many think about war - whereas leaders prior to WWI sometimes glorified war, our politicians don't generally present war to the public in those terms any longer.
Dutch psychoanalyst Joost Meerloo held that, "War is often...a mass discharge of accumulated internal rage (where)...the inner fears of mankind are discharged in mass destruction. Thus war can sometimes be a means by which man's own frustration at his inability to master his own self is expressed and temporarily relieved via his unleashing of destructive behavior upon others. In this destructive scenario, these others are made to serve as the scapegoat of man's own unspoken and subconscious frustrations and fears.
Excerpts from Wikipedia:
Other psychoanalysts such as E.F.M. Durban and John Bowlby have argued that human beings are inherently violent. This aggressiveness is fueled by displacement and projection where a person transfers his or her grievances into bias and hatred against other races, religions, nations or belief systems. By this theory, the nation state preserves order in the local society while creating an outlet for aggression through warfare.
There seem to be as many theories about altruism as there are for man's aggressive nature. One such theory is biological altruism. It is defined as when an organism's behavior benefits other organisms, at a cost to itself. The costs and benefits are measured in terms of reproductive fitness, or expected number of offspring. So by behaving altruistically, an organism reduces the number of offspring it is likely to produce itself, but boosts the number that other organisms are likely to produce. (Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Ayn Rand postulates: The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.
Developmental psychologists assert that children are intrinsically egotists and that altruism is a result of the child's socialization through growth of emotions such as guilt and empathy.
So I'm left with seeing the two faces of man with no real concrete reasons for this duplicity. WE ARE GLORIOUS, BEAUTIFUL, AND ALTRUISTIC and we are small, hateful, vengeful, and aggressive.
Now that is a Rather Knotty Problem.