Peter Emer

The Lil Project

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Are we barbaric and savagely in our natural state?

William Golding's book Lord Of The Flies suggests that at our core, we savages and barbaric, but civilization is what hinders that side from showing itself. His belief has been evidently shown by several events in which a group people where isolated from civilization. An example of this is in the movie "ALIVE" (based on a true story) in which a Rugby team is stranded in the mountains far from civilization and have to resort to eating the dead people in an attemp to survive. What do you all think?

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    Mar 5 2011: I would ask if there is a nature which is representative of man. Is there a contingency that is truly natural and authentic to man?

    Freud claimed that civilization has all these deeper unconscious desires and drives which are amoral, and civilization keeps these desires in check through norms, values and punishment. We consciously seek to satisfy these infantile desires in sublimated forms.

    This may be, but can we define the barbaric state as more natural than our civilized state of being?

    The concept of nature only comes about through a cultural or a historical definition, so it is a concept that acquires meaning only through civilization. From the reference of civilization one can only speak about the life of the savage man.

    I would say that these books are describing contingencies under which humans are forced to engage in particular behaviours, however these contingencies are not related strictly to civilization. Civilization may have a means of suppressing these behaviours under particular conditions, but if there is a shortage of food people are gonna murder and steal. If you look at what drives violence and power struggle in a society, there is always an underlying economy.

    If you look at what drives altruism and solidarity, there is also a underlying economy one that is obviously different than in times during social unrest. I am an anarchist so I can even offer examples in which laws and authority were not needed for highly organized and peaceful societies to emerge. A good example is the anarcho-syndicalist societies.

    My opinion is that humans are can never be one way or another innately. Genetics may keep us alive and give us a unique physical appearnce but with regard to behaviour it only gives us predispositions who we are is a consequence of where we find ourselves in the world.
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        Mar 6 2011: Well here is my suggestion.

        We can't control what people desire to do. It's like attempting to control free will, people will do the things they do no matter what. But I think that we can anticipate that certain decisions are more likely to be made under certain conditions.

        For instance when there is poverty people are more likely to commit crimes. When people are raised by neglectful and rejecting parents they are more likely to identify with behaviours which are destructive and selfish. When people are educated in general they tend to make smarter decisions with regard to their well being. So I think as a collective people can temper with these variables and try to work towards a more decent society. Our ability to love and our sense of solidarity probably has some instinctual basis.

        Peter Kropotkin's Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution presents numerous cases where lower animals come together and produce a very organized and altruistic community, based on mutual aid. Mice can be very just and utilize economically rational behaviour if they are placed in the position to do so. All these behaviours are instinctual, they are rational but they are not concsious. So I think humans probably act in similar ways but we also have that conscious part that can override instinctual behaviour. However all instinctual behaviour does not lead to solidarity, when there is scarcity of resources there can also be very selfish and violent behaviour.
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        Mar 11 2011: To educate someone in the art of loving,it takes an authority figure who knows how to love. usually a parent takes the position of authority figure and if the parent treats that "child" as if he/she MATTERS then we are on the way to civilizing another being. The child has to be taught in a caring way (DISCIPLINED) to care about other people and this comes as a response eventually and is not contrived. Punishment is a human construct and does not teach anything except that I am bigger, more powerful and therefore I can vent my anger on you.
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          Mar 11 2011: You are right, sometimes there is a need for authority. But there is a difference between competent and necessary authority, and authority for the sake of serving some power interest or elitist hegemony.

          My doctor, as long as he knows what he is doing is a competent authority on medicine and I would do weel to listen to him. Of course in order for me to trust him he also needs to provide a burden of proof that he knows medicine and that his diagnosis is accurate. By his MD degree, by cat scan, all of that.

          However on the political level we don't have any necessary or immediate reason for authority, representative democracy exemplifies the use of unnecessary authority. We don't need politicians to pass bills and make decisions for us, the people can do that just fine. Public polls show that the decisions people make on average are actually more intelligent than the decisions politicians make. If people had a real vote on the matter America would have never gone to Iraq. But the premise of representative democracy tends to be people are incompetent and if they could vote there would be chaos therefore we need to give authority over to a small group of elected political elites.
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          Mar 12 2011: Your response, Helen, reminded me of a case study I once read where 3 children were raised in a severely disfunctional and abusive home. They were all sexually abused and when they were rescued it appears that the only reason they survived is that they bonded together and nurtured each other in rotation after each was assaulted- and it went on for years. My point is that there is something within the human spirit that occassionally shines through even without the proper models. Whenever anyone doubts that the concept of altruism is true, I am certain it is when I think of older children who will knowlingly suffer sexual abuse to save a younger siblling. Even in the most savage environments, some people rise above.
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      Mar 5 2011: I never really looked at it in that light. You are definitely right, our concept of NATURE is defined by civilization therefore we can never accurately sequaster something as natural. And very familiar with Freudian theories and i think we are on the same page when i say that Freud would support part of Golding's theory on the basis that civilization hinders our innate desires or our innate predispositions. I do agree that our behaviour varies as we observe it in different parts of the world but there certain needs that are at our core. I dont know if you are familiar with Maslov's Heirarchy of needs. But at the top of this heirachy of needs is survival. Meaning if we were in our innate state, we would go to any extent to survive. But according to Golding, this has been altered by civilization which introduced societies which then introduced societal demands and society norms.

      There's things we condemn as uncivilized and unhumane. For example cannibalism....that is widely condemned as un civilized but according to Maslov, the people that live by that are just acting to fulfill thier needs.

      And can civilization play a part in evolution? As in can it alter genes to make us the way we are now?
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        Mar 6 2011: That's quite interesting and I am learning a lot from you now as well. I am very familiar with Freud. Golding's theory is something I would probably be interested to read more into. I completely agree, civilization can override instinct because in civilization things begin to acquire meaning. Survival and life becomes replaced by the idea of living a meaningful life.

        Civilization can definitely play a factor in evolution now especially that humans have found the technology to manipulate genes. It's funny because only two decades ago this was science fiction to me. But we really have a conscious control on evolution now.
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          Mar 11 2011: Yeah you should look at Golding's theory, i think you definitely find it interesting. To start, i would recommend reading the book Lord Of The Flies.

          The fact that civilization can alter our genes is what i was trying to get at that we are no longer in our natural state.
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    Mar 6 2011: The most natural state I have ever encountered over the course of my life was during the times when I gave birth to my children. It was primal and I gave birth 4 times without drugs. My point is that in that natural state, that primary state, I was filled with a love and a joy that was neither barbaric nor savage. The dominant emotions (beyond some fear) were love and attachment. When that baby emerged from my body there was a rush of wonder and of amazement. I felt that I had dome something very meaningful and very important. As I held them to my breast, I felt protectiveness, commitment, joy and exhaustion. I suddenly had an epiphany that if this one life was so precious all others must be. We have heard much of the male view of our natural state but too little of the female view of it. It is a connected and brave view.
  • Mar 5 2011: In nature there is no compassion! We shutter when a lion kills a calf so he can eat. We attach words to describe this event: Savage, evil, etc. Not so! It's just nature being nature. Somewhere, along our tree branch, compassion got a toe hold, and we have been fighting our natural instincts ever since.
    Take away all our training/teachings/ etc. and you have natural instincts that strip us all raw.
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      Mar 5 2011: Hi Birdia(:

      Thats very interesting, i actually discussed that version of it with a friend. Yea women and men are very different in that aspect. But isnt that part of a societal(civilization) view? I dont know if you are familiar with Abraham Maslov, but he suggested that people have a heirarchy of needs that they all strive to fulfill when they are in a natural state. And at the top of this heirarchy is the need to survive and feel safe. If women where in the same situation as the boys on the island, i think they would definitely be more successful and more organize. The competition for power wouldnt be as high as a result there would be more cooperation. But if women ran out of resources, i still believe that they resort to any means for survival and chaos would sip in. Just because animals all have an innate strive for survival.

      Please respond, i would very much like to hear your thoughts(:
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      Mar 11 2011: Hi Birdia. Related topic -

      I keep forgetting to mention that I watched and enjoyed the video you posted in another discussion:

      Reminded me a bit of the research of the Lithuanian anthropologist Marija Gimbutas (who was admired by Joseph Campbell). She believed that Old Europe (neolithic/bronze age) was a peaceful place motivated, more predominantly, by feminine vs. masculine principles (as today).
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    Mar 5 2011: I don't think you can do linear thinking in this situation. Man by nature is savage and barbaric. Look at the angry the child is, if his desires are thwarted. It is great that at two years of age they are not big enough to really cause radical damage. We humans have to be taught to love. (Love means care and respect for each other and an understanding of our nature and the possibilities to rise above it) If the people on the Rugby Team had conspired to kill fellow members and proceed to eat them, I would have a abig PROBLEM WITH THAT. But they helped the others as long as possible and only after considerable reflection on this matter of survival, did they consume their flesh. I don't see this as savage. I am more concerned with White Collar crime than I am seeing someone trying to survive. Yes ? BTW have you ever read the Old Testament ?
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      Mar 5 2011: Hi Helen(:

      Yea you have a point there, but you gotta consider how cannibalism is presumed as well. And golding would say if they where left isolated long enough that they ran out of dead bodies to eat, they would consider killing their fellow members.
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        Mar 6 2011: Hi Peter..You are right. They would consider it. But would any of them actually do it ? Dunno. Depends onwhat they held dear. Oh yeah..I forgot to say that man is self aware which animals are not and that also has a bearing on actions. Also what kind of belief system and societal mores are at work here ?
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    Mar 11 2011: Peter: Very interesting topic you bring up. Often have wondered about that myself. My impression from my limited readings from anthropology is that in pre-"civilized", tribal communities there was almost a constant state of inter-tribal warfare. Cannibalism being widely practiced. Jane Goodall's work seems to indicated that this also true for chimpanzees. So I do believe there is an innate tendency to violence.

    But your question brings up the point that "civilization is what hinders that side". But what is civilization but a representation of another force at work? A unifying, shared consciousness toward protection of the whole community.

    Perhaps the violent side served a necessary purpose in humankind's early development, but as our group consciousness evolves the other force becomes more dominant. Of course the latent existence of our violent side needs to be recognized and kept in check. But the fact that as society evolves the risk of violent death has been declining gives me hope
  • Mar 6 2011: Conscious, control and manipulation in one sentence... grain and chaff in one bag?
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    Mar 5 2011: Why judge? It limits.