Christmas time, festivals of light, Freud, Hamlet, Leviathan, Newtown attack on school children, Pansees, Pascal, Reflections upon War and Death, Shakespeare, Taliban attack on school children in Pakistan, Thomas Hobbes
Christmas time is considered a joyful and bright time in Christian societies. (Though Japan is not a Christian society, Japanese these days celebrate this time of the year by decorating cities with lights and colorful decorations, probably the influence of capitalism and the American occupation.) But, if I think about this season only a little further, it is filled with religious festivals of many faiths. In a way, it is quite understandable that the darkest time of the year (in the northern hemisphere) is often chosen as a time of festivals of light: one needs a means to cheer oneself up even if it is artificial. In any case, what I want to say is that this time of the year is generally considered as a happy time. But, there are so many incidents in the world in the last few days that make me wonder about humanity and its future.
The most shocking incident, for instance, happened only 2 days ago in Pakistan. Nine Taliban terrorists attacked a school in Pakistan, killing 148 people that included 132 students. This incident stunned me with its depravity and cowardice. What is the point in killing school children? It also reminded me of the senseless and depraved killings of 20 school children and 6 adult staff members in Newtown, Connecticut 2 years ago. Is there anything fundamentally wrong with humanity? Are these people merely outlandish aberrations?
Our ancestral thinkers thought about human nature, and often came up with views of humanity that were not necessarily favorable. For instance, Thomas Hobbes wrote in Leviathan: “And because the condition of Man, (as hath been declared in the precedent Chapter) is a condition of Warre of every one against everyone; in which case every one is governed by his own Reason; and there is nothing he can make use of, that may not be a help unto him, in preserving his life against his enemyes; It followeth, that in such a condition, every man has a Right to every thing; even to one anothers body” (Chap.14). Freud also wrote about “au naturel” human attitude toward death in Reflections upon War and Death: “Primitive man assumed a very remarkable attitude towards death. It was far from consistent, was indeed extremely contradictory. On the one hand, he took death seriously, recognized it as the termination of life and used it to that end; on the other hand, he also denied death, reduced it to nothingness. …. The death of the other man he had no objection to; it meant the annihilation of a creature hated, and primitive man had no scruples against bringing it about. He was, in truth, a very violent being, more cruel and more malign than other animals. He liked to kill, and killed as a matter of course.” Without civilization humans were very much in the realm of animal kingdom.
True, more moderate thinkers expressed less extreme views of humanity; but even they were not entirely happy with humanity. For instance, Shakespeare expresses his view of humanity in the form of Hamlet, his alter-ego: “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals – and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me …” Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician and thinker, also expresses a similar view of humanity in Pensees: “What a chimaera then is man, what a novelty, what a monster, what chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, yet an imbecile earthworm; depository of truth, yet a sewer of uncertainty and error; pride and refuse of the universe. Who shall resolve this tangle?”
Were humans born in sin, as Christianity says and Pascal believed? (I wonder how people can bring about children if they really believe that.)
My thoughts were momentarily arrested in a dark thought about humanity after learning about the massacre in Pakistan. But, I know such a thought is merely a product of focusing too much on the negative manifestation of human deed. There are always people, such as the volunteer healthcare workers, helping people in Ebola affected areas in Africa, who cancel out such negative specimens of humanity. Humans are diverse, complex, and full of contradictions.