For this essay, I decided to play with our chosen theme a little bit. Instead of suggesting alternatives to violence, I stated that humans are inherently violent animals, and that the “powers that be” use ideology and coercion to temper our aggression. In a way, it does address the theme, but in a creative, unexpected, and philosophical way.
Humans are inherently violent creatures. Civilization and ideology are used to temper our destructive nature by directing it towards certain topics. There is very little that stops humanity from sliding back into animalistic carnage when the opportunity arises. Ideology, however, usefully contains our animalistic nature and directs our anger towards physical targets. In the end, ideology is the driving force which poisons the world and damns us for all time, yet is also necessary for the containment of random destruction (as opposed to systematic destruction).
Perhaps every living person on Earth has been indoctrinated into some sort of ideology ever since their day of birth. Whether it is political, religious, or something else entirely, ideology is something all of us have been inoculated into. People who believe greatly in an ideology are prepared to put everything, including their own lives, on the line for the good of their own beliefs. They are willing to destroy anything and everything that lies in their way of the triumph of their ideology, leaving destroyed lives, reputations, and nations in their wake.
In a way, ideology, poisonous though it is, is necessary to channel the natural, violent impulses of humankind. Without some sort of vague direction, we would be consumed by a dark orgy of destruction and decimation. For instance, the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution, bloody though it was, gave the anger of the masses a target-the nobility, the bourgeoisie, and the “enemies of reason”. Enlightenment values were the ideology culpable for that, and it proved deadly-but no deadlier than other great killers, like nationalism, communism, fascism, and imperialism, as well as countless religious differences and doctrinal squabbles. Indeed, ideology is maybe on the biggest killers of all time. In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton questions Aaron Burr about his lack of principles: “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?” Hamilton taunts Burr for not having any guiding cause and being seemingly amoral. But perhaps it is for the better of all of us that Burr did want to die or give everything for simple earthly causes-even if lack of principles costed him dearly. For the guiding principles of others also cause much grief-as Hamilton’s love of ideology leads him into a bloody revolution and creates a naturally unstable nation that would end up collapsing into civil war.
But ideology is not the only killer within the human race: our own savage nature is perhaps even greater. Despite the trappings of civilization, we are still animals and we still have animal desires and needs. We still have the reptilian brain within our heads, separated from the higher reasoning that the other portions of our mind are capable of. This holdover from deep prehistory governs our most base and impulsive functions, and is rigid, unable to really fit into large civilizations and society. From here springs the roots of paranoia, the desire of fight or flight, simple habits, and aggression and dominance-and it is what our normally advanced, simian brains fall back on in times of great stress or crisis.
The line between an organized society and complete anarchy is incredibly thin. Once the normal comforts of civilization are removed, people revert to a competitive, aggressive state of “every man for himself”. Thomas Hobbes, the British philosopher, referred to this as the “state of nature” in his treatise Leviathan and suggested that humans must give up certain freedoms in order to have some sort of security and peace of mind. If we all were to do whatever we so pleased, Hobbes declares, all of the fundamental tenets of civilization would shut down-as he famously wrote, there would be “no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. While things like this can certainly occur within “normal” society, the vast governmental controls which Hobbes cynically offers as a solution end up keeping our worst impulses in line-until, of course, we revert back to our old ways, and turn on one another without direction or purpose other than base territoriality.
Perhaps civilization and society themselves do not really exist. As soon as the Leviathan of the State removes itself and we are allowed all of our basal freedoms, we return back to our normal selves-sometimes violent, most definitely selfish, and uncompromisingly competitive. However, the state-nay, the leviathan-keeps us somewhat appeased and directs our rage towards something or someone palpable. We steal, we lie not for a greater purpose but for short-term gain, we betray our friends-and all of this happens on the daily in nominally “controlled” “society”. Society is simply a contract which states to try your best and be as agreeable as possible, but its numerous riders and clauses-such as war, discrimination, rebellion, and rioting, as well as just the messy movements of the government itself-means that it is, in effect, controlled chaos. So, as flawed animals, we should simply be the best versions of ourselves that we can be, as this is the most esteemed protection against the surrounding darkness and destruction.
"THE BRAIN FROM TOP TO BOTTOM." THE BRAIN FROM TOP TO BOTTOM. McGill University , n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
Hobbes, Thomas. "Chapter 13." Leviathan. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 62. Print.