More human than humane: The human species has always, and will always be animals
By Mike Graziano
Watching humans, and the way we act towards one another has instilled in me a great sort of fear that we have towards ourselves. The human mentality is a scary and unjust thing. Many of you would say that I am wrong and that we are creatures of reason who are intelligent and know how to work out our problems. In some cases you would be right, but most of the time this is not the case. We are animals, and we act as such, plain and simple. The fact that we, as a species, deny that we are animals shows that we believe we have advanced far beyond whatever we were. How can that be?
We still become scared, and during extreme measures of being scared we urinate; we still have adrenaline rushes when we are injured, and we would do anything as a mother or father to defend our young. All of these qualities along with countless others, if you look into the animal kingdom, are common animalistic traits. What makes us different? Nothing.
Still, some of you would disagree and point to the progression of our society and technology, which has transformed our culture which is civilized. Much of what I read in the paper two weeks ago had this discussion already made. As I read both of them and juggled in my mind the views of these writers, I agreed with some of their ideas, and at the same time noticed some things they didn’t mention. We like to think that in our “humane” society that we do no wrong and we do things to benefit ourselves as a species, and for most part, in the controlled world that we live in, that is generally the case. When control, authority, and governing factors of a society are lost, or when things are not the way we want them to be or they are not normal, we turn into what we always were and always will be – Animals. When an animal is pushed into a corner and becomes fearful or scared, or when they are swayed into a mob mentality that then consumes him or her into an action and a mindset rather then individuality – That is when the worst things can be seen in people. We are no longer acting by reason or justness. Mostly we are going by instinct, and one of the great instincts is to survive by any means necessary.
Over the last two weeks I watched two videos and learned about a book that didn’t necessarily open my eyes, but rather helped me gain another perspective of a supposed “truth.” Something I learned as a historian, is to doubt and look for flaws in documents and “truths.” But what is a truth? By dictionary.com’s definition, it is “The true or actual state of a matter” or “a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle” or “an obvious or accepted fact; truism; platitude.” I personally laugh at such statements. To me, a truthis whatever an individual wants to write that it is in a book of law, or it is the mindset of an individual in a position of authority. To them, a truthis what they say it is. As the adage goes, “The winners write the history books.” Truth, in the following case, was my perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From what I previously learned, the “truth” was that the Israelis were the oppressed and were now fighting back to survive. I saw two sides, which showed me how people react to one another in a situation, which is anything but normal. What I learned about in detail was a man’s perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was a documentary on the business life of Yossef Nachmani. An Israeli Zionist with the ideals of buying land in Palestine while maintaining good relations with the Arabs. And that of a Palestinian woman and her family going through life day to day with their emotions and nationalistic feelings, while at the same time trying to raise a family that is under the occupation of Israel’s army.
Over the course of Nachmani’s work between the 1920s to the 1950s, he experienced a world that was being reshaped. He helped to get land from Arabs and slowly compiled it for Jewish settlements. Of course, many Arabs called him a “weaver of deception,” yet he did not push too far. He still wanted to maintain good relations with the Arabs, because he knew that no matter what, both groups would have to learn to coexist. This was most evident in a small town in current day Israel called Tiberia where Jews, Arabs, and Christians all lived together in harmony and they worked problems out. This did not last long. Eventually, with the UN partition in September of 1947 gave the Jewish communities an internationally recognized state, where effective almost immediately, all Arabs were pushed to leave their homes, their places of worship, to leave everything they have ever known. With this, a swarm of Jewish settlers came from across the globe to their now re-found homeland.
Things quickly got out of control where the old Zionists attempted to work with the Arabs. The new age, younger Zionists, including Nachmani’s son, used force of arms to get what they wanted. Soon the Jews saw the Arabs as their “enemies.” This view of Nationalism, at its worst (reminds anyone of anything that happened a few years before, hint: Germany), these militant Zionists started to use arms to push out the Arabs and in turn the Arabs used arms back. It was pride at its worst form. This caused fear in other people, which caused them to either fight or flee for their lives. Why, when people who could attempt to find a way to coexist, would they instead find it easier to shoot their neighbors in the head and take their belongings, destroy their homes, and worst of all, murder all the innocent men, women, and children of a settlement. What drives people to do such horrible acts? The thing about this is that there was no real leader or individual urging these riots on; it was the group as a whole. One Zionists shot eighteen injured Arabs. He simply shot them all, and claimed, “I had no problem doing it.” It’s not hard when you see them as an enemy, and as something that threatens your way of life and living.
What do you think the people of Germany thought when Hitler and the Nazi party helped to rip off the shackles of the Versailles Treaty and fight back against what they “viewed” as oppression. What Hitler was doing was bringing about the leadership and unification of all German states. This was a dream that all German people wanted (remind you of anything, hint: Isreal). What do you think they would say now if they saw what had stemmed from what nationalism and pride in one’s nation caused? “It seemed like a good idea at the time?” Sadly, yes. Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, Goering, and many others leached away at the blood that was Germany’s pride and eventually infected the entirety of the country. Nazism was in everything (again Nationalism at its worst, or best considering your point of view if you were German). Worst, if you were one of the sub-human ethnicities that were taught by German scientists to be as such.
In the much smaller documentary of the Palestinian woman and her family, the woman goes over how she lives life with the feelings of nationalism and the feelings of protecting her family all at the same time. She is stuck in a struggle of how she wishes to push the Israelis away by any means, but she is also scared and tired of the war of oppression that has raped their land for ages. As much as she wants to hold the flag of her “country,” she also is fearful to do anything since she is a mother first and a militant second. Perhaps this is something that holds back primitive aggressive behavior? But the fact of keeping your child safe is ingrained within us from the time we are born. We simply do not know it is an instinct. But instinct also says you cannot live like a slave. You cannot live in fear forever, and eventually, as is the case for the Palestinians, it is only a matter of time before they crack once again. In which case violence will once again erupt.
My Professor then told us about this book he had read, and it kind of gripped me by the throat when he explained briefly what it was about. The book is called “Neighbors: the Destruction of the Jewish Community at Jewabne, Poland.” He then proceeded to explain to us further that it was about a Polish community prior to the occupation of the Germans in World War II. Essentially, the community of this town consisted of 3,000 people, half of which were Jews. What happened, whether it was with or without German encouragement, is that the other half of the community that was not Jewish rounded up the Jewish half into a building and burned them all alive. There were two survivors, who were interviewed and helped to tell the story.
There was a reason for their actions. They realized the Germans were coming, and they also knew what followed in the wake of the Wehrmacht (German Army). The Einsatzgruppen, which was a squad that followed in the wake of the mobile German armies, whose sole task was to eradicate and exterminate the people the Nazis deemed unfit of living were one of those first groups to gather many members of the Jewish, Slav, Gypsies, homosexuals, physically and mentally dysfunctional communities and eradicate them. A doctrine used by the Germans at this time was if they knew you were more then 1/8th Jewish you were Jewish. This was easy for them, though, as the “truth” to them was that these people were unfit and were actually leeching their country and the world like a cancer. The officers would accuse someone of being Jewish, and unless that person could point out others who were Jewish, then that person was presented with the option of taking a 7.92mm bullet to the head or pointing out others to take it instead. You will see just how primitive and animalistic humans can be.
An example of this comes from entertainment that our culture has created, such as movies and books. One book that shows this is “Everything is Illuminated” and one movie that may be familiar is “Shindler’s List.” The views of the mentality of man in these show just how cruel and deceptive humans are when they believe in something or wish to gain at the expense of others, or when they are taught to be a certain way (German teachings of its people and military about how certain ethnicities are sub-human).
But that is not the only film that reminds me of this fact. How about “The Mist?” People in a situation with their backs to the wall show how we go into a variety of different beliefs to try and cope with a situation. Fear, courage, religion/faith, community, common good. Survival. Again, we view ourselves to be people, but as the following few quotes from “The Mist” explains, we are far from it:
Amanda Dunfrey: You don’t have much faith in humanity, do you?
Dan Miller: None, whatsoever.
Dunfrey: I can’t accept that. People are basically good; decent. My god, David, we’re a civilized society.
David Drayton: Sure, as long as the machines are working and you can dial 911. But when you take those things away, you throw people in the dark, you scare the shit out of them – no more rules. You’ll see how primitive they get.
Miller: If you scare people bad enough, you can get them to do anything. They’ll turn to whomever promises a solution.
Dunfrey: Ollie, please. Back me up here.
Ollie Weeks: I wish I could. As a species we’re fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up ways to kill one another. Why did you think we invented politics and religion?
Although I do not agree with the fact that we invented politics (since we do politics every day whether it is between two people or a group, and we do it sub-consciously which we also use to get an inch over people around us, subconsciously), these few lines from the movie hit on the head of the nail of what I am getting at. I also shake my head when I see the comment about religion, as from what I understand the Catholic Church as an organization is responsible for more deaths then any other (Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, 30 Year War). Still, many of you will say, “This is just a movie,” but movies don’t just come out of nowhere.
We create them from past events and experiences. We obviously don’t all agree on how humanity works in times of sheer chaos. Come to think of it, a lot of films have a basic premise of this: The “Saw” series, “The Shining,” “V for Vendetta,” “War of the Worlds,” or what about the book “Lord Of the Flies.” All have underlying tones of humans at their most primitive. If you are looking for something that isn’t a movie or book, look no further then Darfur, The Sudan, Rwanda, Mogadishu, China, and so many other places. Let’s also not forget what happened in New Orleans after Katrina. Some of the things we as people did to survive – to each other – weren’t even reported.
We as a species have survived for hundreds of years. Clearly we must be doing something right, or is it because of the spilt blood of those who have perished that we have made it so far? Honestly, it’s all “truth” right? You have nothing to worry about. Do you? Take this with you. The word “humane” as you can see is the word human with an “e” attached to it. As dictionary.com says it is: “characterized by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy for people and animals, especially for the suffering or distressed.” Sounds like whoever wrote that is “societally-institutionalized,” and might just need to reword what being “humane” really is… Which points to one last thing. We, although heavily clouded by the domestication of our species, are still animals. And with that, we still have instincts. They can never be blocked, or completely gotten rid of. Pack mentality, survival, fear, pride, rage, excitement, are just a few examples of driving forces. Events cause these forces to come out of us. In cases, when events go wrong and situations seem dire or changed by a “truth,” many people attempt to find a way to survive and flourish. However, sometimes, they rely on the ways that many people of this world look down upon. But thinking about it and being in the situation are two different things. If you were thrown in a situation and you were trying to survive, you would be amazed how the animal in you, would take control.
Mike Graziano is the Editor in Chief for The Voice. He is a senior History and Secondary Education major.