Sunday, June 19, 2011

People are, at root, good?

You're probably familiar with the argument between conservative or traditional Christian theologians--who claim that, since the sin of Adam and Eve, human beings are and have been, at root, wicked or evil (the doctrine of Total Depravity; see, for example, Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 51:5, Isaiah 64:6, etc.)--and modernists ("post-Christians"?) who say the Christians have it all wrong: human beings are fundamentally good, our desires are, at root, for the kinds of things the French Revolution stood for--"liberty, equality, fraternity."

Evidence for the latter position may be found in documented cases of selfless concern for others shown in large outpourings of help to victims of floods, famines, earthquakes and tsunamis. Not to mention the voluntary cooperation one finds in the crowd funding and free software movements, for example.

But then the Christians respond with evidence from wars, the history of abuses in race relations and slavery, and so forth: "Is it not our natural bent to abuse others?"

One response to the Christian examples might involve an appeal to what is often suggested as a potential solution to so many problems: Obviously, these are social problems and the behavior is that of social conditioning. We need to change our methods and content of nurture. It's human nurture, not human nature, that has produced all these problems.


This morning I read an article about "the rule of law"--or lack thereof (or, from my perspective, really, about the mentality of too many people)--in Russia.

Coming from a country and culture in which equality before the law is highly valued, I am astonished at what I read . . . and what "just one" video proved to my sight.

Notes related to this video say it was shot by a camera in the center of Irkutsk, Russia, on Lenin street, on 2 December 2009. One of the pedestrians died, the other is paralysed. But what is most shocking to the sensibilities of this American: "Until this video appeared on the web, the Russian police had not questioned the driver - she is the daughter of prominent local politicians. The police tested the pedestrians for alcohol, but not the driver!"

Sometime last August, apparently, the driver was actually found guilty and sentenced for her crime: "Driving license suspended for 3 years." The judge also gave her 3 years in a correctional facility, "but she will only have to start serving her sentence in 2024 due to her being a mother now." (She was pregnant at the time of the accident and has a small son.)

But the real reason for such a verdict? The offender is "connected."

While you're watching the video, notice that--as one commenter pointed out--"the [driver] is more concerned about checking the damage to her car [than caring for the women she injured]." Moreover, pay attention to the behavior of the pedestrians and the person who opens the door of the building that this woman ran into.

Here in the United States, one would think or expect, people would rush to the aid of the victims. But, no . . .

"Is this normal behavior in Russia?" asks the commenter.

The article I read that, through a respondent's comment, led me to the video makes very clear: Yes, this is normal behavior in Russia. At least among a large number of wealthy or "important" people.

I urge you to read the article. I found it rather scary.

Warning--or . . . maybe I ought not to warn you.

Question: Nature . . . or nurture? Culture . . . or fundamental human character?

If this kind of mentality is fundamental human nature, then why do (most) Americans find it appalling? Is human nature somehow different here in the United States? If it is nurture, then why does it seem so common, when someone rises to wealth or power--no matter what his or her cultural or social background (i.e., nurture!) . . . --Why is it that the newly wealthy or newly powerful tend, almost unerringly, to enter into the kind of abusive mentality we read about and see here?


ETA 7:10AM 6/19/11: I just noticed that Non Sequitur this morning seems to carry this theme. Check it out.
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