The belief that people are innately evil is a central pillar of both collectivism and of the control mentality, and as such it deserves attention. I have discussed it to some extent, first as an essential part of the bait of collectivism, and more recently as an underpinning of the obedience circuit. That being said, I think there’s more to look at.
The number of variants on this belief is as great as the number of mainstream worldviews. The Christian belief that “man is born a sinner” is the granddaddy of them all. Christian dogma states that, thanks to original sin, man is born a sinner and remains so for his whole life, only redeemed from this status by his belief in Jesus as saviour. From little babies onwards (if we exclude the “age of accountability,” a doctrine they fabricated to cover up the utter imbecility of believing that a little baby is pure evil), we are all worthy of eternal torment.
The modern belief pushed by the power elite is a little more subtle than that, since it does not rely on religious dogma, but it is no less bleak. As one neocon told me, and I quote: “The majority of humans are scum when it gets right down to it. Stupid. Lazy. Evil.” Not only that, but we are bombarded with propaganda telling us that most people have criminal intentions and that anyone who disagrees with your ideology is evil and insane. We live in a society where new criminals are constantly being created by law, and this process is passed off as the absolute proof that man is a criminal. We are constantly told that every state of chaos and violence in the world is caused by a lack of government control, and that the more free from control people are, the more they become like beasts.
Think about how you would see society if you seriously believed that. Think about how much you’d trust your fellow homo sap if you actually believed that “the majority of humans are scum.” Is it any wonder that this belief leads to major psychological, social and political aberrations?
More recently, science and capitalism have given us a different take on man. Instead of blaming man for his nature, they see it as infinitely malleable. In this conception, man is a push-button machine. By finding out which buttons one must push, you can make a man consume your product, think the right thoughts, vote for the right choice, and kill the enemies you designate. Free will is an illusion, a sort of background noise lost in the statistical signals one uses to measure behaviour, an uncertainty interval that can and must be shrunk until it is eradicated.
Utopians also share this belief, but without the scientific aspects. In the Marxist worldview, it is posited that man is a blank slate (that is to say, a human with no particular “human nature” whatsoever) on which the environment and education imprint patterns of thought and action, and free will is once again an illusion to be replaced with “pressing the right buttons.” I hope I don’t need to mention how utterly unscientific this is, and has been thoroughly refuted by evolutionary psychology.
Either way, I will not discuss this particular “push-button” conception further, since it is not particularly relevant to the topic except in an incidental way (in the “man is innately stupid/gullible” sense).
Now, the interesting thing is that a person may not consider himself to be evil. In the Christian conception, this is not true, since the believer must also considers himself a sinner, otherwise he misses the whole point. But in the statist conception, it is entirely possible, and entirely likely, for a person to believe that most people are innately evil, or that man is innately evil, while still believing that they themselves are not evil. In fact, very few people consider themselves evil.
So there is a pretty easy reply to people who say that man is innately evil, that without a control apparatus people would just go around killing and stealing, and so on and so forth, the reply being “who would you kill first?” Of course they do not want to kill anyone, and they will say so, although they are convinced that the masses harbour in their hearts a desire to kill.
So from a logical point of view, we have a paradox which leads to three possible solutions: either the answerer is somehow special and has escaped the evilness of human nature, or he is lying to himself and really does want to kill, or he is wrong in his basic belief. Generally people will not go this far and will refuse to answer you, but if you press them, they will give you the first or second option (the option that the belief could be wrong is of course unacceptable, since they constructed their whole political worldview on it).
Before I continue, I would like to diverge into a bit of a side-issue: when statists say “man is innately evil,” in accordance with what standard do they use the term “evil”? Seemingly, in accordance with the innate moral standard of man, which sees murder, theft, and so on, as social evils. Interestingly, this entails a direct contradiction, since they assume that our innate moral standards are valid, while stating that man is innately evil at the same time. The statist may argue that there is really no contradiction since the law provides the standard necessary, although this entails two further problems, namely: 1. how did the first rules of conduct come to be, if not from man’s innate moral standards, and 2. how he intends to prove that a law generates a moral obligation (a necessary step to go from “illegal” to “evil”), something which I have proven is logically impossible.
Either way, the principle that murder and theft are evil is of no help to the statist, since the State is by far the greatest agent of murder and theft. It is estimated, for instance, that governments have murdered approximately 260 million of their own subjects in the past century, six times the amount of war killings in the same period, and many times that of private murders. The amount of money extorted and stolen by governments (by taxation, inflation, expropriation, etc) is so many orders of magnitude greater than private thefts that it would be silly to even try to calculate it. If statists are using this standard to claim that man is innately evil, then we can reply that their solution is worse than the disease. If murder and theft are evil, then statism is morally inferior.
To this a statist may reply that this is a contradiction, as the people populating governments are, according to us, innately good and therefore should not be so murderous and thieving. This objection ignores a fundamental fact of social organization: who populates a system has no bearing on its incentives and the general nature of its results. As I’ve pointed out in the past:
… Even if every single politician, corporate executive, bureaucrat, policeman, soldier and technocrat was a fair-minded, benevolent angel, we’d still get the exact same end results.
The error that statists commit is that they believe that politics and economics are driven by individuals. But that only applies when people take responsibility for their actions. When people don’t question their own actions, and follow the system blithely (and why should they not, when they’ve been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe in it?), then they become nothing more than puppets for that system. In that case, we can say that politics and economics are driven by the properties of their systems.
In short, a culture of compliance nullifies the influence of individual morality on the incentives of a system. Collectivist systems are destructive beyond measure because their incentives are destructive beyond measure and there exists no mindfulness of that fact in their members. Power corrupts angels as much as it corrupts demons, because whether angels or demons we are still human beings.
No matter what moral system the evaluation is based on, the consequences of believing that man is innately evil remain the same. If man is innately evil, so goes the reasoning, then all men must be controlled so we can be safe from each other’s evil desires. The ultimate freedom is therefore ultimate control, with love having no place whatsoever in a secure society. It is a hopeless, nihilistic article of faith which can only ultimately lead to a war of all against all, a life “poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (words used by Hobbes to characterize the state of nature, but which apply much more aptly here).
One may reply that the belief that “man is innately good” is also an article of faith. I have no objection to that position per se. Suppose it is true. Then both the statist and I are in possession of an article of faith as the foundation of our ideologies, but one could argue that a positive faith based on hope is more useful than a nihilistic faith based on fear, insofar as it spurs people to a better sort of action. Even if we claim that either belief is unproveable, the belief that “man is innately good,” put to action, would create a better society than the belief that “man is innately evil” (at least, as the statists interpret it).
Either way, if the issue is one of faith against faith, then rational discussion is over, for most intents and purposes. Where faith is concerned, everyone believes what they believe and there’s no point in trying to convince anyone that they’re wrong. Faith is incompatible with dialogue.