Here is a response which I made to a www.quora.com question, entitled “Why are people so inhuman”
You can see the original post here:
Man’s inhumanity to man, was always a favourite essay title which my English teacher Mr Maher used to like to give us back in school. But it really is a core question, for everyone to ask, if they are interested in this world ever turning a corner and becoming a nice place to live in, for all of its inhabitants!
Take a look at the article, presented here below, and feel free to share your comments and thoughts on this most ancient problem!
Man’s inhumanity to man is a debating topic which goes back God knows how many decades. It’s a popular debating theme, because it makes no sense that people are so inhuman towards each other. I remember some years ago reading Ernest Hemingway’s book “A Farewell to Arms”, where he outlines a romance to the backdrop of the Italian front in World War 1. In World War 1 the Italians where on the side of the allies (UK, America etc.), whereas as in World War 2 they were on the side of the Axis powers (Germany and Japan). So how is it that in 1914 the Italians where killing Germans and in 1939 they were working with the Germans and killing British, French and American soldiers?
This striking contrast in human behaviour makes no sense!
Another shock from World War 2 is that Germany took such a crazy path. If you ever meet any Germans, you will find them to be the most reasonable and sensible people on the planet, and yet Adolf Hitler and his cohort managed to get them to act in an extremely inhuman way!
Another memory comes to mind, that of a TV interview which I saw once where a British soldier outlined his story of been a prisoner of the Japanese’s in World War 2, and how they used to torture him. He then went on to detail the bazaar situation, whereby he was invited to a celebration in the town of the commandant of the prisoner of war camp, where he had been tortured, now the commander was the mayor of the town and instead of torturing the ex-soldier, he made him a guest of honor!
So very few people like violence and yet most of us can be urged towards violence, if the situation precipitates it. So how is it that we lose our humanity at a drop of hat?
The answer is a complex one and the psychological routes of aggressive behaviour have already been noted in another answer, which I made recently entitled (Over Seriousness and the link to possible violence, you can view it here: https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-link-between-overseriousness-and-the-possibility-of-violence-taking-place-What-exactly-is-happening-at-the-psychological-level/answer/Dermot-Farrell ). Anyway, the central point is that human beings go through various stages of development. While babies are wonderful, their minds are in a primitive state of development. So a young child can, for example, suddenly wish another child or even a parent dead and yet seconds later they are hugging this person.
We see this with the tantrums of young kids, where they literally go berserk, to the utter embarrassment of their parents, family members and friends. This lack of control is a primitive state of being. As we grow and develop, the personality becomes more complicated and better organized. We also, to our detriment largely, learn how to repress our thoughts and feelings. Every parent can tell you about at least one incident where junior spilled the beans on them, because kids will say whatever first come into their mind without censorship. If you tell someone that you dislike someone else and your child is beside you at the time, don’t be surprised if they blurt out your true feelings, at some stage to the other party!
So we undergo layers of development, in our psychological development, as we grow up and the end result is a fairly civilized person (on the outside at least). However, we can regress into an earlier stage of development, in which case we tend towards violence either towards ourselves or others. Even as adults, we may wish violence upon someone else but we don’t think about the consequences, rather just as we were when we were kids we want to roll back the clock and make everything all right. Cases like this happen all the time in the area of romantic murders, where one person kills their lover, on the spur of the moment, only to immediately reject their decision and feel overcome with guilt; this is akin to infantile aggression, only with infantile aggression nobody has got hurt!
So when we think about inhumanity, inhumanity takes place on one level when a person or people regress mentally-emotionally to a primitive state of being. A really clear example of this is found in rioting, whereby normal people suddenly get caught up in the mental furor and they end up joining the riot. Also, to some degree a solider has to regress to a more primitive state of being, in order to inflict injury or possibly even death upon another innocent person. A commando in the marines or army, for example, might be required to sneak up upon a sentry and stab him to death, in order to carry out a military operation. But this other man is innocent; he has parents and probably a wife and possibly kids. Under normal situations they might well have become fast friends, if they met each other under peace time conditions. Yet because of a military directive, the commando must ‘murder’ this other person!
The fact that this ‘murder’ is not classified as murder, does not take way from the reality of the situation. I’m not blaming the commando for doing what he is doing, as he is following orders and such is the life of a military man. But we must realize that at the moment of stabbing his counterpart, he cannot be considering the implications to the other fellow, Instead the more aggressive he gets and the more he demonizes the other side, inside his head, the more effective he will be and the better he will be able to forget about the awful deed, which he has just perpetrated!
So the first thing which we have to realize, when attempting to understand this conundrum, is that civilization is like a veneer. Just scratch the surface and something more primitive will come out instead!
Secondly, entire nations can be swept up in inhumane movements, such as Germany in World War 2 for instance.
A final consideration, which lies outside of human nature regressing into a more primitive stage, is simple ignorance.
We can watch a TV news notice, about a strategic bombing somewhere in Afghanistan or Syria and not give it a second thought. But what about the people who have just died or the collateral damage of kids and innocent people who have either died or being seriously injured? Yet this information just trickles past our conscious mind, as another bit of news trivia.
If you have some time, take a look at some of the YouTube channels which give real war footage. Here you will see real people literally getting blown to pieces. It’s not pretty to watch but it is certainly sobering!
The causes of inhumanity are varied but the way out of inhumanity is via conscious awareness. When Mary Antoinette told the soldiers to give the angry mob outside of her castle some cake, she was inhumane, as the people where starving. But then again she was ignorant; she didn’t really understand the anguish of her people!
The best way forward, for us a species, is for us all to connect as much as possible and learn about each other and talk and discuss and work things out. Social media is a fantastic vehicle for increasing our real time awareness, about events and life in general.
In the old days propaganda made the citizens of one country hate the citizens of other countries and often this propaganda set people against each other. But we can go beyond this, via transparency as a result of sharing of information over the internet and bypassing the propaganda machines of various countries, thus helping us to behave like human beings, rather than as minions to the world powers and their self-serving interests!