What Is the Nature of
Our Ancestral Shadow
The real problem is in the hearts and minds of men. It is not a problem of physics but of ethics. It is easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man.
IN SOME UNIQUE WAYS, EACH OF US is like no other human being. In other ways, each of us is like some other human beings. And, in yet some other ways, each of us is like all other human beings. The question of the nature of human nature is captured in this final statement. In what ways are we like every other person that has gone before us and will come after us? This question is particularly relevant to our discussion of extraordinary human evil. The issue is not whether we can do good or evil, because each of us is certainly capable of either in any given situation. Rather, the issue is what, by our nature, we are most prone to do.
Is there an endowment with which each of us begins our life that is important in understanding how ordinary people commit extraordinary evil? Is there a basic inborn proclivity or tendency of human nature that limits, or enables, the possibility of cooperative, caring, nonviolent relations between social groups? Could there be a universal human condition that is antecedent to all extraordinary evil and from which all extraordinary evil is derived? These are vital questions because how we answer them significantly shapes our realities and determines how we perceive others' actions—particularly the actions of those who perpetrate extraordinary evil.
Many philosophers, social thinkers, and psychologists assume that human nature is intrinsically neutral and has no predisposing inclinations. In this view, we become that to which we are exposed. We are a blank slate,