Sunday, December 6, 2020

Looking for the Better Angels of Human Nature


How do you explain the existence of something like Donald Trump? I admit that I am bias but to the best of my knowledge he has no redeemable characteristics. On the surface, his presence in modern day America should be considered a bizarre accident of circumstance and timing. Truthfully, he's probably all too typical of human nature and the true character of America.

No, he hasn't launched any unjust wars costing trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. But he has separated young children from their parents and put them in cages in a manner disturbingly similar to concentration camps. He regularly displays an inherent racism that in saner times would shame the most socially indifferent person when it comes to the struggles of minorities here in America.

For someone who claimed he would hire nothing but the “best and brightest” to fill his administration more of Trump's picks have been convicted of corruption or forced to leave government service than any other president. Even more outrageous, his personal life is a study in the glorification of greed, lust, envy, pride, and wrath. As far as the other deadly sins of gluttony and sloth, Trump appears to have a handle on them as well.

It's truly hard to get an idea of what Trump wouldn't do when it comes to his advancement and the protection of his personal empire. Despite showing absolutely no civilized nor empathetic qualities how does he continue to have such a large number of followers?

This is a question I have pondered from the day he emerged as a real contender for the Republican nominee for president. Curiously enough, or maybe I'm suffering from my own delusions, but an old Star Trek episode gave me a partial working answer.

Yes, I know this seems crazy but bear with me for a few short paragraphs.

In the Original Series there is an episode entitled “Mirror Mirror.” In that story Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura are accidentally transported to another universe while their alternate counterparts are sent to theirs.

The alternate Kirk and his crew are from a cruel and barbaric universe ruled by the “Terran Empire.” A place Trump and his family would, in my opinion, be extremely comfortable.

It takes the good Kirk and associates time to figure out what happened and to get back to the peaceful Federation universe. Good Kirk and his associates do get home and when that happens their evil counterparts are instantly transported back to their Empire.

At the end of the episode, good Kirk asks Spock how did he handle the counterparts from the Terran Empire. Spock more or less replies that he instantly saw them as what they were, prime examples of Homo sapiens and threw them all in the ship's brig.

As much as we like to think of ourselves as civilized beings, the appearance of Trump and his success shows that humans are always on the verge of showing our animalistic nature. That if things get tough we quickly revert to our basic primate nature and become something worse than tribal. All it takes is a slightly charismatic buffoon with a talent for exacerbating old fears and hates in weak-minded people.

Believe it or not, I'm not criticizing evolutionary biology. Because years of research has shown that our more “primitive” cousins the chimpanzees readily show empathy and compassion to their kind as well as the behaviors akin to the worst human characteristics.

The question for me is how do humans begin to supersede the worst aspects of their nature while enhancing the best? In short, what can we do as a species to move beyond or basic programming?

We our trying, the United States Constitution with its checks and balances was written by generally wise men trying to avoid the worst in humanity. But the history of our species is replete with cruel and barbaric episodes with many “good people” freely going along with evil deeds.

Showing that I need a new hobby, I spent most of the day pondering those questions. My only answer was a quote from a truly flawed individual. That the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.


The Bug said...

I follow someone on Instagram (@sharonsaysso) who is really good at presenting both sides to these issues. She has Republican and Democrat followers & she often has them chime in to explain why they think the way they do. What's funny to me, is the the Republicans who like Trump still don't make sense to me - they say things like he's been good for LGBTQ & BIPOC folks and that he has a good foreign policy & is well respected by other countries. They are so brainwashed that I don't think we'll ever be able to have a normal conversation with them - and there are way more of them than I am comfortable with!

sage said...

Checks and balances are just one way to avoid the worst of human behavior, but for that to work, people have to have the good of the whole (not of their special interest) at hand. When we put our hope within a faction (like a political party), we set ourselves up for a form of fascism. Have you read Madeline Albright's book, "Fascism"?

btw, I referred to Star Trek in my recent sermon.

The Armchair Squid said...

The checks and balances are brilliant, not because they avoid the worst in human behavior but because they set self-interested parties against each other in such a way that while they may destroy each other, the republic itself will survive. At least, it's worked for 233 years. Kinda. That's longer than any other constitution in the world has lasted. By a lot!

As for Trump... it has baffled me all along that there are people who want this, or at least fail to see the harm in his ugliest qualities. I blame the hyper-partisanship. Too many would rather vote for a Republican, even if he is an obvious lunatic, than any Democrat. I certainly know too many on the other side who feel the opposite and it's not a comfort to me.