Human nature and progressive naiveté

What Is

In my mercifully brief football career I threw one really good block. I played a couple of years in middle school and never could develop a taste for being clobbered by guys bigger and stronger. And since a majority of the other boys were both bigger and stronger, it didn’t take much sophistiction to figure out the math on risk and reward. 

But, as I said, I did throw one really good block. It was on a kickoff. The other team was kicking to us. As the opposing team came running down the field at full speed, a boy came near me but looked past me toward the ball carrier. I nailed him. I drove my shoulder into his midsection and lifted him off the ground. He fell hard on his back and began making a horrible moaning sound. He was gasping for air. I stood over him and (I am ashamed to say) was filled with the rush of satisfaction of a warrior slaying a hated foe who was attacking my homeland. 

The object of my block had simply had the wind knocked out of him. In a matter of seconds he got air in his lungs, got up, and was fine. After the game I thought about the incident. I was surprised and unsettled by the animal pleasure I had felt in leveling that kid. 

It turns out I shouldn’t have been surprised. I had briefly tapped into something deep in myself and, it turns out, deep in our species. 

We peace loving progressives (I assume that includes you or you wouldn’t be reading this) like to see the good in people. We assume people are inherently good, loving and generous. 

The facts, sadly, tell a different story. Despite all the wars and genocide of the last century, war related deaths in the 20th century (think of the millions killed in the horrors of two world wars) were, on the basis of a percentage of population, only about one tenth the death rates from war in hunting and gathering societies. One tenth. We are all the descendants of killers. 

Violence and killing come naturally and all too easily to us. That is just physical violence. Human history is full of evidence of greed, lying, and a list of other behavior we call immoral. Of course, love, generosity and heroism are also part of the record. Both are true.  

So What?

We progressives always seem surprised by evil. That’s true of the evil on a massive scale as well as the pettier acts of evil among people we know. I think on the whole progressive, liberal people are naive. 

Alas, our naiveté has consequences. At a personal level, we are too willing to trust people who are not worthy of our trust. We leave ourselves open to being used. Liberal congregations of all faiths or denominations are a good example. They are easy targets for sociopaths and narcissists.  

On a larger scale, think of how progressives have been too naive about the emerging dangers dangers of authoritarianism. I think of Germany during the rise of Hitler or Spain before the Spanish Civil War. Think of all the progressives that were blind to the brutality of communism in Russia. And just look at our surprise for the level of support for our autocratic president. I hate to admit that it surprises me.

Of course, the opposite of being naive is no better. Seeing the world as a war of each against all ignores the human capacity for love, compassion and cooperation. It isn’t any easy balance. 

One thought on “Human nature and progressive naiveté”

  1. I remember reading a biography on the german theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer(sp?) Who reasoned that one must sacrifice oneself and commit sin to fight a greater evil. He joined one of the plots to assasinate Hitler. It makes sense to me but when does one stop if evil always exists? Just a thought. Thanks for your blog.

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