Two Opposing Belief Systems


View 1

People are Naturally Good; Evil is the Result of Society’s Flaws Overwhelming Our Nature

View 2

People are by Nature Aggressive, Selfish, & Cruel; Goodness must be Taught

Our Nature

People are good by nature. 

Aggressions in humans (and animals) is an inherited impulse much the same as the motivation to eat, drink and make love. 

Resisting Our Nature

Problem: If people are good, then why is there evil and crime?  People with this worldview have to find the “root causes of crime.” 


Answer: People are good; evil or crime can be blamed on other things. 

-          Economic conditions pressure people to commit crime. 

-          Society conditions people to misjudge values: usually, too little value on human life and dignity and too much value on material gain and personal power.  

-          Mental illness – since people are naturally good, those who aren’t must be sick. 

-          Repression of the natural: since a person with this worldview believes that what is natural is good, it only follows that people who are “repressed” tend toward evil.  

Problem: People with this worldview do not need to search for root causes of crime: instead, they must explain why any civilization exists at all.  


Answer: People learn to be good and control their natural impulses.  This learned self-restraint prevents human civilization from plunging into total chaos and self-destruction.  Various systems built by society to make us behave peacefully include:   

-          A rigid belief system about ethics such as the Samurai’s code of bushido or a religious belief

-          fear of punishment by authorities

-          fear of exposure of individual’s deviant behavior to family, coworkers, neighbors

Anecdotal Evidence

The Federal Aviation Administration makes flight attendants warn everyone that in an emergency a person should PUT ON HIS OWN mask before attempting to help others.  There is something almost instinctive about human nature so that the person is likely to help someone next to them with the oxygen mask before putting it on himself.  If in fact a passenger did assist another before himself, he would pass out before he would finish securing a mask on the other person.  Good behavior is in some way engrained in human nature.  Acts of self-sacrifice in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon also reveal the subconscious kinship people have for one another. 

The huge scale of theft in the modern music industry is the result of the thefts now occurring in the privacy of people’s homes.  When theft was in the public form of shoplifting, theft was much smaller. 

New industries or industries that are deregulated often resulted in a rush of unethical behaviors. 

Why Do Societies become Evil?  

Both sides agree that human atrocities occur when cultures go bad.  Both sides agree that the Khmer Rouge, National Socialism, Soviet Socialism, and the Aztecs all had systems that encouraged the people to do evil.  Both sides agree that young people are socialized into the mores and norms of their society, either good or bad.  However, they disagree on why these societies went bad. 


This side believes that for a society to produce evil behavior, it must push people to do what was not natural, what is against their normal behavior.  They will often call evil people warped, meaning that they are not what they should be naturally. 

This side believes that a society results in evil behavior because:

-          they remove punishments for bad behavior

-          They encourage natural aggressiveness. 


A person with this worldview is usually eager for change.  Since the problem is the system, and not human nature, they are ready to change it! 

A person with this worldview will be very hesitant to monkey around with society’s rules.  Without rules to restrain aggressive human nature, people will do whatever they can get away with – no rules results in chaos. 

Implications for political views

Tend to be antiauthority people.

Realize that laws are unavoidable.  

Implications for childrearing and education

Children should be allowed to develop freely.  It is authoritarian to attempt to impose upon them someone else’s beliefs and values. 

If we do not hand down to the next generation what we have learned, we will lose the civilization for we have worked so hard.  Young people must be instructed in “the way”.