The Original Sin


Human beings are not natural killers; very, very few ever learn to enjoy murder or torture. Human beings, however, are sufficiently docile that many can eventually be taught to kill, to support killing, or to consent to killing on the command of an alpha male, entirely dissociating themselves from responsibility for the act. Our original sin is not murderousness ? it is obedience.

Eric Raymond makes the excellent point that the human instinct for obedience overrides human's non-killing instinct, and explains how otherwise normal individuals can become complicit in state-sanctioned murder on a large scale that most individuals would be unable or unwilling to do personally.

I don't know if I'd say that our original sin is obedience, though- in fact, I'd say that the instinct to obedience is a feature, not a bug. Between the two basic human behaviors/instincts that Eric points out (non-murderous and obedient) lie the foundations for extended order, the market, division of labor, and so on. For if indeed the natural state of man was war of everyone against everyone, a state would never have emerged in the first place!

As Eric stated, the two instincts worked well to quell internal disagreements within tribal structures, as people wouldn't kill kin and would defer to the alpha male (generally speaking). I think, though, that the obedience instinct goes further than just an immediate fealty to whoever the strongest person is- that this instinct to obey extends more importantly to cultural institutions. The development of ideas and social structures that extended above and beyond the immediacy of one man's say-so likely allowed these tribal societies to grow larger than bands that could be easily controlled just by force of personality, and culture is to be obeyed just as well as a strongman. Without such an instinct to obey, bands might truly become hobbesian nightmares, with unending challenges and conflict instead of "go with the flow" of a natural heirarchy. So obedience is not necessarily a bad thing (as Eric concedes that it was initially adaptive), and so not truly our original sin. So what could it be? I believe that our original sin is actually the will to power, so to speak, or the desire to impose one's will on someone else. That is the original bad impulse driving murderous "overcontrolled personality types" to command the obedient to commit atrocity. It is human nature to be dissatisfied with one's current condition, and the purpose of all human action is to go from a less satisfactory state of affairs to a more satisfactory state of affairs- to try and re-order the world around oneself. Some personalities take that one step further to forcibly re-order the people around them, and then even further than that, to re-order society as a whole. In the 20th century, the desired re-ordering has ranged from ethnic cleansing to class warfare, and in every usage of political or violent means to take from one class to give to another (expropriation of value, one could say).

The antidote to the forceful personality preying on the obedience instinct is to use that trait to out (liberty-loving) advantage. If, as I believe, cultural institutions can command obedience as much as strongmen and the promises of conscious, willful social engineering, then it would stand to reason that strong institutions of liberty (a 'culture of liberty') can provide counterweights and alternative sources of authority for individuals to follow (if they're not the type to just say 'no'). People don't want to kill, people do want to interact, and people do want to obey social rules, and so continued efforts to spread the meme of liberty and its meta-context may buttress civil society against the machinations of alpha-males (and females) who'd twist human nature to support collective murder.

In the end, I don't suppose my position is too far different in spirit than Eric's (teaching people to say, and mean, "I shall not obey!") but rather to underscore the important of social institutions in creating liberty or facilitating its destruction, and why our efforts in the "meme wars" are of non-trivial importance.

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what do you thank about a

what do you thank about a man killing for personal reasons only but are totally against war?