philosophy | December 19, 2012

In a New Documentary, David Livingstone Smith Explores Our Dark Side [VIDEO]

"Human beings are simply ambivalent about harming one another," David Livingstone Smith says in a new documentary, Man's First War. "We have this interesting combination of altruism and cooperation, and violence." In the film, he explains how there are two views on human nature: one, that we are innately bloodthirsty, violent, and prone to outbursts if not restrained by society; and two, that we are innately cooperate and benign creatures that are turned violent by society. Essentially, he explains that the two theories on human behavior are mirror images of each other—but thus far, no evidence has been able to prove either to be "unequivocally true."

Smith is one of the most well-known and respected philosophers writing today, and he specializes in human behavior. His most recent book, Less than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, delves into the darker side of our nature to explore humanity's penchant for cruelty. It was the winner of the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf Award for non-fiction, and ties in with his previous books, Why We Lie and The Most Dangerous Animal. In this new documentary, Smith provides his insights on both arguments—that we are naturally good and corrupted by society, and that we are naturally evil and restrained by society. He takes us through a tour of violence in human history to explain the best—and the worst—of our actions.

In his fascinating talks, Smith explains that there is a battle going on inside all of us. That we condemn violence and murder—yet somehow find a way to overcome these inhibitions and do atrocious things to one another. This dichotomy battles for a place in the human heart, he says. If we want to prevent the horrific events of the past from repeating themselves, we must understand what leads us to commit evil acts, and teach ourselves how to eliminate these urges—regardless of their source.

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health | December 18, 2012