Are Human Beings Basically Good or Bad?

Editor, News-Register:

This is in response to Mike Myer wondering (almost sotto voce) as to whether mankind is inherently good or bad: If human nature is only a subset of pan-nature, I think we must decide in favor of a grand indifference. Storms and catastrophes (nature) keep a secret rhythm that do not ask nor consider our convenience. Further, the methodology of happenstance is not yet tapped by NASA, nor leaked by a Snowden. Human nature is even more inscrutable. (This is not to disparage local meteorologists or psychiatrists – all of which perform well enough within the limits of their domains.)

I know nothing about the weather other than I sometimes sweat or freeze. I know something of humans but it seems the more I know the more variables I am given, and therefore, the less predictable, the more mysterious, they become. Something like the uncertainty principle applies.

I confess to being an anomaly (we are all anomalies, if we only knew, or were willing to express it). I confess to not knowing how to respond either to the people, who over the years, poisoned my dogs or left rotting deer carcasses in my yard, or to those who year after year have treated me with such kindness that no response appears adequate to the honor. I have been, and am nonplussed in all cases and in all cases I don’t deserve it.

The easy solution that solves both equations is of course to respond in kind. But what does it mean to respond in kind? Is it simply a mirror multiplying a single universe? I certainly hope and want to be kind, but I do not wish it reduced to a mere echo. Nor would I want to multiply cruelty. I can only say, may life bless you all, because in the circumstance of blessing I benefit too. If that seems selfish, I suppose it is.

I think we are all of a mix; that we are sometimes glad and sometimes sorry for what we’ve done. I think we all know the difference between right and wrong and that both right and wrong can sometimes be reduced to an impulse instead of a willful act. One moment a perpetrator is someone else’s benefactor. The next – who knows? I think that most of us have a predisposition toward doing right, even if this predisposition is rooted only in the umbilical of a nurturing or semi-nurturing mother. I think there is an immense hope in that knowledge. I also think that the imagination can trump any deep rooted reality even if it means laboring toward the creative.

So, in regard to the question of whether mankind is inherently good or evil: Maybe the best response is in learning to field the contrast, the chiaroscuro, of light and shadow that plays about our lawns. Even if it is not good, it is somehow inherently and ever fascinating. Awful and awesome: they are polar opposites and yet, somehow -because of their distance – are not so far apart. We are neighbors to archetypes. We are neighbors to ourselves. Maybe there is more enlightenment in this stroboscopic play of shadows than there could ever be in the scorching light of angels. Maybe we are not ready to be declared good. Maybe we are not all irredeemably bad.

Earl Keener