Sunday, November 30, 2008

Misanthropes: Hating Humanity and Loving it

Roman army stabbing and slaying a man
Pierre Bruegel's darkclad Misanthrope ignoring pleas of farmer

Misanthropes are a group of people who feel hatred and / or distrust for their fellow humans. And it is with good reason if we look back into atrocities committed in the past, or even the horrible acts of the present, ranging from warfare and murder to rape. It is not that difficult for misanthropes to make their case and defend their views.

Some people hate misanthropes and as such add to the whole chain of hatred. I personally must say I like them; although I am not a misanthrope myself, I can see where they are coming from.

It boils down to how we see and define human nature. We can be like Rousseau and claim that human nature is pure and good and that it is only through contact with filthy corrupt society that we get inverted. Yet we all know that we are not little angels and in fact, society is made up of individuals who lip-sync and go along for the ride.

Thomas Hobbes, on the other hand, has a more pessimistic view of humanity. According to him, we need constant guidance, and laws are there to protect us from doing harm to others. Without laws and moral consequence, all would disintegrate, and we would be robbing and looting everyone else. Something similar like that happens in times of emergency, radical social change, revolution or when your favorite soccer or hockey team loses an important match.

Human nature to Freud is a complicated matter too. We have the id, the pleasure principle, which is merely looking for satisfaction and gratifying desires regardless of its outcome or consequence. We have a sex drive, our libido, and a death drive, the desire for ending life, but also the thrill of destruction. The latter Nietzsche sees actually as beneficial for humanity and a stepping stone towards his desired √úbermensch.

All this may be a reason for idealists to reach for an immaterial soul, which is trapped in the body or the sins of the flesh. There seems to be an eternal conflict then between good and evil, and we are caught in the middle. There are bountiful good human acts, but many of them get drowned in acts of evil.

I am obviously not going into details about humanity's capacity of causing pain and destruction. We also mistreat animals and our environment. We do not even value ourselves and become self-destructive in many cases. The misanthrope epidemic might be rising.

All in all, I do not think that misanthropes are evil loners or psychopaths. Quite the contrary. They are disillusioned and disappointed with how things have turned out and how they are going. It's Bob Dylan singing that he used to care but things have changed. I really hope Socrates and Jesus are right when they claim that evil stems from ignorance and that we simply don't know what we're doing.


Anonymous said...

Fascinting post, and I largely am in agreement with you. I think that people with misanthropic attitudes are often just putting on a front and are, deep down, usually sensitive, compassionate people. However, I think they fall short of applying that compassionate, having become jaded by a harsh world they turn inward and seek rather selfishly to avoid pain in a reality that they mistrust. This prevents them from truly actualizing their ideals of compassion, take Nietzche, for example, whose philosophy has benevolent goals. His misanthropy, however, leads Nietsche to some rather cruel theoretical conclusions about mankind. Contrast Immanuel Kant, whose goal was to to abolish the status quo of common morality but to give it a rational basis.

Anonymous said...

Misanthropes usually are passive people troden on or excluded from society. They don't do physical harm to people, they simply don't like them. I for one have given up even trying, because it simply isn't worth it. I live my life simply without any great expectations. I don't believe in politics or religion or society, and wish I could simply extract myself from it completely.

Thia said...

I'm rather reclusive, and don't know that many people, but there is one I would say fits the description of "misanthrope". I have heard him complain about people, singularly and as a society, for a long time. I don't know about others, but he seems to have a few intrinsic beliefs that have led to this. First, he thinks that everyone- everyone- thinks and feels exactly the same way he does: jealousy, anger, paranoia, spite and selfishness. He is constantly wary of letting people know of his weaknesses, and tries to keep track of those of others', in case he needs to exploit them later. I think he fears others, but turns it to hate and spite because those aren't "weak" as fear is; I also suspect there is a certain amount of self-hate that he externalizes, not wanting to deal with those troublesome feelings.