Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Human Nature

Conner Lewis                                                                                                    1/25/15
Thoughts and Reflections on: The Plague and The Civil War in Corcyra
Author: Thucydides

The Mind of Man
Human nature is what a person, man or woman, will do without the existence of laws and regulations or in dire situations. It is the primal needs, emotions, and thoughts which humans will feel and think without any intervention. It is also what a human will do when they believe that their life is threatened, and when their mind resorts to its basic primitive mind set to find a way to survive. It is the part of the mind that has developed and grown as
humans lived in the wild during the Era of Foragers, and which developed in order for humans to survive in a lawless land which cared little for that person’s thoughts or needs. This causes human nature to often be selfish and self-centered, as it was developed as each individual of humanity attempts to continue its own existence and survival.
In Thucydides’ discussion on the civil war in Corcyra, Thucydides says that,” war is a stern teacher; in depriving them of the power of easily satisfying their daily wants, it brings most people’s minds down to the level of their actual circumstances,”(Thucydides 242). Thucydides states that peoples’ minds elevate their position and true nature when they have all of their needs, and they grow posh on their own power and their belief that their ability to treat all of their needs make them better than what their true, and animal like minds really are. They think that the prosperity they have in normal times mean that they are better than the beasts of the wild. War, however, deprives them of these resources, and their prosperity can go back to an equivalent of what they would have in the wild. Their lack of resources reminds them and in a way reactivates their nature which is designed to gain and maintain at least enough wealth to survive. In war and desperation the primitive nature which resides in all humans shows itself as they each try to scratch out their own existence.
In his commentaries on the situation in Corcyra, Thucydides also says that,” a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member”(242). Thucydides is stating that when the primitive mindset overtook that of the posh and proud form of thought the Greeks used to have, their opinions towards actions and ways of retaining wealth changed as well. As people’s minds began to expose their true nature, they began to applaud those who did acts according to their new mindset. People who were swift and quickly felled their foes in a way others would usually see as ruthless and brutal were applauded, because they were acting by the same nature and in the same way as the other desperate citizens did. The people who took up this new society the fastest were to become the leaders and most successful in it.
Thucydides also talks about how,” Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man,”(242). Thucydides is saying that as humans accepted their more selfish and natural ways, they could no longer accept the timid. This is because the timid were the first to question the brutality of the times, and the first to falter in the face of the chaos and deceit that was occurring in the city, and soon in all of Greece. Human nature was cultivated during the early stages of humanity, and was cultivated to be particularly quick and decisive, because mankind had to be before societies and peoples formed to band together in order to make life better. In a time when fight or flight was an extremely valuable and common response to danger, faltering could be the difference between life or death. This means that those seen as timid in these times were those who others thought would be picked off early, and that the fanatical and zealous were the ones quickest to act, and more likely to win as they struck first.
Thucydides mentions how.”and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self defense,”(242). Thucydides is saying that as humanity turned itself to its more selfish and greedy ways, the rules of conduct Greece normally abode by were discarded for more ruthless, deceitful, and treacherous ways. This is because during this time people’s actions were dictated by human nature, and human nature’s main goal is self preservation, which is the goal which all humans abide by. While one’s loyalties may lie with their party, city, or family, it will always first apply to one’s self. Because of this, to eliminate current threats or people who may become threats was one of the top priorities for all Greek citizens, so plotting to murder someone in ways that would previously be considered brutal and dishonorable was seen as legitimate and even intelligent.
In Thucydides’ commentary on the plague of Athens, he also states that,” the catastrophe was so overwhelming that men, not knowing what would happen next to them, became indifferent to every rule of religion or of law,”(155). Thucydides is stating that war is not the only thing that can bring humanity to levels which previously would have horrified and disgusted them. He is stating that any level of desperation, catastrophe, or lack of wealth would lead to the utter disregard of both the state and the church. As previously
stated, every man and woman’s first loyalty is to themselves, and neither the government nor the clergy will shake this. When man is pushed to the brink of desperation, and has a high possibility for death, it will cease to think of what others have set for them to do, and will take matters into its own hands. It will disregard the laws placed by others, as they do not know what is best for the individual in despair, or at least that’s what the desperate think. Any catastrophe will cause man’s human nature to question the current authority, and will cause them to attempt to go alone and make their own decisions. In times of peace and tranquility, it is acceptable to follow another person’s orders, as it will most likely not affect an individuals life in such a way that they cannot continue in a healthy and prosperous lifestyle. In times of war and strife, however, any wrong decision could be harmful, and relying on others is unthinkable.
Thucydides also states that during the plague, “people now began openly to venture on acts of self-indulgence which before then they used to keep in the dark,”(155). People in Athens during the plague began to be indifferent to the thoughts and cares of others. Their actions were dictated by human nature, and because human nature is primarily based on self preservation, as well as improving one’s standard of living and increasing their happiness, they only thought of what could make their own life happier and better. Because of this, people attempted to gain more of what made them happy, and what they desired, so they disregarded what others thought because in several days they or the other individual could be dead. The nature they were living by dictated that they should attempt to make themselves happy, whatever the cost, so the thoughts of others was irrelevant, only acquiring what they sought and used to increase their own pleasure was important.
During the plague, Thucydides states that,”As for what is called honor, no one showed himself willing to abide by its laws, so doubtful was it whether one would survive to enjoy the name for it,”(155). The codes and laws which people used to hold in high regard were quite unimportant to everyone when they were lowered to their true level, and their nature showed just how desperate their situation had become. When honor dictated helping the sick when one was themselves healthy, and when this usually meant death, then one’s desire for self preservation advised strongly against it. Those who were able to overcome the difficult task of defying one’s own nature quickly died to the plague, setting an example which deterred others from performing the same task. People chose to ensure their own happiness in the present than possibly bask in the glory of being noble and righteous decades down the line. Thucydides is showing how human nature dictates one will always attempt to make life better now in any means possible, brutal or otherwise, rather than attempt to justify one’s own actions and ensure that others will remember their legacy in a good way.

Thucydides also described the situation at Athens by stating that “it seemed to be the same thing whether one worshipped [the gods] or not, when one saw the good and the bad dying indiscriminately,”(155). As previously stated, human nature’s first loyalty is to itself, and to the preservation of an individual’s well being. While it may be argued that if the gods could truly bless and keep an individual safe, it would be in that individual’s own self interest to pray and appease the gods, one must also remember that the plague was relentless, and was indifferent to the righteous and the unholy. Because of this, another example was set which showed the already desperate population that not even the gods could help them, and that the only person which would look out for them was themselves. This caused human nature to sink into each individual even more, so that each man and woman would only care about themselves and their own needs.

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