What do You Hate Most about Human Nature?
[C. S. Lewis taught as a fellow at Oxford from 1925 to 1954. Among those he tutored was the poet John Betjeman and the critic Kenneth Tynan.]
I had a pupil who was certainly a socialist, probably a Marxist. To him the ‘collective,’ the State, was everything, the individual nothing; freedom, a bourgeois delusion. Then he went down and became a schoolmaster. A couple of years later, happening to be in Oxford, he paid me a visit. He said he had given up socialism. He was completely disillusioned about state-control. The interferences of the Ministry of Education with schools and schoolmasters were, he had found, arrogant, ignorant, and intolerable: sheer tyranny. I could take lots of this and the conversation went on merrily. Then suddenly the real purpose of his visit was revealed. He was so ‘browned-off’ that he wanted to give up schoolmastering; and could I—had I any influence—would I pull any wires to get him a job—in the Ministry of Education?
There you have the new man. Like the psalmists he can hate, but he does not, like the psalmists, thirst for justice. Having decided that there is oppression he immediately asks: ‘How can I join the oppressors?’
Among those who dislike oppression are many who like to oppress.
The Matabele, an offshoot of Shaka’s zulus, regularly engaged in the practice of “washing the spears in blood” when they invaded the lands of the neighbouring Shona. A missionary who had entered a Shona village attacked by the Matabele reported: “Fastened to the ground was a row of bodies, men and women, who had been pegged down and left to the sun’s scorching by day and cold dews by night; left to the tender mercies of the pestering flies and ravenous beasts.”
[Though not a cruel man, Albert Einstein was capable of stunning brutality where his first wife was concerned: ‘an unfriendly humourless creature who...undermines others’ joy of living through her mere presence.’ He reassured his cousin, whom he was to marry, ‘I treat my wife as an employee I cannot fire.’ Granted, she had bleak moods and, for whatever other reasons, made it impossible for him to enjoy life. Even so, it’s hard to believe she deserved so much hostility. It’s been said that the most cruel people are those who don’t realize that they are cruel.]
In July, 1914, Albert Einstein wrote to his first wife, Mileva Maric, the mother of his two sons, laying down a series of conditions under which he would agree to continue their marriage: ‘A. You will see to it (1) that my clothes and linen are kept in order, (2) that I am served three regular meals a day in my room. B. You will renounce all personal relations with me, except when these are required to keep up social appearances.’ And: ‘You will expect no affection from me... You must leave my bedroom or study at once without protesting when I ask you to.’
In August of 1980 a dynamic, young preacher, James Robison, spoke to an assembly of Evangelical Christian leaders in Dallas, Texas. The meeting had been organized for the political benefit of presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, who was in attendance. Robison wrapped up his homily as follows: “If the righteous, the pro-family, the moral, the biblical, the godly, the hard-working and the decent individuals in this country stay out of politics, who on this earth does that leave to make the policies under which you and I live and struggle to survive. I’m sick and tired of hearing about all of the radicals, and the perverts, and the liberals, and the leftists, and the Communists coming out of the closets. It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closet and the churches and change America. We must do it!” (Applause)
Self-righteousness is the inevitable fruit of simple moral judgments.
The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of the truth—that error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it has been cured of one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.
H. L. Mencken
It is folly to expect men to do all that you would reasonably expect them to do.
Thoughts about Human Frailty
Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition. It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.
G. K. Chesterton
Never try to reason the prejudice out of a man. It was not reasoned into him, and cannot be reasoned out.
Despite a flattering supposition to the contrary, people come readily to terms with power.
John Kenneth Galbraith
Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
Everyone wants to have the truth on their side, but not everyone wants to be on the side of truth.
As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand.
Few men are sufficiently discerning to appreciate all the evil they do.
I came to carry out the struggle, not to kill people. Even now, and you can look at me: Am I a savage person? My conscience is clear.
Pol Pot (Interview Oct 1997)
Fortunate people seldom mend their ways, for when good luck crowns their misdeeds with success they think it is because they are right.
For nothing can seem foul to those that win.
King Henry IV (King Henry)
Human beings are creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.
If you can engage people’s pride, love, pity, ambition (or whatever is their prevailing passion), on your side, you need not fear what their reason can do against you.
Men hate more steadily than they love.
Most people are more conscious of their dislikes than of their sympathies. The latter are weak while hatreds are strong.
Men in association are capable of wickedness from which each individually would shrink.
Two starving men cannot be twice as hungry as one; but two rascals can be ten times as vicious as one.
George Bernard Shaw
Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike.
Men are disliked not for what they do, but for what they are.
Most people don’t see the light without feeling a bit of heat first.
Human beings cling to their delicious tyrannies and to their exquisite nonsense, till death stares them in the face.
Most people fancy themselves innocent of those crimes of which they cannot be convicted.
Crime expands according to our willingness to put up with it.
People believe lies, not because they are plausibly presented, but because they want to believe them. So, their credulity is unshakeable.
It’s not a controversial proposition that people tend to believe what they want, and that the strength of their conviction is usually proportional to their self-interest.
People only see what they are prepared to see.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
A man has his beliefs: his arguments are only his excuses for them...we only see what we look at: our attention to our temperamental convictions produces complete oversight as to all the facts that tell against us.
George Bernard Shaw
People who are brutally honest get more satisfaction out of the brutality than out of the honesty.
Richard J. Needham
It is in the ability to deceive oneself that one shows the greatest talent.
The chief use to which we put our love of truth is in persuading ourselves that what we love is true.
Sometimes the surest way to upset people is to tell them the truth.
The love of justice is, in most men, nothing more than the fear of suffering injustice.
A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul.
George Bernard Shaw
The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity.
George Bernard Shaw
We are all strong enough to bear the misfortunes of others.
There are people into whose heads it never enters to conceive of any better state of society than that which now exists.
Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.
There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labour of thinking.
Sir Joshua Reynolds
Our minds are lazier than our bodies.
Very few people listen to argument.
G. K. Chesterton
Many people like their beliefs, opinions and prejudices more than they like argument.
We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.
We always deceive ourselves twice about the people we love—first to their advantage, then to their disadvantage.
What makes equality such a difficult business is that we only want it with our superiors.
What men value in this world is not rights, but privileges.
H. L. Mencken
Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling?
People react to fear, not love; they don’t teach that in Sunday School, but it’s true.
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