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Innocent, most of the time

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6/30/2011 -- Innocent, most of the time

I recently read an opinion (in a review on Amazon about "Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals" ) that "in most places and most of the time most of us human animals are innocent".
That kept me thinking a couple days :) -- Really?
I can certainly see the point about humans doing "good and inspiring things", as written there. But "most of us, most of the time"? On the contrary I think one could well argue that our whole "civilized" lifestyle is in fact based on a foundation of exploitation, which does not go well with the idea of innocence.

  • Our cheap consumer goods exploiting people and the environment in Asia.
  • Our electronic gadgets made possible by the exploitation of people and nature in the Congo.
  • Our insatiable meat consumption destroying rainforests and other life forms in South America.
  • Our oil and (other) energy waste causing havoc around the planet, partly for millenia to come.
  • Our activities in general causing an unprecedented mass-extinction of life.
  • Our unsustainable overconsumption exploiting even future generations.

That all is happening most of time, every day.
No, "innocent" is not a term which comes to mind.

Ignoring points like the above, or pretending not knowing about it, or claiming we couldn't do anything about it does not make us innocent. Innocence assumes the unability to recognize our own behaviour. But we actually are (or at the very least can be) fully aware of our actions, i.e. the exploitation of others - humans and non-humans alike. You may call an (other) invasive species choking out other lifeforms to its own short-term benefit "innocent": it doesn't know better. In case of the human species that's not the case.

There are however some thoughts in the mentioned book which are worth taking note of: e.g. in section 1-9 the point is made that self-deception is an evolutionary advantage. I guess an assessment like "most people are innocent most of the time" falls into that category, much like the all-pervasive mantra of positive thinking, which, when it comes to an objective assessment of a situation, tends to sugarcoat reality. The evolutionary advantage mentioned may well be short-lived after all.
wk




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