In humanities, we cannot run experiments, Let’s say, replacing Hitler with another leader and let history run its course and observe what will happen. The closest thing we have for experiments is art.
“Cube” is a movie from 1997 (I give some spoilers so if you plan to watch it be careful). Its plot is quite a weird one. A group of human beings was put inside a vast maze, that consists of many rooms. In some cases, these rooms have traps, and the human group needs to navigate its way out safely. The main point of this movie, if you saw it and noticed, is that the most dangerous thing for the members of the group, was not the traps and the maze itself, but the other members of the group, as other human beings were the main reason why people died in this movie. They killed each other way more often than the traps did.
In the end scene of the first movie, there is only one guy who makes it out alive. This guy seems to suffer from Autism, and his behavior is not something we would consider normal. The group encounters him and soon debates as if in this situation, live or death one, they need to help him because he might slow them down, as it is hard to communicate with him, which might raise the chances of falling into a trap. Some argue to help him because he is helpless, some argue against it.
In the end, it turns that they need to calculate complicated things as part of a trap, and he, the autistic guy, can do it and do it almost instantly. Thus he can help the group and find the way out. In the end, people die off, mostly from other human beings, due to conflict, group politics and so on. In the final scene, the autistic member is the only one who made it out alive.
It is as if the people who made this film wanted to criticize human nature and show us how cruel we really are. First, they argue through the movie, that human beings in life or death situations reveal their true nature, and will do anything to survive. They will kill, rob, steal, take advantage of other people, deceive and cheat others. In this movie, Cube, the autistic one, is the antithesis of this human nature. He is pure, he has no intention to harm anyone else, and this movie, as rewards this pure and innocent behavior, makes him the only one to survive, like saying that he Is the only one really deserved to survive. This fact in this movie indicates that if good people exist, they must be irrational or lack the standard capacities of human conscious, otherwise they will end with this “human nature.”
*END OF SPOILER*
Many other films tackle this idea that when human society falls, laws and governments crumble, this true nature of human beings takes over, and we end up in situations like “mad max,” “Waterworld” and many other dystopian movies, of course not something we want to live in.
But the question remains is, is this human nature? Are we really programmed like that? Are these “thought experiments” – movies, really tells us how human beings would behave? In the end, there are one or some people, who come up with these hypothetical situations, and they out of their own life experiences, beliefs and convictions, tells us what that situation would be like, and how human beings will behave in it.
But, there were real situations of that sort in human history, and it seems that people behaved to some degree, as these dystopian films predict. The book “Man’s Search For Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy,” Victor Frankl tells us about his experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp in the Holocaust. Frankl was a Jewish man, who was carried to this camp trying to escape death. He says in this book that the good men and women didn’t make it, that the best among us, didn’t make it. Those who stole food from each other and were selfish had the better chances to survived.
But of course, these are not the only cases. In many places, like in Ghetto Warsaw, even in great deprivation, made schools, concerts, theaters and so on. On the face of it, there was no real rationality to make these, it had nothing to do with the survival of the people, and actually, it was a waste of energy. But, I guess that people, by doing those activities tried to preserve their humanity, in an environment that took humanity into one of its darkest hours.
I will keep poking this idea in future posts; this is not over. What do some philosophers have to say about human nature? And how postmodernism argues against the notion that human nature is solid because of human nature change in different cultural and physical environments.