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Reflections on “Humanity”

In the first part of the book Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, Jonathan Glover examines the existence of ethics despite the absence of what is known as the traditional morality that was derived from the supposed existence of God. He notes that contrary to the idea that human nature only demands violence and other negative and destructive inclinations. Moreover, he claims that if people were to understand the root of war and other forms of hostilities that happened throughout history, people should not just look at the “monsters inside us”.

Rather, individuals must examine the humane impulses as well. These refer to the humane tendencies to “cage” and “tame’ the destructive impulses. Glover’s encouragement to view people from both types of impulses entails a more balanced view of examining the history of humanity. While other views are more pessimistic as they limit men to nothing but atrocious beings who are only enveloped by feelings of selfishness and greed, Glover’s view provides optimism and demands confidence on humanity.

This positive view on history explains what the cynic view seemingly leaves out – explaining some of the minor but constructive and affirmative events that happened in the history. Glover elaborates further as he explains that the “goodness” of men and the urge to restrain one’s evil motives and desires are coming from what he dubs as the “moral resources” of an individual. He notes that men’s daily activities are a product of the struggles between “moral” and “destructive” impulses that exists in the minds of every human being.

He notes that people have two moral resources. The first moral resource is “humanity”. This is the tendency to succumb to sympathy, empathy and respect for other beings. People who do vicious acts sometimes breakdown and realize that they have to care about what is happening to other people. Rather than being insensitive to the lives of others, people are compelled to concern themselves with the happiness and the miseries of individuals around them. In most cases, “humanity” as a moral resource is triggered by a certain level of identification for others.

Simply said, vicious men may feel a certain sense of belongingness to a community or to the entire human specie. That is why he realizes that he should ward off egoistic traits and instead result to actions that will not harm – if not totally benefit – the group that he identifies with. This argument of Glover can also account for some negative aspects of history like the existence of slavery and discrimination. In some cases, people may identify themselves exclusively to a small group of people (i. e. a certain race, color, gender).

This exclusivity can result to untoward behavior among people who “belong” to other groups. The other moral resource is a person’s moral identity. This is the concept of right and wrong which is derived from a person’s social interaction. As noted by Glover, the pressure to harm others” can be resisted when people feel that the tendency to harm is in conflict with “how they want to see themselves”. This argument of Glover explains tat people construct moral identities from their religion, culture, or the set of societal norms that they are exposed to.

This premise explains why some activities or practices which may be ethical or decent to a group may appear appalling to another. For example, while polygamy is accepted in the Islamic tradition, Catholic and Christian communities frown at men who commit “adultery”. In the book, Glover relates the existence of moral resources to the psychology involved in waging war. He points out that these moral resources can be restrained in the same way as the inhumane tendencies of a person.

In waging war, military authorities are strategically trained to overcome their moral resources and he significantly proves his point as he examines why there is a shift to kill at a distance. Glover lets the readers see the psychological explanation behind the creation of bombs. The realization of the concept of war and moral resources allows the readers to examine how soldiers are forced to behave when they are at war and how their tools are strategically created to neutralize their moral resources.

For example, readers realize that bombs were not just as tools for destruction. Rather, these are also psychologically strategic warfare elements that lets soldiers resist the urge to succumb to their humane impulses. In part four, Glover claims that war is not a simple act of aggression but also a form of entrapment. This argument is largely attributed to the fact that all people – even political leaders who often push the waging of war – are governed by the clash of their own humane and sadistic impulses.

However, war happens when political leaders and their followers are “trapped” in hostilities that force them to go to war. Glover argues that some leaders are compelled to wage war because they have created ideologies, policies and unifying goals that induce them to go against other people who are in contrast with their aims and objectives. To a certain sense, this view allows people to see that there is hope at avoiding the crisis of war in the same way that Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy were able to avoid the Cuban missile crisis.

On the whole, Glover’s arguments are more enlightening and positive than traditional concepts of war and human tendencies. It gives readers the idea that history and human life is not just a product of conflicting and clashing promotions of egocentric goals. Rather, he gives hope and confidence in natural human “goodness” that is not derived from pious and spiritual inclinations. Reference: Glover, Jonathan. (2001). Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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