Defeated by the Worst in Ourselves

The worst of human nature is a problem we must urgently examine. If we want to resolve the extreme crises the earth is undergoing, we must vigorously propose new ways of thinking and doing and encourage innovation and creativity, in the hopes that human intellect can benefit everything on earth. Discouragingly, however, the worst of human nature is the key impediment blocking us from breaking free of our current predicament.

Immense and remarkable intelligence, including artificial intelligence, is often no match for the dark thoughts of those in power. According to a report by Reuters on Aug. 27, the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the U.S. once more exceeded 100,000, a new high over the past eight months. In the past week, on average, every hour more than 500 people are hospitalized for treatment. Florida, Texas and California are currently the most severely affected states; their combined number of hospitalized COVID patients accounts for approximately 32% of all U.S. hospitalizations. What is particularly serious is that the hospitalization rate of children is increasing, accounting for approximately 2.3% of hospitalizations.

From an objective medical perspective, the government should swiftly implement policy measures that can reduce the spread of the virus and save lives. Yet in a carryover from Donald Trump’s political ideologies, the governors of both Florida and Texas have refused to issue mask mandates. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis even threatened to withhold funding from public schools that require masks, including kindergartens through middle schools. DeSantis said, “I have young kids. My wife and I are not going to do the masks with the kids. We never have. I want to see my kids smiling. I want them having fun.” The price of this beautiful sentiment: In Orlando, Orange County, Florida, approximately 20% of new COVID-19 patients are children between the ages of five and 14.

Arrogant, self-righteous politicians are not only found in U.S. politics — similar scenarios can be seen all over the world, including Taiwan. Politicians’ irrational conduct can no longer be adequately explained as disrespect for science and professionals. Trying to use rationality to persuade them to make intelligent policy decisions is impossible.

The central question we should be asking is why are people so easily manipulated by the worst of humanity? Allowing politicians to sow discord and play political tricks is the result of their supporters’ indulgence.

Dutch Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch liked to reflect on the dark side of humanity in his paintings. His style is completely different from that of Michelangelo — that is, the Renaissance art that most people are familiar with. In the “Genesis Fresco” on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the figures Michelangelo depicts are fit and healthy, symbolizing humans’ capability for good. It is an expression of praise to the beauty of the god governing the world.

Bosch’s paintings, meanwhile, depict a realm ruled by the devil. In his famous pieces, such as “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and “The Temptation of St. Anthony” triptych, those in power (clerical figures of the time) often take on a vulgar or monstrous appearance, and people must answer for their ignorance. They must accept the cruel punishment of purgatory for sinking into sin and immorality.

So far, the human race has struggled to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and solve problems caused by an extreme climate. Foolish things continue to happen, not because we have lost our intelligence, but because we too easily succumb to the temptation of the worst of humanity.

The author is an associate professor in the department of sociology, Soochow University.

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