A few months ago, a friend of mine on DeviantArt asked me for advice on what makes an interesting villain, because she was writing a Pokemon fanfiction. I told her my opinion, which gave me an idea. Not the "What makes a great villain" part, that's a topic for another day. I'm talking about the concept of humanity and what actually makes us human. People across history and the world have pondered this question, and I think I'll do my take on it.
For starters, many people have asked the question: Are we born evil, or are we made evil? Personally, I think there's always a little evil inside of us, and how life affects us and how we react to it determines whether we will be good people or not. It's why there are neutral people in the world too.
The nature versus nurture debate is one of the oldest philosophical issues within psychology. Even today, different branches of psychology often take a one against the other approach. For example, biological psychology tends to stress the importance of genetics and biological influences. Behaviorism, on the other hand, focuses on the impact that the environment has on behavior.
In the past, debates over the relative contributions of nature versus nurture often took a very one-sided approach, with one side arguing that nature played the most important role and the other side suggesting that it was nurture that was the most significant. Today, most experts recognize that both factors play a critical role. Not only that, they also realize that nature and nurture interact in important ways all throughout life.
Do genetic or environmental factors have a greater influence on our behavior? Do inherited traits or life experiences play a greater role in shaping our personality? The nature versus nurture debate is one of the oldest issues in psychology. The debate centers on the relative contributions of genetic inheritance and environmental factors to human development.
Some philosophers such as Plato and Descartes suggested that certain things are inborn, or that they occur naturally regardless of environmental influences. Other people take the position that all or most behaviors and characteristics are the results of inheritance.
Advocates of this point of view believe that all of our characteristics and behaviors are the result of evolution. Genetic traits handed down from parents influence the individual differences that make each person unique.
Other well-known thinkers such as John Locke believed in what is known as "tabula rasa", which suggests that the mind begins as a blank slate. According to this notion, everything that we are and all of our knowledge is determined by our experience.
Most people take the position that all or most behaviors and characteristics result from learning. Behaviorism is a good example of a theory rooted in empiricism. The behaviorists believe that all actions and behaviors are the results of conditioning. Theorists such as John B. Watson believed that people could be trained to do and become anything, regardless of their genetic background.
For example, if a man abuses his wife and kids, is it because he was born with violent tendencies or is it something he learned by observing his own parent's behavior?
Some characteristics are tied to environmental influences. How a person behaves can be linked to influences such as parenting styles and learned experiences. For example, a child might learn through observation and reinforcement to say "please" and "thank you". Another child might learn to behave aggressively by observing older children engage in violent behavior on the playground. However, a lot of people don't realize the fact that there are people who had good childhoods and still turned evil. Because of that, they always blame something else as the cause of them becoming bad, instead of admitting that they're just screwed up in the head. They always blame: drugs; video games; the parents; the internet; etc.
For example, a few years ago, two 12 year old girls stabbed their friend, 19 times just so they can meet Slender Man. They even planned to do this for months. Instead of declaring the two girls as the psychopaths that they are, they instead blamed Creepypastas. Let me ask you a few things: Were Creepypastas responsible for making dictators like Stalin and Hitler kill millions of people? Did Creepypastas cause Ted Bundy and Ed Gein to commit heinous crime after heinous crime? Were Genkhis Khan, Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah and Vlad Tepes inspired by Creepypastas to slaughter innocents? Did Elisabeta BáthoryI torture other people and bathe in their blood because she read it from a Creepypasta? I don't think so.
Violence is part of who we are as people, no matter what time period. It depends on who we're violent towards and why. Even before guns were invented, we killed each other for the pettiest of reasons with whatever we could use, but nobody wants to admit that.
I've seen and talked to people who referred to irredeemable scumbags as "monsters", "inhumane" or "animals". A good example is when president Donald Trump and most people referred to MS13 gang members as "animals", since they rape, murder, and disembowel children and women. They have very good points, but I have to disagree and here's my reason why:
Yes, being human also means being able to show empathy, compassion and kindness to others. But in reality, doing bad things is also part of what makes us human.
Let's talk about "Berserk".
One of the reasons why "Berserk" is my favorite manga ever written is because it changed my perception on what it means to be human.
For instance, when humans become Apostles, they have to offer someone close to them as a sacrifice. Someone so close that you can't imagine your life without them. Whether it be: your best friend, your lover or a family member. They represent that piece that reminds us of our humanity through closeness and a bond that we share.
By sacrificing them, you sever those ties and give up your humanity and become a "monster", both literally and figuratively.
After Giffith became Femto and raped Casca in front of Guts, people said that Griffith(or any Apostle for that matter) doesn't deserve to be called human. Yes, he's no longer the same species that kidnaps and rapes innocent women and children; that destroys and loots cities/villages for power and money; the ones who molest others for their own pleasure; the one who kills innocent people for the pettiest of reasons or for no reason at al; etc. Griffith is still human, but not the type most of us think it means.
In reality, there has always been a light and dark side to humanity. We're trying to repress that dark side through morals and standards, but if those are taken away, we are no different from those criminals that we put in jail. It's one of the reasons why I never refer to truly despicable people as "monsters", because humans are scarier than any monster.
There's a scene that's absent from every adaptation of Berserk, and it's the scene when Griffith is turning into Femto, and meets a being, whom he perceives as "God", or as most people refer to it: The Idea of Evil. This being only appears in Chapter 82 and "The Lost Chapter". Fans have debated whether or not it should be canon, but it is is one of the most fascinating characters in the series. Personally, I consider it canon.
As Griffith starts sinking into the abyss and beings his transformation, he spots a large being, whom he thinks it's God. It's the self-proclaimed "Desired God". he explains to Griffith that it was born out of a human need for reason. People wanted reasons for destiny transcending their knowledge. It also explains that part of it resides in every human.
Quote: "A common consciousness that transcends individuality. Their collective consciousness as a species. I was born from this swells as the evil of this world. I am the darkness the dwells inside every human heart."
A fascinating idea, isn't it? Not only the idea that it was humans who created God, not vice versa, but also that God isn't a being in the sky, but rather an idea that dwells within all of us.
I think he idea of evil is in itself a criticism of the idea of evil. That is to say, evil only exists because mankind believes it exists as a way to explain all the bad that happens in the world. But evil doesn't cause bad things to happen because evil doesn't exist. It's just mankind making bad decisions that lead to suffering.
Many people judge others for their actions. Forgetting the fact that not everyone is perfect and we all have done something wrong in our lives - ranging from big to small. This imperfection is part of what makes us human and denying that and declaring ourselves to be holier-than-thou is an arrogant thing to do. I'm not saying that we should give hugs to terrorists or MS13 gang members. But that we shouldn't deny the fact that humans aren't born 100% good but are suddenly turned evil. Yes, in a lot of cases that's the truth. That's because those horrible experiences in our lives helped us shape who we are. Like I said, every human has a light and dark side. However, because everyone human is different, how they grow up in life is dependent on how the react to the world around them and how it affects them. Some people have had terrible childhoods and still turned out good, while others had perfectly normal childhoods and turned out evil.
Let's talk about the anime: Hellsing Ultimate. Near the end of the series, when it's revealed that its main villain,The Major is actually a robot, he gives his brilliant speech wherein he explains his reasons for all the horrible things he did.
The Major is a monster in that he represents all the dark aspects of Humanity, whereas Alucard is a true monster of legend from myths that we as humans all come to fear. But Major wanted to prove he was a bigger monster by showing off how evil a human can be not by throwing away his humanity but by embracing its dark and horrific aspects; he is truly evil at its finest.
We humans like to label people like The Major as "inhuman" or "monsters", because as a species, we don't like to believe we are capable of such actions. By saying that people like the Major or Griffith are not human, however, it gives people a false sense of morality, causing them to think "well, I'm obviously a human, so nothing I do could be monstrous" (or, as the Major says, "my enemy is not human. My enemy is less than a human"). The Major represents humanity in its blackest form. He's a sadistic lunatic who craves violence, destruction and death, even when he's on the receiving end. And there is no reason behind it whatsoever. And as much as we may wish to deny it, people like him DO exist in real life. ("Some people just want to watch the world burn.") Alucard, on the other hand, IS inhuman, as he has gone beyond what is possible for any human. And yet, despite this, he shows more morality than someone like the Major. Instead of writing off people like the Major as "monsters", we need to accept the fact that humanity IS capable of acts of great evil, and work to avoid them. It's the only way we can evolve as a species.
Let's talk about another aspect, and that's the aspect of sin.
When Adam and Even ate the forbidden apple, they committed the first sin, whereas their son murdered his brother and committed the first act of murder. My theory is this: because they committed that sin and we're descended from them, we inherited that same sense of doing bad which became part of our nature. Whether you're doing something bad because you think it's justified, you had no other choice, have no self-control, or simply because you can do it.
The Seven Deadly Sins that we humans have are supposed to be the reasons or at least the motivating factors that makes us do bad things. But I don't think these are "sins" as much as very human flaws that we all have. It's only a matter of whether or not we let ourselves be tempted by them or lose self-control. We are so quick to raise our voice and declare ourselves as superior, thinking that it can help them. When a good chunk of the time that only made things worse, and it's often times better to lend a help of friendship and understanding. Especially if we don't want them to end up in jail for crimes that we failed to prevent.
I'm not saying we should sympathize with people who are aware of what the bad things that they're doing but simply don't care and don't want to change their ways. But that we should help those who are aware of what they're doing, apologize for it and want to change their ways. I always believed that things like "respect" and "forgiveness" should be earned, not given. If someone wants to earn forgiveness for the bad things they did, they need to work hard and earn that forgiveness.
Let's talk about one of, if not my all-time favorite movie: "The Empire Strikes Back". When Luke trains with Yoda, he asks: "Is the Dark Side stronger?" Yoda replies by saying "no", but it is more persuasive and easier to be consumed by it.
The Dark Side only seems stronger because the Jedi Council members were weak. They do not fully trust the Force as they should and so their doubt, if you will, was their undoing. A Sith or someone who uses the Dark Side fully commit themselves to the Dark Side because it is much easier and more seductive than fully committing to the Light Side. It is because of this full commitment to the Dark and lack of it to the Light that it seems stronger.
So, since the Light is, indeed, "slower, harder, and requires a stronger will" (being mindful of your thoughts, controlling your anger, honoring the authority, instructions, and decisions of the Jedi Council--all things Anakin did not do), full trust and commitment to the Force is very uncommon and seldom seen.
It is understandable, however, as to why the Jedi had that mentality. Attraction to material possessions and people can also lead you down a dark path, because if something bad happens to someone or something we love, we automatically feel like we've been wronged and want to exact vengeance over other people. For example, if a serial killer murders a man's family and he decided to take his revenge on him and take the killer's life, in return. Or better yet, hurt what they love the most, so they can experience the same pain.
Here's one of my favorite quotes from "KOTOR":
"Love doesn't lead to the Dark Side. Passion can lead to rage and fear, and can be controlled...but passion is not the same thing as love. Controlling your passions while being in love...that's what they should teach you to beware. But love, itself, will save you...not condemn you. Love causes pain, certainly. Love is going to lead to as much sorrow and regret as it does joy. I suppose there are perfect, eternal loves out there...but I haven't seen any. How you deal with the bad part of love is what determines your character, what determines the Dark Side's hold over you."
Remember when I mentioned that people called MS13 gang member animals for repulsive crimes they committed? People referred to MS13 gang members as "animals". But why? As I explained, how are they animals if they belong to the same species that can cause rape, murder and destruction? I think it all ties back to the idea that we're still animals. We're just the animals the progressed the fastest. Like I said, I'm a Christian,not an idiot.
Let's talk about the book "Lord of the Flies". In it, a group of boys are stranded on an island, all by themselves. They try to establish order and civilization, but all of their efforts fail, as they regress back into the same savage creatures that we consider ourselves superior to.
The main theme of the book is that humans are animals. We're just the animals that progressed the fastest. In reality, there are hundreds of animals that can do things that we can't. Marine lifeforms and amphibians can breathe underwater - we can't. Birds and insects have the capability to fly - we can't. Some are better at climbing, other are better at digging, etc.
When the majority us call barbaric people as animals, they refer to them as such because the majority of us have moved beyond our animalistic tendencies. So, when we see people act in a way that we no longer deem as acceptable, we reject them and call them monsters. Forgetting that we could become these so called "monsters" anytime.
In the video "Why Thanos is So Terrifying" by Max Derrat, he talks about how actor Josh Brolin got his inspiration for Thanos from the character of Colonel Kurtz from the movie "Apocalypse Now". Max described Kurtz as the best movie villain he's ever seen, and I can see why.
I'm going to paraphrase what he said in regards to Kurtz from his video, as it perfectly ties into this article's subject.
Just a reminder, none of the following paragraphs of text belong to me. If you want to watch the full video, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wFhcGbe4tQ
" No other piece of cinema has thoroughly investigated the motivations of human evil. Specifically, what might drive ordinary human beings to commit murderous atrocities. In the case of Colonel Kurtz, the movie traces how a once decorated army official, noted for his intellectual genius and physical aptitude, slowly degenerates as he is confronted with the war's twisted face. Not just that, but the hypocrisies of those who perpetuate the bloodshed. Discontent with the reality of the Vietnam War, particularly with the constant use of violence and how the powers-that-be justify it, Kurtz created his own reality. He took full control of an outpost, deep within the jungles of Cambodia, where the indigenous people treated him as a demigod. Disillusioned by his surroundings, by the injustice, by the moral relativism, he chose to enact his own command, using increasingly violent methodology, to the point where his superiors declare that he has gone insane. What makes Kurtz so disturbing is that: even though his actions are morally reprehensible, his perceptions and statement are arguably correct. Every word spoken by Kurtz in this movie comes from a place of deep introspection and rationality.
For instance, though he will decapitate someone for merely taking his picture, his peers cannot judge him; because they have all committed equally immoral acts, during their stay in Vietnam. Acts that as justified by a seemingly moral end. In this miasma of moral uncertainty, Kurtz embraces the savage side of human nature and seeks to remake reality via his will to power. It is through his will, justified by his record of physical and mental brilliance, and the success in his brutality, that he finds so many followers in not just the Vietnamese, but defected American soldiers.
It is Kurtz's conclusion about the moral relativism of them of the American military that makes him so terrifying. Even though he is committing murderous atrocity, there is logic in his madness. If the military can use unsound methods in the pursuit of an ideal, why can't he? After all, the horror and evil around that surrounds him is enough to corrupt the most penitent man. So, is it so wrong to pity Kurtz when his surroundings corrupt him? Why should we believe that: if we were in his place, we would do any better. The probability that we could is staggeringly low."
What he said about Kurtz holds a lot of truth in the world, especially in our current decade where politics are the most important, and where people from both sides of the political spectrum justify their immoral actions as a way to make themselves look good. In reality, despite what opinion they have, they're practically same.
Like animals, whenever we feel threatened, we resort to violence, throwing reason and rationality out the window. For example, when Ajit Pai wanted to take away Net Neutrality back in 2017, people from all sides wanted to take him down via force, or by doxing him and his family. In truth, all this did is give him more of a reason as to why Net Neutrality should go. While it is understandable why people would want to take him out, wanting to hurt his family was taking it too far, which once again illustrates that we're no different from those animals that we see at the Zoo.
In "The Killing Joke", the book showcases a possible origin story for the Joker. He was once an honest comedian with a pregnant wife, but were not doing well financially. Wanting his wife to have a good and stable life, he teams up with a pair of gangsters. He soon finds out that his wife and the baby died, leaving him empty and hopeless. It was too late for him to to bail. So, he went through with it, only to be ambushed by Batman, falling into a vat of chemicals, which scarred him both physically and mentally.
In this story, the Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon in front of her father, kidnaps him, and tries everything to reduce him into a crazy person like him. When Barbara asks: why is he doing this?; he replies "To prove a point." That no matter how good of a person you are or claim yourself to be, one bad day is all it takes to turn you into something you never thought you would become.
This ties back to one of my previous points, that to the majority of us, the bad experiences we faced in life shaped us into become morally reprehensible beings. You may claim to be strong-willed, but like Kurtz, even the mightiest will give into despair.
I want to state that I do not believe that humans are 100% evil and there's nothing redeemable about us. I'm not a misanthrope, nor do I believe the message of the "Purge" movies where everyone wants to be an asshole to each other. I merely wanted to point out the dark side in all of us, that we mostly reject and refuse to acknowledge. When in reality, we have to do it, so we can learn from our mistakes and move forward.
We humans are the most complex beings in the universe. We have the capacity for kindness, but at the same time, the capacity for great evil. Sometimes, we do good and bad things without realizing them. We can be driven to achieve great things by building ourselves up. But, we can also be driven to cause pain and destruction either because of an agenda, are messed-up in the head, or simply aren't taught the value of living beings.
One of the reasons why I choose to remain a Christian is because I believe in hope. I believe in compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters, but at the same time, use the teachings of the Bible to remain disciplined and strong. That no matter how dark things may seem, I refuse to give into temptation.
However, with how awful things get, it's easy to fall into despair and become a villain. By getting power, we're able to do things as we please. Some people do it to merely have control over the ignorant, while others have good intentions, which will only pave the way to Hell. If God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, what's stopping someone else to play God and destroy corrupt places like Hollywood and Washington?
Many people asked the question: "If God is so loving and caring, then why are so many bad things happening to people around the world?" My answer is that it's supposed to be a test. A test to prove that even at great adversity, you can still prevail, and that no matter how horrible life can be, you shouldn't let it corrupt you and you should instead focus in doing as much good as possible. It's not so much a test of whether or not you're worthy of entering Heaven, but whether or not you're a good person.
To quote my favorite Naruto villain, Pain:
"No, I did not intend to ridicule the reasons why you do battle. After all, you and I are birds of a feather. It doesn't matter what you use to justify war. Religion, philosophy, resources, land, revenge...even a whim. No matter how trivial the motive, they're all worthy causes for war. There will always be war; the reason can be found later. Human instinct seeks conflict."
This intrigues me. Perhaps the deeper reason why we cause pain is because we still operate on the "kill or be killed" or "survival of the fittest" mentality. That we do bad things and we have to endure it, so we can keep evolving. No matter how much we've evolved in terms of technology, culture and ethics, we still seek conflict, because it is part of our nature as human beings. Even if you're a pacifist and want to avoid conflict, facing it is inevitable. And how we deal with it, determines our character.
To finish off this article, I'll leave one final speech about evil:
"I know that evil will never truly be vanquished from this earth, and sometimes seems an endless, gaping void, but still...I retain my hope in humanity. For the goodness in mankind's heart is also endless."
-Dhalsim, Street Fighter 4.