Excerpts from Jonathan Glover's 'Humanity'

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Jonathan Glover’s <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Humanity-Moral-History-Twentieth-Century/dp/0300087152">Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century</a></em> is one of the best and most important books I have ever read.</p>

<p>Excerpts below:</p>

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<p>An extimate for the period from 1900 until 1989 is that war killed 86 million people.  Eighty-six million is a small proportion of all those alive during the ninety years, and is a small number compared to those who have died from hunger and preventable diseases.  All the same, death in twentieth-century war has been on a scale which is hard to grasp.  …If these deaths had been spread evenly over the period, war would have killed around 2,500 people every day.  That is over 100 people an hour, round the clock, for ninety years.
One of this book’s aims is to replace the thin, mechanical psychology of the Enlightenment with something more complex, something closer to reality.  A consequence of this is to defend the Enlightenment hope of a world that is more peaceful and humane, the hope that by understanding more about ourselves we can do something to create a world with less misery.  …We need to look hard and clearly at some monsters inside us.  But this is part of the project of caging and taming them.
<a name= … Our entanglements with people close to us erode simple self-interest. Husbands, wives, lovers, parents, children and friends all blur the boundaries of selfish concern. Francis Bacon rightly said that people with children have given hostages to fortune. Inescapably, other forms of friendship and love hold us hostage too. The deeper levels of relationships are denied to people who hold large parts of themselves back. And to give yourself means that part of you belongs to the person you care for. There is a constant pull towards new kinds of sympathy and commitment. Narrow self-interest is destabilized. … Happiness depends on psychological integration, or wholeness. We need to be at peace with ourselves. Inner conflict is a threat to happiness. Disharmony involves slavery to madness, and allows the beast in man to gain control. … Claims to be treated with respect are often linked to standing within a group. The claim of an outsider may be minimal. Sympathy has similar limitations. The sympathies which really engage us are often stubbornly limited and local. I may move mountains for my child, but perhaps I will not cross the street to be a good Samaritan to a stranger. Sympathy may hardly extend to those outside a particular community. These limitations help to explain a moral gap which is increasingly evident. Many moralities are “internal,” giving weight to the interests of those inside a community, but doing little against the common indifference or even hostility towards those outside. It is increasingly obvious that this moral gap is a human disaster. … (In 1991), Amnesty International recorded protests against human rights abuses in over 50 countries, the protests to thirteen countries making specific reference to torture. These are the kinds of thing that many of us have a vague background awareness of, without there being much publicity unless the perpetrators are some currently loathed regime, or unless some highly visible Westerner is among the victims. The reality is that in many countries torture of the most revolting cruelty happens routinely, often under the auspices of governments with good relations with Europe and the United States, sometimes using equipment knowingly supplied by Western companies. There is little reason to think torture is in retreat. The festival of cruelty is in full swing. What is it about human beings that makes such acts possible? Three factors seem central. There is a love of cruelty. Also, emotionally inadequate people assert themselves by dominance and cruelty. And the moral resources which restrain cruelty can be neutralized. … For some, especially when the victims are women, the pleasure of cruelty is sexual. … Ideas about how to live should be shaped partly by awareness of collective disasters. … Atrocities are easier if the human responsibilities are weakened. Torturers have to suppress sympathy, or “squeamishness” as they come to think of it. One way is to stress that victims do not belong. They are usually assigned to some other, stigmatized, group. … We are a species both brutal and sickened by brutality. This conflict between our cruelty and our aspirations goes as far as we can see back in human history.

Jonathan Glover –Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century

Ryan McCarl
Attorney | Writer | Educator