An Alien's Report on the Human Species
Greetings, Commander, Lord of the Kawiridy. As you requested, I infiltrated earth and, after eight years of studies, I can offer you my report on the ruling species of the planet, the carbon-based humans, also known as Man and Homo sapiens. As a psychohistorian, my report focuses on the social and psychological aspects of humans, not their physical attributes.
The first thing I noticed upon my arrival on earth was that, maybe as a benefit of sexual reproduction, there is a considerable diversity among humans. There are so many different types of personalities it is quite difficult to make an accurate generalization of human beings. It is possible, however, to make observations and determine trends on the human masses that inhabit the planet.
There are several fields in human science that study populations to reach general conclusions on humans: economists analyze market forces, marketing experts and the military thoroughly analyze human behavior, there are also psychologists, etc. So using the same psychohistory approach we used before on other planets, I'll try to understand the human masses. I think that when we understand the masses, we can also understand the roots of the human nature.
It should be mentioned that, although I'll base my preliminary observations on the sum of humankind, there are two clearly different types of humans: men and women. These are the two human sexes, distinguished by a single gene, but with significant physical and psychological differences between them. Clearly, males are physically stronger; I base this conclusion on physical records for both genders where men have the advantage in all studied physically demanding disciplines. At a first glance, men appear more successful than women in many intellectually-demanding activities, judging from religious and political hierarchies, scientific and artistic prizes, and wealth. Intelligence quotient (IQ) tests, however, have failed to find a difference between the sexes. It is also of note that while men tend, for instance, to have a higher income, they also tend to go more to prison and commit more violent crimes such as rape and murder. Therefore, although there are psychological differences between the sexes, with men better at some tasks and women at others, there is no evidence of intellectual superiority of either sex.
Because even the weaker, less adaptive members of the human species are able to reproduce, the human gene pool can be seen as stagnant in recent human history. The human population is genetically heterogeneous, and we are therefore bound to find many different behaviors, even the ones that would be less successful if humans were still wild animals. If the human gene pool has remained by and large stable for the past centuries, we can therefore take conclusions about humans by analyzing the behaviors of their ancestry. Some changes to the gene pool are likely to have occurred due, for instance, to the fact that physically weaker humans can now survive, or even that changes in environmental factors like education have resulted in different conditions that brought changes to the gene pool. But this is likely to be minimal in recent centuries.
One of the most startling facets of human history is religion. I am yet to find a population on earth that hasn't been deeply religious during some part of its history. Another important aspect about religion is that the large majority of people tend to be of the same religion of their parents. Historically, religion expands by military action, not by rational teachings. This shows three crucial human traits: first of all, it shows humans are deeply influenced by environmental factors in their youth, such as education by both teachers and, in particular, parents and relatives. Second, it shows a depressing subservience. The first cases of youth rebellion were reported in ancient Babylon centuries ago, but still we see that humans tend to accept the truths their parents teach them with almost no fight. Religion is the definitive proof of this. For example, in the United States of America (USA), the wealthiest country of the world, the percentage of religious persons is about 93%, a number that changed little in the past 100 years. This could be interpreted as evidence that, even with an increase in education, IQ, life expectation, and quality of life, most humans maintain their spirit of submission and can be greatly influenced early in life.
Finally, the human religions show that humans tend to be frightened creatures, unable to face their daily fears -- which is understandable given the feebleness of each human life. Religion is a disguise from reality. Humans, individuals need some sort of safety. Many find that safety in religion, which they use to overcome their fears. I read about the bravery of armies who fought for a religious creed. Of course, one could argue that absence of fear instigated by religion is not bravery but foolishness, that courage is all about overcoming fear. Perhaps the suicidal religions fanatics are not brave, they are fools who believe they will go to a better place if they end their lives. But I digress. Overall, either as part of their nature or possibly a result of their individual weaknesses, humans tend to be fearful creatures who need to modify reality to cope with it.
I have observed the many types of human governments. Being democracy the most advanced and complex of them, I decided to concentrate my efforts on it. (The other forms of government are even more depressing and less favorable to the human species.) In democracies, it is generally not the best ruler who wins elections, but the best public speaker, the most entertaining one, the one who can hire the better marketing experts, the one who has the most money. Although the above statement oversimplifies human politics, it is surprisingly accurate. Besides, to discover how politics works and how political decisions are made, knowing the flow of money is usually enough. I have no doubt that most humans need leaders, they need heroes, they need guidance to help them overcome the fears I mentioned above. This is where religion and politics take their power from and how they control the human masses; and most persons accept them with subservience, with simplicity yet tremendous efficiency. Again, I am forced to point out that humans are, in general, easy to manipulate.
Human history is a violent one, tales of indescribable violence can be found in ancient and recent history. Humans, particularly males, definitely have a natural tendency for violence, like most other animals do. The big question is the extension to which violence and peacefulness can be taught. I found some evidences that support the theory that, although humans have a natural violent instinct, their aggressiveness is mostly a result of environmental factors.
I studied the history of a place called Tibet. The people of this region were once amongst the most violent and destructive in Asia but are now a peaceful and cooperative people. It is interesting to note how the same gene pool can result in totally different people; it shows the power of culture to change society. Interestingly, another local people, the Chinese, have occupied Tibet and have inflicted great pain on the locals. My conclusion is that humans are as aggressive as they are allowed to be. They might have a natural instinct for violence, but when taught properly, they can become peaceful. Adrian Raine, a famous human in psychophysiology, said: "Why don't we all attack each others? The main reason is because we can control the fear and we were punished as children for doing wrong things, such as stealing or beating our friends." Humans learn how to live in a society and they are wonderfully adaptive. The downside of this is that they are subservient, as pointed out above.
In wars, soldiers are taught, or brainwashed, to see their enemies as non-humans. Some humans argue that it is practically impossible -- only aberrations would be an exception -- for a human to deliberately kill another human. For a human to kill another human, the killer must see his or her foe as a sub-human or a monster, a demon. Serial killers are thought to see their victims as objects, and in the same reasoning, soldiers must to see their enemies as non-human. There is compelling evidence for and against this theory. For example, in many battles, muskets were found with dozens of loads, which means soldiers just loaded the muskets but didn't fire. Only 15-20% of US soldiers in World War 2 fired at the enemy, many just fired to the air. On the other hand, these were educated men, and therefore expected to have some sort of morality and disgust in killing other humans. Tales of ancient times, like the Dark Ages, are much more violent, though the knowledge of these societies is more blurred in time. There are also stories of primitive tribes who would avoid hurting the enemies by only attacking marginal members of the enemy's tribe, or by removing the feathers of the arrows making it harder to shoot.
As a conclusion, when humans realize that others also feel pain and pleasure, that they also have families, that they also are humans, they can show compassion and empathy. Humans certainly have a "don't kill other human being" behavior. But this can come from both a genetic and environmental basis. I would place my bets on both of them, being children and primitive warriors less intellectually developed humans, unable to fully understand the fact that other humans also feel pain. This gives hope for humankind.
As indicated above, men tend to be more aggressive than women. Although it can be claimed that environmental factors are behind this, evolutionary theory, the struggle males face to find a mate, and recent genetic discoveries suggest that there are genetic determinants making males more aggressive than females. It's a fact that sexual impulses are strongly related to violent behavior. This means that, as vaguely mentioned, men largely control the planet from a political, religious, economical, and military perspective. From the perspective of power, men are the dominant sex on earth and they show the benefits of aggressiveness and violence over compassion and empathy, which is troubling.
Another subject is the human intellect. Most humans consider themselves intelligent creatures; most humans are wrong and the fact that they consider themselves intelligent is a good proof in itself. Religion, politics, and the way marketing works on human society are just a few of the many examples of a disappointing lack of intelligence, even if humans have strong emotional reasons to be frightened individuals. As what is considered by humans as their greatest genius once said:
"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe." Albert Einstein
Overall, when humans are born they have a great capacity to adapt to any circumstances. Afterwards, they are enclosed in their "niches" from which they are not generally able to escape. They're taught a religion and an ideology and most simply accept it without questioning. They even try to change reality in order to adapt it to their beliefs; examples are bountiful, from religious persecutions to the blind faith of many of the world's ideologies. While this means that humans can change in the future, it also means that the change will be slow, maybe too slow for them to survive.
I don't expect the human race to survive for a long time. As humans develop increasingly destructive weapons, they are bound to use them. The amount of destruction available to a single individual or a small group is rising to unbearable levels. It is inevitable that humankind will suffer at the hands of terrorists, psychopaths, extremist groups, or even rogue governments. And with so many nuclear weapons spread around the world, unless humans begin an hegira into space soon, their destruction is inevitable.
For the moment this is my report. I'll log in again when I have more information or have reached new conclusions.
Sources and Links
Grossman, Dave; "On Killing" (1996).
Lorenz, Konrad; "Das sogenannte Böse. Zur Naturgeschichte der Aggression." (1963 & 1992 editions). In English the title of this book is "On Aggression".