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Savage or Saint? On the nature of human brutality in the wasteland…


Picture this: Civilization has collapsed, all national and local governments have lost control, the world has descended into madness. In this scenario, will we see people band together in small, localized groups that work together for shared prosperity and protection? Or will we see roving gangs of aimless psychopaths and ruthless raiders that survey day-to-day by taking what they need via vicious killing and theft? I think the answer to both of these questions is definitely – yes!

But let’s be real – would people really act that viciously, mowing down innocents just for the thrill of it? I’ve occasionally heard comments in response to brutal scenes in movies like Mad Max along the lines of, “people would never do that!” Well, to the reasonably sane and civilized denizens of the modern world, actions like random cruelty and killing may seem unfathomable or even impossible. Especially when one lives in the context of a safe, friendly neighborhood. But today, all it takes is a look at the dark corners of modern society – to brutal regimes in unstable countries, warlords, hidden human trafficking, and the occasional grisly murder – to realize that the civilization which modern humanity has created is really just paper thin. Our world may seem stable and enlightened now, but all it would take is a few, consecutive missed meals for the world order to descend into chaos.


Thus, when it comes to how humans might act in a post-apocalyptic setting, perspectives seem to fall into two camps: a) Camp 1 views human nature as essentially good, where, even if imperfect, they are deep down just trying to do the right thing and work together; and b) Camp 2, on the other hand, seems to think that the depths of human depravity know no limits. On a day to day basis, with most people I meet, I tend to fall into Camp 1 – Most people seem downright decent! But unfortunately, for every handful of those decent people, there are a couple bad eggs. No matter how much I want to argue that most people are good, there are some pretty rotten, downright evil people out there. This is in a functional society!

In a fallen society, well, I’d say that’s where the true nature of humans really comes out. Intact society, to some extent, keeps those nasty individuals in check, both with legal force and open repudiation of such brutality. But a fallen society no longer provides checks on brutality, and I fear that any kind of societal collapse would transform the world into an open hunting ground where such predators roam freely. This would certainly not be an attractive feature of a post-apocalyptic, fractured “society”…

Even if the natural tendency of many humans is toward depravity, there’s no reason that those of us who are decent can’t choose to fight back against lawlessness and cruelty. Indeed, knowing that the human default mode is brutality is helpful. It means that those of us who choose to live better will be more likely to help those in need. When you know that there’s no one else to help, you don’t have diffusion of responsibility to fall back on – no one else will help, so it’s up to you!

So, while it might terrify you to know that there are monsters out there, masquerading as decent human beings, just keep in mind that you can choose to do better! Throughout history, the decent folks have fought back the monsters to create reasonably peaceful societies, and if we make a choice to do better together, then we can always force the monsters back into their dark corners – where they belong!

Wilder Out

If you liked this post and are curious about how post-apocalyptic society might play out, you’ll be interested in my new science fiction novel, The Aria of Galvanize, now available on Amazon!

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