It's common to hear it said that "most people are basically good", but whenever someone tells me that I wonder if they're living in the same world I am.
Me: Are you good?
Them: Well, mostly I guess. I try to be.
Me: Have you ever murdered anyone?
Them: No, of course not!
Me: Oh, well that's good. Have you ever lied?
Them: Sure, sure, sometimes I do.
Me: Ever steal anything?
Them: Haha, when I was a kid maybe.
Me: Never fudge your time cards then at work, I suppose?
Them: Maybe a little....
Me: Ever rape anyone?
Them: What?! No!
Me: Not even in your mind?
Them: Well you certainly can't judge me for the things I think about....
Me: So you're a liar, a thief, and you've at least contemplated rape --
The point is that no one is "basically good". Everyone is depraved, self-centered, and evil -- the fact that we don't act on these desires isn't due to some inner virtue, it's because of fear. That's the purpose of society, to pit my selfishness against yours and thereby restain both of us from our true nature. I'm planning another article on this topic as it relates to my previous post on game theory.
Anyone who has ever seen or been a part of a mob knows what can happen when societal restraint breaks down. Otherwise orderly, good, decent, normal human beings can go completely nuts when their fear of retribution and punishment disappears, and this is our natural condition. Anyone who is honest with theirself knows this to be true -- I alone know the beast that lives within me.
It was horrifying to me to read about the terror that Saddam's regime perpetrated on the Iraqi people. How could anyone commit such atrocities? The countless murders and rapes, children tortured, mass graves, medical experimentation... we've only begun to discover the carnage. One of the scariest things to me was that I could see kernels of that same evil in my own heart. Sure, I'm a long way from there in action, but somewhere deep inside of me is a sliver of darkness just looking for tiny ways to break free each and every day. What about you?