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Classic Calvin and Hobbes cartoon debating on the true nature of humanity, with a dash of humour.

In typical Bill Watterson style, the strip above weaves philosophical debate between the antics of Calvin and Hobbes. This particular comic caught my eye, as it seems relevant to travelers.

Often, it seems the reason people decide not to travel is a fear of the world outside their borders. With few exceptions, they believe that most people are out to do them harm (that humanity is essentially evil).

A traveler, on the other hand, tends to believe the opposite. They embrace visiting other cultures and lands, because they trust that most people are out to help them; they believe humanity is essentially good.

The third option of course: is the people are crazy. This implies that the question itself is problematic, because you can’t possibly understand the motivations and worldviews of everyone. To judge humanity as mostly good or evil means you have to pass judgment, which says more about yourself then anyone else.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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About The Author

Ian MacKenzie

Ian MacKenzie is the founder and former editor of Brave New Traveler. He is Head of Video at Matador Network. Ian is also an independent filmmaker, with his first feature (One Week Job) released in 2010. His more recent projects include Sacred Economics and Occupy Love.

  • Christine Garvin

    I vote crazy. But not necessarily in a bad way.

  • joshua johnson

    Seriously…my vote is for crazy too. I mean, come on, we all feel crazy sometimes, or when we don’t feel crazy and we look around and everything is crazy around us and then we wonder :
    “Am I crazy for not feeling crazy?!”

    We are such a mash of good and evil that it makes a us a little loopy.

  • AngelineM

    It’s a trick question, isn’t it? If we answer either way, we’re passing judgement.
    Ha, call me crazy, but I’m not falling for this one!

  • Dan

    I agree with AngelineM. Either way we’re going to get flamed for passing judgement.

  • Turner

    In my heart, I think crazy, but I’d rather convince myself people are basically good, true or not.

    Good to see Calvin and Hobbes again.

  • Craig

    I have no idea. I tend to believe that a person is inherently good, but people are not. Put it to mob mentality or whatever. But, then you take into account greed and you can see how the one person could not be good. On the other hand, take into account culture and you could find yourself in a crowd, town, city, or country of the kindest people you’ve ever met.

    Moral of my story: The jury’s out.

    And I love Calvin and Hobbes. My favorite quote: There’s never enough time to do all the nothing we want.

    • Turner

      “The score is still Q to 12!”

  • Bern

    “To judge humanity as mostly good or evil means you have to pass judgment, which says more about yourself then anyone else.”

    …sounds like a pretty judgmental statement to me.

    Irony? I doubt it.

    That’s my judgment anyway.

    • Ian MacKenzie

      @bern – My statement wasn’t to say it’s good or bad judgment… merely that examining how you judge others is a great way to examine your own mind mechanisms.

  • Jared Krauss

    I have been reading the book “The Liars Tale: A History of Falsehood” by Jeremy Campbell. In it he addresses this issue. He does so by explaining the world we live in, by way of different sociologist and scientists, such as Darwin and Lamarck.

    In the second chapter, I feel he makes the best point in this topic. To summarize, in essence, he says,

    Humans are neither good, nor evil, by nature. We are not inclined to be good or bad, because those actions are perceived internally by others, based on what happens externally.

    Instead, he claims, that humans simply are. Meaning, we act out of self-preservation, self-advancement, self-gratification, self-defense, etc.


    What I get from this is this: To describe humanity as either bad or good is, like Ian said, more a statement about me, then about people. We cannot describe the collective in these terms, sure we can describe individuals, but not a collective people. We all exist for ourselves, and our progeny, which are a reflection of ourselves, in my opinion.

    Now, you might say, “WHAT?! I don’t do these volunteer trips just to make myself feel good!” I being someone who is working to go on a volunteer trip to Haiti in March, who is getting an education in a field where I will be helping people in global poverty situations, and having a past in helping people, might agree with you, before I really I looked at the situation.

    Get past all the negative connotations, get past the idea that it’s BAD to work for yourself. When you got back and you told people about what you did, and they are impressed and throw compliments your way, doesn’t it make you feel good?

    When you are actively helping someone, and they smile and say thank you, doesn’t it feel good?

    Please do not think I’m insulting myself, or anyone who partakes similarly. I’m just making a case.

    You might say, what about mothers and fathers and the work they do for their children. Aren’t those kids a representation of their parents, even adopted ones? Do they not represent their upbringing. I digress, and I am generalizing even more now.

    The simple point stands though, we work for ourselves, in all that we do. It is not some evilly selfish inclination, it is human nature. Some take it to a further extent than others, some use it as rationalization to commit evil acts and others are impacted by the emotions. Regardless of what you are doing, even self-mutilation, it is out of some deep and basic instinct in humans to help ourselves advance.

    • Ian MacKenzie

      Great points Jared. Perhaps the argument can be reconciled with the idea that when you do something for others, it is motivated by the understanding that “you are the other.” To me, this is the essence of enlightenment- breaking the illusion that there is a me and you. So in a sense, you are working for yourself… you just happens to be everyone :-D

      • Jared Krauss

        I would have to agree Ian.

        When you put it in that sense, it causes me to hearken back to the idea that was expressed so magnanimously, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

        The golden rule.

        We have just expressed it and explained in a more critical and analytical sense.

        Thanks Ian. Great points.


  • Rick

    I’d like to think we’re mostly good, and contaminated with evil. But I guess the crazy approach is true with most people out there, myself included.

  • Jeremy

    Individuals are generally good. We see evidence for this everyday in our lives. Most people mean no harm to others. Do people do evil to you while walking down the street, at work, or during the myriad of other daily social activities? If people were generally evil someone would just as soon punch you in the face as give you the time of day. There are a few sociopaths out there, but they are much less than 1% of the population. All the evidence of life seems to indicate that people are generally good.

  • Jared Krauss

    Well, would you classify NOT doing something bad to someone as good? I reserve the word “evil” for something that is actually evil. There are many bad things that happen, but I believe evil is on a whole other level.

    So, I think the focus needs to be shifted a little bit. It’s not that we are generally good with a small percentage bad, look to my first comment, we do things to preserve ourselves. To go around punching people would result in a higher likelihood of death, or at least pain.

    Just because we do not act in a bad or good way would not mean we can be described by the word opposite our actions.

    Basically, like I said before, it all comes back to preserving and advancing ourselves. Good or bad can not be described to a collective, in my opinion, because it is a subjective description, a majority % of bad acts or good acts still would not prove our race to be good or bad. First off, there is no way to judge acts, outside of our own world, and because you would have to follow every human being for every minute of their day.

    Good or bad can not be used to describe a collective people because we all adhere to different societies, cultures, religions, beliefs, histories, circumstances, etc.

    As individuals we can be broken down, but again, only in a subjective matter.

    That’s just my two cents.

  • Marc Latham

    It’s a big question and so many theories out there, as Jared pointed out.

    I think humanity is basically good, and the support for Haiti etc shows that.

    But I think it is still self-preserving and always open to negative possibilites.

    Changing the circumstances a bit, as in history when charismatic dictators have persuaded the masses to do evil; or when the individual is given the corrupting influence of power such as in the Stanford prison experiment:

    I think humans are like (other?) animals, and adapt to their situations. A good loving dog in its home might turn bad if removed to a bad home, or into a killer if it finds itself lost and starving.

  • Kim

    The question becomes, is it good or bad to seek self-preservation and self-advancement above all else? That is no doubt what we do in general, but whether or not that is good is hard to say.

    I think it comes down to opportunity. There are so many more opportunities in life to do bad or neutral acts than to do good acts. You have to step out of the monotony of preservation and advancement usually to do something positive. Truly good acts usually have a cost and only emotional (or vaguely status related) rewards.

    If someone in front of me falls while racing to the front of a line: pushing them is negative, ignoring them is neutral, and helping them is positive. The only reward of the positive is a possibly disgruntled thanks. For many people, and in some religions, choosing the neutral, as most of us do in day to day situations, is linked with the negative. Ignoring the good you could do, is just as bad as choosing the negative option.

    Even ignoring the neutral option, it’s much more difficult to do good. How many people can you name who have done truly amazingly good things at the same level of the sociopaths and insane dictators out there? People who have been the direct cause of saving millions of lives. People who have renewed the lives of hundreds, and drastically turned around their situations for the better. They are definitely out there! And more power to them! But it’s such a hard thing. It takes so much effort, and time, and courage, and money, and skill, and luck, and correct circumstances. While jails and history books are full of the other extreme–anyone with brains, a hatchet, and a truly rotten heart can do immense evil.

  • Justruss

    Scholars estimate, conservatively in my opinion, that more than 262,000,000 people were killed as the result of democide (killed by their own governments). Six times as many people have died from the inflictions of people working for governments than have died in battle.

    Draw your own conclusions.

  • Justruss

    Missing above – this is during the 20th century. Apologies.

  • megan

    soo, its pretty much all true. some people are good, some are bad, but most are crazy

  • Terry Steeves

    For the most part, I’d like to think that the majority of humans have the ability to stay in the “good” zone…with temporary fluctuations into craziness at times…what a wonderful and complicated species we are…

    • Susan White Kealey

      Great find Terry, who knows the answer? We will never be able to answer this one.

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