Are we born with a dark side? Are Jealousy and Envy, the subjects of my last two posts, innate? One comment I received suggested we are born a “blank tablet perfect in every way.” Biologist Lyall Watson would disagree. In his book Dark Nature: A Natural History of Evil, Watson proposes that all living creatures are born with genetic instincts that induce them to act immorally. He calls them the laws of the genes. In essence, they are…
Be nasty to outsiders.
Be good to insiders.
Cheat whenever possible.
Distasteful as those laws sound, all organisms rely on them to survive. Outsiders are not to be trusted; they pose a threat. They could invade our territory, take our jobs, steal our food, kill us. This law explains prejudice against people of a different race, religion, country. We instinctively distrust people who are not like us. They present an unknown and we fear what we don’t understand. Our primal response is to drive them away, shut them out.
The second law behooves us to be good to insiders, those within our tribe, family, community. We need their help and support. We may not like all the members of our family, neighborhood, workplace, but we recognize the value of community. Survival and well-being depend upon it so allegiance is strong. But entirely selfish. By protecting the group, we protect ourselves. So we turn a blind eye to an employer cutting corners, the irrational dictates of a religion or the corruption of a government. “My country, right or wrong!”
Finally, human beings are essentially selfish. Toddlers think the world revolves around them and throw temper tantrums when they don’t get their way. As people mature, they develop more subtle, deviate behavior. If not given what they desire, they find a way to take it. Adults use lying, stealing, cheating to get what they need, envy, feel entitled to.
As we evolved, we learned to deny our dark impulses and cloak baser impulses and instincts in socially acceptable behaviors. By pushing them out of conscious awareness, they actually grow stronger. They loom in the unconscious creating what psychoanalyst Carl Jung called the shadow side. “Everyone carries a shadow,” he wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
We may not be aware of our own dark side but we have no difficulty seeing it in others. We project our greed onto corporations that employ child labor or raise the price of a product 5000%, angrily denouncing them. We project our self-centeredness onto narcissists and condemn them. We hide our jealousy and envy behind false goodwill, secretly loathing those who have what we want.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Carl Jung
From Healing Feelings: Fortunately, no matter what insecurities and dark impulses reside within, we have the power to transform them into positive energies. But first we have to face them. We can’t heal what we refuse to acknowledge. It is in denying our thoughts and feelings, driving them out of conscious awareness that they grow into frightful, negative forces that cast a dark shadow over the True Self and stifle the flow of pure energy. Looking is the light that illuminates darkness and dispels it.
Honestly acknowledging and confronting our dark nature, our insecurity, judgments, misperceptions, repressed emotions, guilt, fear, attack impulses, grievances, selfishness.
Genes and egos may give rise to our dark nature, but we also have a higher nature, a pure side. Non-Catholics as well as Catholics were moved by the visit of Pope Francis. Why is there such universal outpouring of love for this man? Because he resonates our higher nature. He reminds us of who we can be, who we truly are when we dispel the darkness. The difference between the pope and us is that he forgives the dark side and thus, forgiving, overcomes it.