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Konrad Lorenz

July 5, 2021

Civilised Man’s Eight Deadly Sins

Browsing through my library the other day I came across a book which I purchased in 1973. It is entitled “Civilised man’s eight deadly sins,” and was written by Konrad Lorenz a subsequet Nobel Prizewinner in 1973. Now although it does not neatly fit within the historical lexicon the fact that it is now more than 50 years since I first read it does not mean that it has lost any of its impact on my mind. To be truthful I think it’s significance is more pertinent today than at anytime previously and it must now been seen as an important historical perspective.

In Chapter 10, his last, he writes ‘I have discussed 8 separate but causally connected processes that are threatening to destroy, not only our civilization, but mankind as a species. These processes are:

1. Overpopulation of the earth, because of the super abundance of social contacts, forces everyone of us to shut themselves off in an essentially inhuman way, and which, because of the crowding of many individuals into a small space, elicits aggression.

2. Devastation of our natural environment, with destruction not only of our surroundings but also of man’s reverential awe for the beauty and greatness of a creation superior to him.

3. Man’s race against himself, which pushes the development of technology to an even faster pace, blinding people to all real values and robbing them of time for the genuinely human activity of reflection.

4. The waning of all strong feelings and emotion, caused by self-indulgence. The progress of technology and pharmacology furthers an increasing intolerance of everything inducing the least displeasure. Thus human beings lose the ability to experience a joy that is only attainable through surmounting serious obstacles. The natural waves of joy and sorrow ebb away into an imperceptible oscillation of unutterable boredom.

5. Genetic decay. In our modern civilization, apart from ‘the innate sense of justice’ and a few transmitted traditions of right and wrong, there are no factors that exert a selection pressure tending to preserve instinctive norms of social behaviour, although, with the growth of society, these are becoming more and more necessary. It is an alarming possibility that the many infantilisms are making a certain type of hippie into a social  parasites.

6. The break in tradition. A critical point is reached at which the younger generation is no longer able to communicate with the older one, still less to identity with it. Therefore, the younger treats the older like an alien ethnic group, confronting it with the equivalent of national hatred. Hence, the continuance of tradition is threatened. The reasons for this disturbance are to be found principally in the lack of contact between parents and children, which even at the earliest stages of infancy can have pathological consequences.

7. Increased indoctinability of mankind.  The increase in numbers of people within a single cultural group, together with the perfection of technical means, lead to the possibility of manoeuvring public opinion into a uniformity unprecedented in the history of mankind. Furthermore, the suggestive effect of an accepted doctrine grows with the number of its supporters, possibly in a geometric progression.  There are cultures in which an individual who purposely keeps aloof from the influence of mass media, for example from television, is regarded as pathological. De-individualising effects are desired by all those who’s intention is to manipulate large bodies of people. Opinion polls, advertising, cleverly directed fads and fashions help the mass producers on this side of the Iron Curtain, and the functionaries on the other side to attain what amounts to a similar power over the masses.

8. The arming of mankind with nuclear weapons constitutes a threat easier to avert than the seven other developments described above. The process is of dehumanisation discussed in Chapters 1 to 7 give support to the pseudo-democratic doctrine which maintains that the social and moral behaviour of man is in no way determined by the phylogenetically evolved organisation of his nervous system and of his sense organs, but rather that this behaviour is determined solely by the conditioning to which in the course of his ontogenesis he is exposed by his particular cultural environment  

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Dr Jeff Nicholas

This site is about both History & Biography

The Victorian Commons

Researching the House of Commons, 1832-1868

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