The essay “Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind” is self-redundant and needs no explanation. This essay in fact is a continuation of the previous essay titled “Ideas That Have Helped Mankind”, in which Russell exhibits the vitality of useful ideas that have helped the whole world. The essay “Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind” is entirely opposite to the previous essay. In it, Russell satirically reveals the destructive dogmas of the societies. He does not talk about a specific society or religion but about the whole world. We see Bertrand Russell as a reformer, who wants a change. He wants that people should think twice before they act. For instance, when he talks about witchcraft, he advises that people should face the music instead of condemning others for their faults. He not only counsels us to face the truth but also makes us realize that it is our prime duty.
Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind Summary
Russell keeps an eye on this world. After observing each nation, all races and every religion minutely, he has prepared a list of ideas that have harmed mankind since the creation of the earth. He starts his essay while describing two common reasons behind human misfortune, which are:
- Cruelty of Nature
- The cruelty of humans towards one another
Russell no more considers the cruelty of nature as the main problem of the world. According to him, modern science has overpowered the cruelty of nature; therefore, the only problem left behind is the cruelty of humans towards one another. Humans hate each other. They not only torture their opponents physically and mentally but also do efforts to ruin them. Russell then illustrates some common reasons why people harm other people. The following reasons are responsible due to why people harm each other.
Ill will of People and the Pleasure of Harming Each Other
People deliberately damage the respect, business and life of other people. Russell believes that it is not a result of any false belief or idea. People harm each other because they find pleasure in doing so. He quotes an incident, which is commonly known as Lisbon Massacre or Lisbon Pogrom. In Lisbon, Portugal on April 1506, about thirty years before the establishment of the Inquisition, hundreds of people were accused of being Jews and, thus, guilty of deicide and heresy and were persecuted, tortured, killed, and burnt at the stake. This incident proves that people harm others just for the sake of pleasure. History is evident that large numbers of people were there but none of them spoke against this cruel incident; instead, people enjoyed the massacre and took pleasure in watching them burnt and tortured. Thus, these incidents are a kind of entertainment for the people.
Stupid Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind
It is not a new thing for people to enjoy brutality. Romans used to watch gladiators fighting in the arena. Nazis seek pleasure in war. Terrorists are mentally blind and kill even children. Hence, human is the worst enemy of humanity. Some people want war because they enjoy it. Nevertheless, they only like it in case victory is on their side. Even after knowing that war does not differentiate between good and bad and kills people on both sides, people support it. Thus, it is a sad situation for humans to promote brutality.
Russel supports his arguments with everyday life incidents. He speaks the truth even then his viewpoints are strong. Many men consider women inferior to them and beat their wives. They justify it while saying that it is necessary to improve their behaviour. Similarly, people thought of anaesthetic inventions as a wicked attempt to go against God. Resultantly, doctors did painful surgeries without anaesthesia and watchers found pleasure in crying patients with pain. Likewise, the public justifies the pains of lunatics and enjoys their screams.
Not only ideas related to evil passions have harmed people but many other false beliefs are also behind the sufferings of mankind.
False Religious Beliefs
False Religious beliefs are among those ideas that have harmed mankind for many years. Russell adds some examples in this essay from the past and present. When a conqueror conquered the land, he felt his responsibility to eliminate the former nation and its belongings. In the past, people believed that sacrificing a person to the gods fertilized the land. Christian saints do not seek pleasure in flesh, wine and luxuries but in thoughts of the sufferings of infidels. Hence, people have imposed cruelty on one another while ignoring the concept of right and wrong due to false religious beliefs.
Harmed Mankind Due to Superstition Ideas and Beliefs
“Bible” verifies that witchcraft is a truth. Some people believe in witchcraft whereas the remaining are forced to strengthen their beliefs in it. When something wrong happens with people, they accuse others of it. It is also the nature of humans to blame others for their wrongs-doings. People feel insecure about others due to witchcraft. These types of ideas have harmed not only Christian people but also the whole of mankind. Belief in witchcraft has ruined many countries and nations. However, due to development in science, people have overpowered the fear of witchcraft.
Apart from religious and superstition beliefs, political dogmas have also ruined many nations. Nazis are born to fight. They promote their slogan i.e. “guns rather than butter”. Politics have divided the world between sinners and saints. People do not prefer morality. Everyone considers himself superior to others. He thinks that except him, every other person should be sent to labour camps. Russell also refers to communists, who have forgotten the luxuries of life. They worship hard work and one who enjoys the luxuries of life is a sinner in their eyes. So, some political beliefs and related ideas have also harmed mankind.
Selfishness, Envy and Jealousy
The modern slogan is; “selfishness and envy are key to success”. Every person is trying to feed his self-esteem with envy and selfishness, which adds the element of jealousy. Only women are not prominent in this regard; due to businesses, men have left women behind in this field. Nowadays, no one leaves a chance to ruin another’s business. Russell says that envy is the main reason behind the war between countries. Hence, undoubtedly, the ideas of selfishness, envy and jealousy have also harmed mankind.
Pride of Race and Nationality
Everyone knows that pride is a curse yet everybody is full of pride. Racism is at the top in this regard. People have pride even in their races. Whites think that blacks are cursed; therefore, they are superior to blacks. In Russell’s days, only Americans and British think that the Chinese are inferior to them but now the Chinese also think the same. Similarly, in the past, Englishmen taught their children to believe that one Englishman could defeat three Frenchmen. Their attitude towards German is also the same. Thus, people have accepted the ideas related to pride and nationality, therefore, they have also harmed mankind.
Pride of Religion and Creed
Religion is neither a source of peace nor consolation for the people. It has become an identity for them. People feel proud of their religion. Feeling proud is not harmful but considering other religions inferior is definitely injurious. Even in Christians, there is competition between sects. For instance, Catholics believe themselves right and Protestants wrong. The same is the case with Protestants. So, pride in religion and creed can also be included in the list of ideas that have harmed mankind.
Pride of Gender and Class
Class consciousness is increasing day by day. In fact, it is a disease. From Russell’s arguments, it seems that pride in gender and class is among those ideas which have harmed mankind the most. Every nation, every country, and every society is teaching that everyone is equal but practically we see no progress in this regard. Pride in sex also exists. Men believe that women are irrational, foolish and unwise. Russell disagrees with common people. Men are superior to women only due to muscles, says Russell. He further argues that marriage is still believed as a bond between man and slave. Though women are in power nowadays, Russell doubts the majority.
Ideas may have harmed mankind yet Russell has a solution. As mentioned earlier, Bertrand Russell is a reformer. He knows that man is a social animal; therefore, he wants improvement in social science. Again, he suggests the idea of international government, however, he himself believes that it is not possible but it is the only way imaginable to stop a third world war.
Russell also promotes democracy. Although there are many demerits of democracy, its merits are more than that. He is of the view that it is the best practice to avoid further damage. He wants two major reformations: political organizations and certain moral principles. Democracy can impose moral principles on people.
Tolerance and charity are other solutions to avoid the world from hydrogen bombs. In addition to moral qualities, it is also the duty of the State to teach its nation tolerance and charity. With tolerance, we can avoid world war and with charity, we can suppress diseases and hunger. Russell concludes the essay while saying that “If this should happen [said ideas are adopted] we shall have reason to bless its [hydrogen bomb’s] inventors.