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Is There Really Only One Human Race?

Tuesday, Mar 3, 2009

One of the most frequently cited facts of life is that there is only one race, the human race. It is said in order to counteract racism. And it is said to show how much all people have in common — our “common humanity.”

The first reason is good and valid. The notion that there is something significant that divides the races is indeed absurd. Beyond skin color, nothing divides the various races.

But in its latter meaning — that there is one human race, one humanity, to which we all belong, I am increasingly of the opinion that this is not so.

A lifetime of study of good and evil has led me to a wholly unexpected conclusion: There may not be one human race; there may well be a genuine divide among humans.

It seems that there is a certain percentage of humanity that can engage in acts of surpassing cruelty that the rest of us could not engage in. These people really do seem to be members of a different race. Biologically speaking, they are of course human beings, Homo sapiens. But in a fundamental way they are members of another species as well — an offshoot of human being that may still be part of some part of the animal kingdom to which the rest of us do not belong.

I know this sounds silly. For years I myself rejected the idea. But if there really is a sliver of human beings that can engage in acts that the rest cannot, what other explanation is there?

Well, two are offered: conditions and conditioning.

Conditions: Some argue that such evil is a matter of external conditions — that under the right conditions just about everyone would inflict horrific cruelty on their fellow human being. That is the conclusion that Professor Stanley Milgram drew from his world famous obedience test at Yale University.

Conditioning: The other argument against the notion of two species of human beings is that with the right conditioning anyone can be led to do anything to anyone.

I believe both arguments have merit but do not address the point I am making.

Regarding Milgram: The purpose of Milgram’s experiment with Yale students — participants were ordered to deliver increasingly painful “electric shocks” to a subject (an actor) they did not see — was to show that people ordered to be cruel will do so because of the ease with which people obey authority.

I have no doubt that there are such people. But this does not address my two-species theory. Milgram’s students thought the “study” was academically sound, they exhibited no joy in what they did — indeed, most exhibited serious ambivalence — and they never saw their subject suffering (they heard him crying out).

The evil I am addressing has little or nothing to do with orders from authority. It is inflicted voluntarily, face to face with the victims and brings the evildoer pleasure.

Regarding conditioning: It is possible that a person raised to be a sadist from early childhood can be conditioned into being a sadist. But the evidence appears to suggest that those who deliberately inflict appalling pain on others enjoy doing so for reasons that cannot be traced to upbringing. They may have had a very normal upbringing, while many who had terrible childhoods exhibit no such sadistic tendencies.

In other words, it appears that there exist among human beings some people who can best be described as monsters — and whose monstrousness cannot be explained.

This theory brings me no intellectual or emotional satisfaction. I have always wanted to believe that all human beings have at least one freedom — moral freedom. Yet this belief is contradicted by the theory of two human species.

The man who put this notion into my mind is Rabbi Leon Radzik, a Holocaust survivor whose entire family was murdered by the Nazis. What he saw as a boy in the Nazi camps few human beings have ever imagined, let alone witnessed. He once described to me a Nazi guard who, upon seeing a starving Jewish boy sucking on a candy wrapper thrown to the ground, murdered the boy by slowly shoving a shovel into the boy’s throat — in anger over a Jewish boy having the temerity to suck on German candy wrapper.

I asked Radzik if he had any explanation. “They were monsters in human form,” he replied.

That is what I now believe: There are monsters in human form.

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