- Alicia Estell
PHS Honors Essay Project: The True Nature of Humans
The true nature of humans is self-interested. Humans are born selfish and without a nurturing upbringing, will continue to be selfish their entire lives. Henceforth a deeper understanding of human actions is produced when the true nature of humans is accepted.
Humans are born self-interested. Children rely on their parents for everything. As they develop, they are taught right from wrong by their parents and society as a whole. In the story of Lord of the Flies, William Golding spins a tale of what happens when there is no authoritative figure or civil society to tell children right from wrong. In the story, the character Roger is one of the antagonists. He is one of the older boys on the island and among the group of hunters. While the boys are frolicking on the idyllic beach, Roger throws stones at a younger child and purposely misses. Golding explains the situation as “Here… was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law. Roger’s arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins,” (87). The orderly civilization the boys have left behind coerced Roger from his sociopathic tendencies. Later in the novel, Roger is free of civil limitations and his actions are rash, destructive, and violent, eventually ending in murder. Roger’s actions in the novel Lord of the Flies exemplifies that humans are born, at the very least self-interested, at the most, evil.
An infant’s self-interested nature often persists into childhood, but the parents tend to curb their behavior at this time. During this early period, children learn how to be acceptable in society. They learn the laws, learn in school, and learn right from wrong, what to do and not to do. In the article, Psychopathy to Altruism: Neurobiology of the Selfish - Selfless Spectrum, the author discusses the upbringing of children, “... promoting positive behavior via the brain reward system... to mitigate violent, destructive behavior.” (Sonne). This article explains how parents reward their children for behavior they see as positive and refuse to reward behavior they see as negative. However, this method is not necessarily teaching children right from wrong, but rather teaching children what behavior will get them a reward and what will not. Children adhere to these rules simply because they know if they do, they will be rewarded. Children act, in society’s view, “good” not because it is their true nature but because they want to be rewarded. An example of this is when a young person does something unhealthy or criminal, like smoking or stealing, society tends to give them the excuse that they had a bad childhood. The definition of a bad childhood is one that lacked the proper nurture, in which a child was not strictly taught right from wrong. Golding expertly illustrates this value of nurture in his novel. At the beginning of the novel, while the boys are romping along the beach, some of the older boys, including one named Maurice, kick sand into some of the younger children’s faces. Maurice immediately feels guilty. His former life would have punished him for hurting someone else. But on the island, no one does. Had Maurice grown up on the island without a civil upbringing, he would not have felt guilty for kicking sand in someone’s eyes. He would not have known it was wrong and would not have stopped. The other boys would have acted the same way. Therefore, if a child is not groomed to society’s molds, they act as their true nature desires, self-interestedly.
In almost every situation, it is easier to be selfish. When children discover the selfish choice and they are not deterred, they will discover an easier course for themselves. The child will find that the selfish decision is easier and choose to make selfish decisions more often. Young children don’t have a moral compass to tell them if a decision they are making is harmful and hurting others. It is a parents job to inspire a moral compass in their child.
One may argue that no human is born evil. However, Golding’s Lord of the Flies disproves this claim with the character of Roger. Roger is a sociopath who uses the circumstances on the island to satisfy his violent impulses. As stated in the novel, Roger was conditioned during his upbringing to not harm another human because it is immoral. Nevertheless, on the island, he hurt many of his fellow boys and even murders one of them. If all children were truly born good, Roger would not have committed any of his horrid deeds. But even with his civilized upbringing, he does. Therefore, children are not born good but are instead born selfish.
If people are truly inherently altruistic, then how could they live with the state of the dying earth and the state of humanity itself. If humans are truly good, then such things would not be happening or would have been stopped by previous generations. But it is, people are starving and dying and the planet itself may soon be uninhabitable for humans. Because people are too self-centered to see the big picture. A possible solution to this extensive problem would be laws backing the protection of the environment but no comprehensive legislation has passed. The article Democratic, Accountable States Are Impossible Without “Behavioral” Humans proves how humans’ selfish nature is preventing society from bettering and improving. “Accountable, democratic government is impossible assuming that… self‐interested… individuals... are the only available citizen,” (Putterman). People don’t aid climate change fighting or species saving efforts because it’s not directly affecting them. Humans are too often focused on the here and now. This is explained in the book Living in the Anthropocene: Earth in the Age of Human, the book argues, “The human negligence of the earth: how extinctions of fauna… are caused by our own selfish desire,” (Sajal). Tens of thousands of species worldwide are endangered and people aren’t providing proper aid even though humans are responsible for their demise. A reason for this is provided in the article A Game of Cards, which explains that fear is what drives humans to be so selfish. “Existence of fear and man’s inability to cope with fear bring about the worst in him.” (Cousins). Humans fear what may happen to themselves or their interests if they are vulnerable or self-sacrificing. So they keep their heads down and ignore the issues occurring all around them. The state of the planet is proof that humans are selfish, self-centered, and self-interested.
Humans are inherently self-interested. The underlying nature of humans is selfish and self-centered, once accepted, people’s motivation for their actions becomes clear and defined. Human behavior is explained through their inherently selfish nature.
Cousins, Norman “A Game of Cards.” npr.org, National Public Radio, 4 April 2005,
Golding, William, et al. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies: Text, Notes and
PUTTERMAN, Louis. “DEMOCRATIC, ACCOUNTABLE STATES ARE
IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT ‘BEHAVIORAL’ HUMANS.” Wiley Online Library, John
Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 8 Feb. 2018,
Sajal, Roy. “Living in the Anthropocene: Earth in the Age of Humans.” Environment
and History, 1 Jan. 1970,
Sonne, James, et al. “Psychopathy to Altruism: Neurobiology of the Selfish–
Selfless Spectrum.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 5 Apr. 2018,
This is one of 24 essays that will be written by PHS Honors English students in collaboration with The Portland Beacon over the next six months. Ms. Chandra Polasek, PHS Honors English and Drama teacher, will provide the essays on a regular basis to The Beacon. All essays are original work of the students.