The Beast Within This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   Friedrich Nietzsche once said "I do not trust a man who does not admit that he is a murderer within." My history teacher asked us to consider this quote recently, and to think about how it related to the holocaust of World War II. We discuss the holocaust every year in school, but this year we have been discussing the reasons for the holocaust and other genocides and the possible explanations for the complacency of people who stand by and watch these massacres take place. These discussions have raised issues that I have often considered about the essence of human nature and what evil lies in the human mind.

As my history teacher announced Nietzsche's quote, my mind drifted to a movie I had seen recently and found particularly disturbing: "Lord of the Flies." The film, based on the novel by William Golding, was graphic, realistic and thought-provoking. It is about a group of boys stranded on an island, who become savages only weeks after being separated from society and begin to kill each other. "Lord of the Flies" was so believable that I began to wonder how often events like those in the film had actually taken place and how long it would take for an average person to be converted to a cold-blooded killer.

"Lord of the Flies" involves the hidden savage nature of children, not adults. Adults are conditioned to believe what is right and what is wrong. But isn't it true that since children have not yet been taught society's standards, they act primarily on instinct? So, one function of society is to teach us to repress our natural, violent instincts. Can any amount of conditioning erase the force of instinct? I don't think so.

My father is a well-educated, calm and reasonable man, and one of the least violent people I know. A few years ago I was at my grandmother's house and found some letters my father had written when he was about nine years old. In one letter to an uncle, my father described how he had gotten in a fight with another classmate and had wanted to "strangle him and rip his gizzard out." My parents and I had a good laugh over this at the time, but thinking about it now scares me a little.

My history teacher told us another surprising fact. He said that 20% of the Nazi officers grew to enjoy killing and torturing people. The Germans are not so different from us. They, too, were raised to believe, conditioned to believe, that killing and violence are wrong. It is truly frightening that so much conditioning could be erased with a few weeks of Nazi training.

Equally frightening is the violent crime rate in our country today, the number of abused children, and the continued incidents of prejudice and anti-Semitism all around us. I'm also somewhat frightened by things that don't scare most people-like my love of horror movies. Why do Americans pay millions of dollars each year to watch actors get tortured and graphically murdered? What scares me more is how people are placed into two categories: criminals and good, law-abiding citizens. But there is no black and white definition of a good person, only shades of grey.

I believe that any human being has the capacity to commit violence under certain conditions. Everyone is born with animalistic instincts and however well society manages to cover them up, we still possess our instincts. It is better to accept the existence of our inner, violent nature and to try to control our violent impulses than to simply deny them? n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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