Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Animal Nature, Human Nature

“Human beings have two parts, animal nature and human nature.
The animal part is when people lose their control as humans, their control of reason.”
Ramiro Niño de Guzmán, schoolteacher in “State of Fear”

Perhaps the best question I’ve ever been asked about “State of Fear” came from a Millsaps College (Jackson, Mississippi) student at the screening. She wondered whether I agreed with what Ramiro Niño de Guzmán, the Peruvian schoolteacher said referring to making sense of the violence that consumed members of his family during Peru’s 20-year war on terror.

Of course I agree with it because I put it in the film. But beyond that, I think it is one of the most sublime statements made in the film by someone who has thought about the essence of our human nature. Which is that we all struggle with overcoming the animal nature that exists within us. The audience at Millsaps College discussed the persistence of the death penalty in the United States, quite marked in the south where 11 of the 14 death row inmates reside who are scheduled to begin the torturous countdown to their demise via lethal injection before the new year. When someone has committed an egregious crime against a loved one, our animal nature hungers for revenge---for the perpetrator’s death. Our human nature should long for justice. By not murdering the murderer, we rise above our animal nature and exert the civilizing part of our human nature. It is the irrational, the animal nature that was responsible for systematic killing in Peru, for the death of many civilians in Iraq, and for genocide in Darfur and Guatemala. The Millsaps student’s question made me think about why in “State of Fear” it was so important to cast a light on the reasoning power of human nature by featuring the human rights advocates who effectively ended the war and reinstated the Peruvian democracy.

And here’s a big shout-out to Holly Sypniewski and Michelle Acuff, both vibrant professors at Millsaps College. Fun too. They worked hard to get students from many disciplines to come to “State of Fear”, and brought out members of the community too. You can tell that they are the kind of teachers that are seriously committed to engaging their students in new and different ideas---the kind of teachers you remember long after college.