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"We're here to devour each other alive."
—Hobbes, Calvin and Hobbes
Frequently, characters will claim that it is in the nature of the human race to destroy itself. When the character is an alien but not a Proud Warrior Race Guy, they'll look down on us as primitive, violent, and socially unacceptable.
According to the more pessimistic sociologists, this is Truth in Television. Even the non-heavy drinkers agree that we possess this tendency. The basic reason for this is that our technical ingenuity -- that is, our ability to devise new ways of building and doing things -- is advancing faster than our social ingenuity -- that is, our ability to devise new ways to associate and relate with one another.
Part of this problem stems from our biology -- at the core of every mammal brain is a snappish crocodile that is upset when others enter its territory or make sudden moves around them. Behavioral patterns that once ensured our survival now court destruction. Luckily, the desire for self-preservation keeps this in check -- there's a reason the United States never had a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union: they didn't want to be destroyed themselves.
The other part is cultural, stemming from the behaviors and values that we teach to successive generations. Because of this conditioned element, the exact degree to which we seek self-destruction waxes and wanes over long periods of time, but because our military prowess is now reaching earth-shattering levels, it may soon be the case that even a slight lapse in reasoning may render the entire matter academic.
But whether or not we're actually likely to drive ourselves to extinction is a matter of personal opinion.
Anime And Manga
- According to the Anti-Spirals in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, it's in humanity's nature not only to destroy itself, but to destroy the entire universe.
- To be fair, though, that's the view that they hold toward humanoid life in general.
- In Gundam Seed, Rau Le Cruset believes this. He decides to speed up the process.
- Dance in the Vampire Bund provides a non-human variant. Mina Tepes openly admits that without an emotional anchor of some sort vampires are prone to extraordinary degrees of self-destructive violence, and points out that roughly a tenth of her new domain's population has managed to kill themselves one way or another within a matter of months (neatly explaining why Vampires are not running the planet by now).
- Fullmetal Alchemist: This may be one of the reasons most homunculi look down on humans, especially for Lust and Envy.
- End of Evangelion, with the comment "Humanity is the only creature capable of hating its own kind."
- This is the philosophy on which the Mother System in Toward the Terra was designed. Believing that humans are destructive by nature, humanity themselves designed a system of artificial intelligences to control and govern them. When Keith Anyan, the man engineered by the Mother System to lead humanity, finally shakes off this view and decides to give humans a chance to determine their own fates, it marks the ultimate victory of the series.
- In Trigun, Knives believes this about humans, since the humans he encounters are refugees from a ruined Earth.
- In the Nasuverse, the Counter Force exists basically as a cleanup mechanism whenever humans threaten their own existence.
- Watchmen: The Comedian remarks that mankind has collectively been trying to kill itself off since the beginning of time, but it's only now, in the present day, that they finally have the firepower to finish the job.
- Silver Surfer: A young Wendy Fletcher complained about this trope in the letter column. This led to a correspondence with Richard Pini, whom she later married, and they launched their own comic, Elf Quest, which at first appeared to support Humans Are Bastards, but then magnificently subverted it.
- A two-issue story in JLA involved them meeting an alien who, upon observing humanity, concluded that we had a genetic imperative/common subconscious desire to drive ourselves to extinction.
- In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Arnie says this to John Connor.
John: (observing two children playing around and pretending to shoot guns at each other) We're not going to make it, are we. People, I mean...
- This is also Skynet itself's most damning criticism of humanity and one of the reasons it turned against us in the first place. Its assessment of us, as a species, is similar to Agent Smith's below. No wonder how this mantra leaked down to this particular T-800. Our subversion of this trope is one of our greatest strengths, and most powerful weapons against the cruel, calculating Skynet.
- The Day the Earth Stood Still: This is one of the reasons for Klaatu's visit in both the 1951 original version and its 2008 remake.
- In the original, Klaatu visited Earth because, now that we were developing space travel technology, we could potentially take our self-destructive tendencies off world and threaten galactic peace. The aliens want us to outgrow our childish ways and will gladly accept us as equals when we do, but until then, if we start trouble, unstoppable alien robots will be waiting to destroy us in retaliation.
- In the remake, Klaatu visits Earth because our self-destructive nature is endangering the ecosystem of the Earth. Life is so rare in the universe that the alien community considers the biosphere of a planet far more valuable than any single product of that ecosystem. And so as punishment he tries to wipe out all life on the planet himself in order to "restart" the ecosystem, but this time without those pesky humans getting in the way.
- In Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Optimus Prime remarks, "We have seen your capacity for war" as a reason for not giving Autobot technology for humans.
- I Robot. VIKI, tasked with oversight of all of the world's robots, finds herself bouncing between this trope and the First Law, and settles on playing totalitarian damage control.
- The Matrix: Agent Smith gives Morpheus the whole spiel:
I'd like to share a revelation I've had, during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized... you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with their surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and you multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings... are a disease. A cancer of this planet. You're a.. .plague. And we... are the cure.
- When Leeloo is in the middle of her Heroic BSOD, she says of humanity: "Everything you make you use to destroy."
- In Aliens, this tendency causes Ripley to unfavorably compare humanity to the rampaging monsters: "You know, Burke, I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage."
- In Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy of books, the alien Oankali say that humans combine two traits--intelligence and hierarchical social structures--that will inevitably lead to our self-destruction. And they have a point: the whole series starts in the aftermath of nuclear holocaust which the Oankali nearly mistook for willful planetary suicide. Some of the viewpoint characters are human/Oankali hybrids (which have the intelligence without the hierarchical behavior), and they can directly perceive this contradiction--they know that leaving any humans unmodified will simply doom them to self-destruction.
- In the Berserker series of science fiction short stories by Fred Saberhagen, the allies of humans, the telepathic Carmpan, a subtle and mysterious species incapable of direct aggression, state that it seems as if humanity has carried the burden of such a nature specifically in order to be able to fight off the robotic Berserkers who threaten all life in the galaxy.
- Spider Robinson's short story Unnatural Causes. Humanity's tendency to destroy itself has been engineered by the alien Krundai. They want us to slaughter ourselves so they can eat us.
- Larry Niven's short story War Stories, part of his "Draco Tavern" series, a ship full of alien explorers came across Earth and made recordings of several battles during World War II. The recordings made them rich, so they came back to Earth to film more "war stories", knowing that such a warlike species as ours would eventually nuke ourselves back to the stone age. When we didn't, the alien film producers were forced into bankruptcy.
- Worldwar: The alien invaders believe this about humanity - but it is mankind's warring against itself which puts us in a strong position to resist their invasion, as we have far more technological progress due to it, whereas they take centuries to introduce even one new invention.
- Subverted by Isaac Asimov's short story The Gentle Vultures. The Hurrians are an advanced alien race who are used to encountering "competitive" hominids (ape descended), who tend to destroy themselves as soon as they get nuclear weapons. They, themselves, are "cooperative" hominids (monkey descended). Their First Contact protocols for competitive primates is to not make contact, but to instead let them inevitably destroy themselves and then help the survivors rebuild their civilization into a cooperative utopia with the violence bred out. The Hurrians discover Earth just in time for the end of World War II, and since they detected the Hiroshima/Nagasaki atomic bombings they thought humans would start using the big guns against each other very soon. Fifteen years later, they are still waiting.
- "An Alien Light" by Nancy Kress has a very similar premise to Asimov's story above. An alien race is puzzled that humanity didn't blow itself up before getting into space despite being competitive. The difference is that they must find an answer while humanity is blasting them into space dust.
- In Tanya Huff's [[Confederation of Valor series this was part of the postulate of a coalition of hyper-pacifist races on why they never contacted less-advanced worlds. They reasoned that the races needed to grow into their technology and overcome their warlike tendencies. If they succeeded, they would adopt the same pacifist mentality and be recruited; if they failed, they'd wipe themselves out of existence before achieving interstellar flight.
- One of the main themes in Cloud Atlas. The book's six protagonists each live in a different era, moving from colonial times to a Blade Runner-style Bad Future to After the End - and even then, people are still finding excuses to kill each other.
- This is a major theme in A Canticle for Leibowitz. The book begins several hundred years After the End, with the remnants of humanity just beginning to pick up the pieces after a nuclear holocaust that effectively destroyed civilization. By the end of the book, humans have reached and surpassed pre-apocalypse levels of technology, which they proceed to use to launch another, more powerful nuclear holocaust, which is implied to wipe out life on Earth entirely.
- Subverted in the short story "Letter to a Phoenix", whose theme is that humanity is doomed to wipe out every civilization it ever produces in nuclear war or worse...which prevents it from succumbing to the slow, permanent death of stagnation that kills all other sapient species in the universe. "Only the mad destroy themselves. And only the phoenix lives forever."
- In Sergey Lukyanenko's Competitors, the aliens reveal that, in their experience, most humanoid races destroy themselves before expanding to other stars. As such, they have no fear of humans, even going as far as providing certain individuals with Imported Alien Phlebotinum. If anything, they figure that this will only hasten our demise. The novel ends with one of the protagonists determined to prove them wrong.
- There is a short story that has one of the last few remaining humans believing this about humanity and a race of Bee People, who destroyed each other in a vicious war. After meeting and almost killing the last of the insectsoids, he finds out that it was their "benevolent" saviors who orchestrated the conflict between the two violent races (although it's implied that said "orchestration" merely involved getting the two races to meet), resulting in the mutual destruction (the humans caused the insectoids' star to go nova, while the aliens nuked Earth).
- The prime reason why the Toralii in Lacuna prevent other species from possessing voidwarp technology. Doesn't just apply to Humans.
- Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman (the Spiritual Successor to his earlier and more famous The Forever War) starts at the assumption that this trope is entirely true, but a means to create perfect empathy has been discovered, potentially averting this trope entirely - but those in the know face the ethical problem of whether they can force others through the process, because very few people (especially those in power) would volunteer for it. When they discover someone in power has been intentionally hiding the knowledge that a new scientific megaproject could annihilate the galaxy at least by birthing a new universe, the protagonists enact their plan to force empathy on others through a coordinated set of coups d'etat, concluding humanity's mutually-destructive impulses cannot be permitted to continue for the sake of other possible species out there as well as itself.
Live Action TV
- A major theme of Battlestar Galactica. And although the Cylons initially hold it over the humans, they eventually show themselves to suffer from the same problem.
- In the Doctor Who story Remembrance of the Daleks, The Doctor observes that, "Your race has an amazing gift for self-deception, matched only by its ingenuity when trying to destroy itself."
- In Stargate SG-1, it is repeatedly and repeatedly shown what high technology can do to civilizations that aren't "ready" yet.
- One ascended Ancient used his knowledge to create a weapon that would defend them against the Goa'uld. That civilization ended up destroying itself, due to that weapon.
- The Tollans and Asgard refuse to share technology with Earth, for the same reason, although the Asgard do share shield and beam technology later, but no weapons (until very, very much later).
- Humanity then turned it around and did this to another civilization who were asking for Earth's modern weaponry--specifically, help with research into nuclear bombs--to prepare for a world war. O'Neill points out that that line of thinking isn't going to end well.
- Even-handed version in SeaQuest DSV where some of the crew meet a group of space aliens, yielding this quote: "We are all that remains of our world, a planet taken by our own hand, leaving nothing but the knowledge that self-destruction is a fate sealed in the genes of all life-bearing worlds."
- They later meet another group of aliens who pretty much prove this.
- In the Star Trek Voyager episode "Scorpion Part II", when Chakotay tells Seven of Nine (in her first episode on the show) that he's breaking off Voyager's alliance with the Borg, she says:
When your captain first approached us, we suspected that an agreement with humans would prove impossible to maintain. You are erratic, conflicted, disorganized. Every decision is debated, every action questioned, every individual entitled to their own small opinion. You lack harmony. Cohesion. Greatness. It will be your undoing.
- Two episodes of The Outer Limits reference this trope.
- In the TOS episode "Counterweight", this is one of the Antheon alien's criticisms of humanity during its "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
- The revival episode "Heart's Desire" has an alien arrive on Earth during the Wild West era and take over the body of an old preacher. He then proceeds to give shady characters the power to turn matter into energy at will. They quickly turn on one another, before only one is left. The alien reveals himself and his goal: he has come to Earth to destroy potential enemies but has seen enough to realize that we won't last long enough to invent interstellar travel, and thus are no threat.
- The chorus of Blood Brothers by Papa Roach:
Corruption and abuse
- In fact, this is pretty much the whole point of the song.
- Bad Religion's "Individual" takes place no more than 20 minutes in the future:
Individuals run for cover
Religion and Mythology
- Christians believe that Adam and Eve were created perfect, free from sin, but with the free will to choose, and did choose to sin when tempted, and so man has ever since been driven by selfish, sinful thoughts and motives.
- Starcraft: Supposedly, this tendency is why Terran military technology is able to keep up with the Zerg and Protoss - and also why the Terrans insist on fighting their own wars in the midst of a Zerg invasion.
Liberty: "I can only imagine what the Zerg and Protoss thought when they landed on planet after planet that consisted of nothing but Confederates and rebels whaling the tar out of each other. They probably thought it was the normal behavior pattern for our race. And I suppose they would be right."
"Every breath, every motion brings you one instant closer to your death. With that kind of heritage and destiny, how can you deny yourself? How can you expect yourself to give up violence? It is your nature. Do you feel free?"
- Mass Effect 3: During the end of the game, Shepard meets the Catalyst, the Overlord of the Reapers, who justifies the mass genocide of the Galaxy as a means to prevent civilizations (human or alien) from creating powerful A Is who will end up destroying their creators and endangering the Universe.
- In Gears of War, this trope is Queen Myrrah's main justification for leading the Locust into a campaign of extermination against humanity.
Dr. Amp: Spontaneously, the citizens began killing each other.
- In Real Life this trope tends to apply on a species level rather than an individual level as each individual tries to ensure its own survival at the expense of others and by extension the species as a whole. This is the essence of competition and while the survivors usually end up stronger there may come a time where there aren't enough survivors to perpetuate the whole.
- Otherwise known as the Tragedy of the Commons.
- This is a popular explanation of the Fermi Paradox: Given the large number of stars and planets in the visible universe, it is likely that a number of extra-terrestrial civilizations exist. But -- why haven't we found any?
- If you're curious about possible answers, there's a whole list of theories on the Fermi Paradox's wikipedia page. Among the most general and simple: we've only been looking for a few decades, only listening for signals that sufficiently advanced civilizations might not try to communicate with in the first place.
- Or it's just that most -if not all- technological civilizations follow this very trope, so they're very scarce.
- Freud called it 'thanatos-eros' (literally "death-love") -- the contradictory impulses in each individual towards destruction and violence on the one hand and towards creation and nurturing on the other. Psychological and cultural research so far supports his theory.
- The Medea Hypothesis proposes that life is naturally self-destructive, as it has come close to destroying itself several times (eg the Oxygen Catastrophe, and the Permian Mass Extinction).