While there have been countless books, movies and television shows about life after some type of apocalyptic event, chances are none of us will ever actually be forced to experience what its like trying to rebuild society from the ground up. More than likely, the majority of us will never be so hungry that we’re forced to get food from somewhere other than the local supermarket, craft our own tools and weapons just to make it through the day, or make decisions that are a matter of life or death. All that being said, there is still a burning question that millions of Americans across the country find themselves asking every now and then: what if?
What if society really did crumble like a house of cards? What if we really were forced to rebuild from the ground up? What would that look like? Would mankind be able to set aside our differences for the greater good, or would the ensuing chaos and fear bring out the worse in us?
All of these can be answered by addressing one more overarching question: are human beings good or evil by nature? It would appear that when reduced to their natural state as a species, humans possess the will and desire to work together with one another; if the opposite were true, then society would never have had the opportunity to be built in the first place. (Related: These are the top ten cities that would be rebuilt first after a societal collapse.) However, it would be inaccurate to say that human beings are entirely good in nature because, as demonstrated through people like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, our species clearly has a dark side.
It is important to note that although its true that humans aren’t entirely good in nature, not everyone intends to perform unspeakable acts of evil like Hitler or the terrorists behind 9/11 either; in fact, the vast majority of people do not. There are varying degrees of darkness inside each of us, and while most of us live our entire lives apart from it, others are more eager to embrace it.
So how would human beings act in a post-societal world? Would we remain mostly good in nature, or would our dark side start to come out in response to all of the chaos and stress of trying to survive?
In 1961, sociologist Charles Fritz argued that just because human beings would experience a significant amount of stress after society collapses, it doesn’t necessarily mean people would lose themselves. Fritz came to this conclusion while stationed in Britain during the Blitz, where he reported seeing “a nation of gloriously happy people, enjoying life to the fullest, exhibiting a sense of gaiety and love of life that was truly remarkable.” He also noticed that the people continued to share supplies and speak with people they had never spoken to before.
A counterargument to Mr. Fritz would be to say that even though the Blitz lasted for roughly 8 months with the people of Britain being bombarded by German forces day in and day out, it still wasn’t an example of true societal collapse. In a situation where you don’t have any food, clean water is extremely difficult to obtain, and the law no longer exists, there’s no question that some people, even those who have lived their entire lives up until that point as good, decent individuals, will begin to do things they never thought they would do. Again, these types of people would still be in the minority, but even a minority can do a significant amount of damage and destruction when they choose to embrace the darkness that is inside of them.