Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Misanthropy is a general dislike of the human race. It is not dislike of individual human beings, but rather dislike of the features shared by all humanity throughout place and time, including oneself. A misanthrope is thus a person who exhibits a general dislike of the humankind.
Misanthropy has been ascribed to a number of writers of satire, such as William S. Gilbert ("I hate my fellow-man"), but such identifications must be closely scrutinized because a critical or darkly humorous outlook toward mankind may be mistaken for genuine misanthropy. Jonathan Swift is widely accused of misanthropy (see A Tale of a Tub and, most especially, Book IV of Gulliver's Travels).
Another example of mistaken misanthropy is Jean-Paul Sartre's quote "Hell is other people." On the face of it, this looks deeply misanthropic, but actually Sartre was making an observation about the tendency of human beings to lack self-knowledge. We tend to project our worst fears, and our most deeply disliked personal characteristics, onto other people, rather than look inside and face them within ourselves. Thus, when we look at other people we often see the worst of what is in our own personality.
It is important to distinguish between philosophical pessimism and misanthropy. Immanuel Kant said that "Of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing can ever be made," and yet this was not an expression of the uselessness of mankind itself. Similarly, Samuel Beckett once remarked that "Hell must be like... reminiscing about the good old days when we wished we were dead." — a statement that may, perhaps, be seen as utterly bleak and hopeless, but not as anti-human or expressive of any hatred of mankind.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, on the other hand, was almost certainly as famously misanthropic as his reputation. He wrote that "human existence must be a kind of error." It should be added, however, that misanthropy does not necessarily equate with an inhumane attitude towards humanity. Schopenhauer concluded, in fact, that ethical treatment of others was the best attitude, for we are all fellow sufferers and all part of the same will-to-live; he also discussed suicide with a sympathetic understanding which was rare in his own time, when it was largely a taboo subject.
More specifically, Schopenhauer has also been accused of misogyny. Martin Heidegger also showed misanthropy in his concern of the "they" — the tendency of people to conform to one view, which no-one has really thought through, but is just followed because, "they say so". Unlike Schopenhauer, Heidegger was opposed to any ethics or reason to treat others with respect. In recent times, Anton LaVey and his brand of Satanism have voiced militant misanthropy — going so far as to advocate sterilisation of parts of the population and ghettoising "lower forms of human life".
Though rare, misanthropy has appeared in forms of popular entertainment. The American standup comedian Bill Hicks expressed misanthropy in his work, calling the human race "a virus with fuckin' shoes" and often referred to himself as a "misanthropic humanist." Similarly, themes of misanthropy appeared on The Holy Bible, the third album by Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers. It included lines such as "All I preach is extinction" and a speech sample of author J.G. Ballard expressing what appear to be deeply misanthropic sentiments.
In extreme cases, misanthropy has led to serial killings. Murderer of at least 21 people, Carl Panzram said "I hate all the fucking human race. I get a kick out of murdering people" while in a Washington DC jail in 1922.
Some have proposed elevating misanthropy to a protoscience of misanthropology.
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