Ideas that have Harmed Mankind Analysis and Summary: Bertrand Russell

Read below our complete notes on the essay “Ideas that have Harmed Mankind” by Bertrand Russell. Our notes cover Ideas that have Harmed Mankind Analysis and Summary.

Ideas that have Harmed Mankind Analysis and Summary:

Bertrand Russell is a well-known British philosopher and a symbolic character in the analytic movement in Anglo-American philosophy. He is also known as a logician and social reformer, and a Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1950. He wrote numerous books and huge numbers of articles. His subject matters include social, political and moral issues. He is preeminently known as a promoter of peace.

Ideas that have harmed mankind, by Bertrand Russell, is an expository essay in which the writer gives a detailed account of the ideas or things that have harmed mankind by humans and non-humans. This essay, like ideas that have helped mankind, is also among the unpopular essays of Russell.

Russell starts the essay by pointing out the two sources that have caused the misfortunes of mankind. According to him, first of all, humans are harmed because of non-human environment that inflicts suffering upon them; secondly, the human themselves are responsible for their sufferings. Russell desolately declares “man is that man’s worst enemy”. In past time, calamities like famine etc. were mostly natural, but nowadays man, in order to attain power over other men, destroys the crops and starves them to death. They easily decrease the shortage of food in one place by increasing the food supply at other.

To Russell, those who inflict evils on others are not because of their ideas or beliefs let them do so, but because of their own evil spirits. They are more like sadists who enjoy the sufferings of other beings. Russell’s ideas that have harmed mankind is explained in the following headings:

  • Wrong Religious dogmas:

The superstitions that are connected to religion has harmed the mankind. For instance, it was thought the sacrifice of human would mend the crops; afterward, a religious belief that the oppressed people should be eradicated completely. The cows and sheep, even, were not secure. The Christian saint believed a superstition that all the pagans would be imperiled to everlasting torments after their death.

Consequently, all the saints of this belief refrained themselves from the pleasures of the world. They establish their gratification in the belief that the ones who didn’t have alike spiritual beliefs to them would experience inexpressible torments in the hell. This Christian belief, in modern times, acquired a political form. The Nazis of Germany and the Communist of Russia commanded a great amount of work and altruism from their admirers on the fact that the one who didn’t obey them would be discharged. These sort of political dogmas that are based on absurd religious beliefs directed to substantial harassment and misery.

  • The faith in Enchantments:

Russell mentions another wrong concept that has harmed the mankind significantly is the importance every individual assigns to himself. The belief that every misfortune happened to us is because of the intention of others and to this we create any kind of superstitions to describe our evil fortune. The black magic and witchcraft is the invention of this state of mind.

Russell effectively illustrated the various ideas, coining from religion that has harmed mankind. In religion, no doubt, there are dogmas that in reality are just superstitions and inflicted excessive miseries in the world. The historic example, illustrated by Russell, is quite authentic. The Christians attitude toward the pagans is justified by Russell when he quoted Bible which claims: “thou shall not suffer a witch to live”. This shows that the punishments inflicted upon the people who don’t believe in punishing the witches are impartial. Russell, time and again, provides evidence from real life and from literature to prove his point. The rational ones between us are by this time conscious that technical discoveries have chased away many illogical beliefs associated with religion. But if a great majority even of educated people carry on to grasp gullible dogmas, then, it shows their reluctance to be educated.

  • Jealousy:

Another source, besides religion, that causes false beliefs is jealousy. We often heard a proverb regarding women jealousy, but jealousy not only prevails among women but among men as well. The men jealousy is particular to their official circle. This envy becomes tremendous when prevails among nations and dominates the attitudes of people for each other. Jealousy among the nations may cause the misunderstanding of financial interest of one country. In modern time, a false concept or philosophy prevails among the nations that the economic interest of one nation will result in devastations of others. This untruthful faith crops worldwide revulsions and conflicts and therefore lead to confrontation.

Russell, by adopting a philosophical approach, suggests that the world wars in the past are deep-rooted as the envy in human hearts. He illustrates that the competition among the “butchers” and the “bakers” and their feelings of envy made them only concentrate upon their opponent, forgetting the altogether prosperity through their customers.

  • Pride:

Another urge that gives rise to politically harmful dogmas is pride. The pride in nationality, the pride in sex, the pride in class, the pride in race, and the pride in creed are all sorts of pride that we have and are very dangerous. It was time that English people were thought to be inherently superior to French nations. Alike feeling of superiority valued other nations as well. For Russell, the superiority of race is more deterrent than that on national pride. The aim of education should be to eliminate the pride in races and creeds. Another concept that has harmed mankind is the notion that men are superior to women in all respects. Men claim themselves to be more rational, more imaginative, and less influenced by emotions than that of women. This dominance in sex has great influence upon married life. Husband, being superior to wife, treat her wife like slaves, considering themselves to be masters.

The pride in class perseveres even in America where all men are considered to be equal; in theory. As far as the disparities of mammon will last, the vanity in classes will stay. Russell points out towards England, a country where discrimination of wealth is less evident and claims another sort of arrogance among people, i.e. the pride of class. According to Russell, by all of these various forms of pride, a “grand” feeling arose in people. And this feeling, on one hand, makes people happy; but, on the other hand, all these irrational, false, misleading feelings of superiority roots the destruction of mankind.

  • Imagining Oneself Exceptional to God:

The other harmful belief of mankind that Russell mentions in his essay is people consider themselves more special to the God. The superiority complex of a nation leads them to think themselves as the exceptional creator of God and they are chosen by Him to carry out His tenacity. For example, the authors speak of Muslim’s obsessive faith that each warriors dying in the fight for his faith would go straight to heaven. Likewise, Cromwell believed himself to be chosen by divine will for overpowering Catholics. The Marxist, in the 20th century, believed themselves to be appointed by God for guaranteeing economic fairness; on the other hand, Hegel communicated that “dialectic” is the root cause of giving supremacy to Germany. Marx contradicted the Hegel’s point of view and provides that superiority is not of Germany but of the working class. Russell concluded this false belief of superiority to God by illustrating: “Most of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false”.

  • Russell Showing Himself as Rival of Dogmatism:

Russell, in the concluding paragraphs, shows himself as a sturdy of dogmatism. He ironically and satirically illustrates the tenacious and narrow beliefs of different kinds of people. He harshly scorns those who ponder themselves to be exceptional creatures of God and are appointed by Him to do special jobs. Russell shows himself to be a man of substantial ideas, not committed to any creed, nor obsessive beliefs. He is even not obsessive about democracy that is considered as the best form of government. He illustrates that a Democrat doesn’t believe in the democracy as the best form of government. Russell points towards those who lack moral potentials and the political leadership essential for the governmental organizations. Russell suggested the international government as the best form of government for preventing wars.