Adolf Hitler: the man who started a persecution and a war that would end up killing millions of people, whether they were Jews, Communists, gay or just not perfectly the way he wanted them to be. He was an absolute genius, but he used his intelligence in all the wrong ways and ended up being one of the most hated and evil men in the history of humanity. Although… can we really blame him for any of that?
At first sight, that seems like a terribly odd question. Of course he can be blamed for his actions! He committed all those atrocities and a good human being would never have done that, regardless of the circumstances he lived in! But then again, how does a person become good and how does a person become bad…?
In philosophy, there are two ways of looking at how people are born. One option is the Tabula Rasa, which means that as a baby, we get born with nothing but our body and therefore our personality is shaped entirely by our environment. The second option suggests that we’re more than just empty shells when we’re born, possibilities ranging all the way from possessing just a few traits we inherited from our parents to the idea that we are born with a full personality that is immune to our environment, either of which might have involved a deity.
All of that is relevant because, as you no doubt know, everyone is born as a baby and therefore we have all been there at one point. Whether we’re talking about Adolf Hitler, Rick Santorum or that bloody annoying next-door neighbour, all of them were once an innocent baby that somehow developed into the terrible human being they later became.
But as I’ve explained, every baby either gets its personality genetically from its parents, meaning that even baby Adolf wasn’t all that innocent, or they get their personality from their environment, which influences them every step of the way, whether it’s by their parents, their friends or just an article they read on the internet. Regardless of which theory you believe in, neither suggests anything about the person creating their own personality.
And that’s just it. We don’t have any influence on how we turn out to be. The way we are is nothing but a result of either our environment, our parents’ genetics or God, but none of us have had any influence on that process, and therefore, how can we possibly be guilty of anything? Hitler did not make himself evil, but he was made evil by others, and that annoying next-door neighbour might have been a wonderful guy if only he had slightly different parents.
Of course, this isn’t something people like to think about, because it makes our lives feel so futile. We want to feel like we actually achieved something ourselves and like we aren’t just a vessel that has no personal influence, but the harsh truth is that, most likely, that is all we are. As a person, we simply don’t have an influence on anything, because, as deceiving as the word might be, there is no such thing as our own “personal” personality. Our personality is created, guided and owned by others.
So can Hitler be blamed for his actions? Probably. Hitler, like everyone else in this world, was a victim of his own circumstances, but that doesn’t take away the fact that he did terrible things and that he deserved his punishment. Still, when you think about it, many murderers are punished lightly just because they had a mental disorder, something they did not do to themselves, so clearly society does keep in mind that not everyone can be blamed for their actions. So as long as that is the case, can we really be judgemental about other people’s actions?
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