Category Archives: Assignment 8

Are Humans Inherently Good or Evil?


Are people born good or evil? I don’t think so. I believe that we all have good and bad tendencies, based on both nature and nurture. Thinking that people are born evil without even fully developing their brain is ridiculous, even though some research has been done to prove that there are some things passed down genetically: “Genetic research has consistently shown heritable influence in many traditional areas of psychological research such as mental illness, personality, cognitive disabilities and abilities, and drug use and abuse. Some areas showing strong genetic influence may be more surprising, such as self-esteem, interests, attitudes, and school achievement” (Plomin and Asbury 88). You may ask what is left if all of these factors are already predetermined for us? Well, according to the same study: “…genetics and environment each account for about half of the variance” (Plomin and Asbury 88). That means we are equally products of our parents and our environment, which can be affected by certain illnesses or personality traits we have, or even what our social status is and what country we live in.

As I read through Emergency Sex with this question in mind, overall I surmised (as most readers would) that Ken, Heidi and Andrew are good people and humanitarians. Indeed they have had a positive significant effect on many people’s lives, including each other’s, but they are also human and humans make mistakes.

Something that Ken, Andrew and Heidi all deal with in Emergency Sex is the brutal and inconsiderate actions of other people. But to the people killing and torturing others mercilessly, do they consider themselves evil or people doing evil deeds? In his own paper, Formosa tries to understand evil according to people’s different concepts of evil: “The point I wish to make here is simply that we understand human behaviour by seeing what moved the agent to act as they did, and what moved them is often a reason (but sometimes an emotion, a whim, etc) that spoke in favour of doing that act” (Formosa 60). This falls back into our nurture or environment category, where someone committing “acts of evil” was probably raised with a different definition of what evil is and always has a reason for it, whether someone told them to do it, a rational reason or simply an emotion.

When Ken talks to David Bruce at the beginning of the book, a South African who was sent to jail for not serving in the army, Bruce said this: “Jews condemn the Nazis, he says, but for me to say that what happened in Germany was wrong, I have to show by my actions that if I had been a German citizen, I would have risked my life and fought the regime…” (Cain, Postlewait and Thomson 9). Like Bruce said, if you were put in the position of a German citizen during the Holocaust you probably would have done the same as the majority–gone alone with it. Part of the environment you are in may have different definitions of what evil is and is not.


And who is to say evil cannot change back to good? Anakin Skywalker went from Jedi apprentice to Darth Vader back to an apologetic dad. I think with a the right kind of confrontation some people can be convince to do good actions rather than evil. But likewise in the way that people cannot be considered wholly evil or wholly good (even a priest has committed sin), whole countries cannot be seen as evil or good. There is corruption to consider and within each country there are thousands of people who cannot all be grouped together and called evil. We have a hard enough time defining one person as evil, let alone a whole country.

To expand more on what I saw within Emergency Sex, I saw many “evil” fantasies from the three humanitarian workers. As I have said before, many if not all readers would determine Ken, Heidi and Andrew to be good people based on their representation in the book, but also, they are human.

Matt’s death was controversial because Heidi had previously spoken out about the lack of security and recklessness in going on no-go roads when traveling. When the UN Board of Inquiry convened after Matt’s death, Ken complained: “A kid is dead and no one is accountable. Blame the corpse” (Cain, Postlewait and Thomson 190). Although the people in the UN may be good people trying to help those in need, they do not want to take blame either. Hiding the truth about Matt’s death to save their own skins is something many may call a sin, if not evil.

I found this quote from Andrew especially interesting: “I never really failed at anything important in life before Haiti and that retreat still rocks me to the core. I need to find a mission where I can do more good than harm and get back to work. Heidi doesn’t get that…Haiti’s at peace. What I need is a country at war” (Cain, Postlewait and Thomson 212). What is interesting is that this humanitarian worker is supposed to be working towards peace, but instead wishes for war. Sure, you may say, that’s his job. But this struck me as something selfish and needy. Many of the acts we consider evil are selfish, and as human beings that is exactly what we are–selfish. Heidi herself exhibits selfishness when she leaves her husband because she seeks excitement.

As Emergency Sex goes on, there are a few dark fantasies that the trio have. This is one from Ken: “So that’s what I’m thinking, just kill each other, you animals…And that causes me some significant confusion. Because I’m supposed to be a human rights lawyer…” (Cain, Postlewait and Thomson 194). And this is one from Andrew: “I wish that Ken could have been up here with me in this bell tower, with a heavy machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade launder, and boxes of ammunition. We could have cut those machete-wielding, blood-crazed drunken killers to pieces from here one by one. With insane joy” (Cain, Postlewait and Thomson 243). When you pick out these single moments in someone’s life that you consider to be “good”, you wonder… can good be capable of snapping and committing evil acts, and vise versa?

What drives someone to be good, if a lot of stress can drive someone towards evil? Some reasons for aulturistic behavior is outlined by Strahilevitz: “…aspiration to “do the right thing”…a quest for moral satisfaction…a need to view oneself as good and kind…and the desire to experience a “warm glow”…What these explanations have in common is the underlying assumption that helping others leads one to experience positive emotions. This suggests that one way of thinking about charitable giving…is to view those engaged in altruistic acts as consumers seeking the emotional benefits derived from giving” (Strahilevitz 216).

Any action we have has a reason, as Formosa has discussed above. As humans we are capable to any action on a moment to moment basis–whether our emotions change, our environment, etc. I believe that people can change if they are willing, and I believe that people are products of their environment as well as their parents. What is important is that we cannot look at a group of people and condemn them as evil. We need to understand the context and the complexity of the group, because no two people are the same, yet we are all similar in that we all create the future of our world and whether others will look back and call us good or evil.


Works Cited:

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story From Hell on Earth. New York: Hyperion, 2004. Print.

Formosa, Paul. “Understanding Evil Acts.” JSTOR. Springer, June 2007. Web. 18 June 2013.

Plomin, Robert, and Kathryn Asbury. “Nature and Nurture: Genetic and Environmental Influences on Behavior.” JSTOR. Sage Publications, Inc., July 2005. Web. 18 June 2013.

Strahilevitz, Michal. “The Effects of Product Type and Donation Magnitude on Willingness to Pay More for a Charity-Linked Brand.” JSTOR. Society for Consumer Psychology, 1999. Web. 17 June 2013.

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A8: More Emergency Sex

Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures, take two

For this post select from questions 1, 2, 4 or 6 (that you did not select for A7) and provide a detailed response, keeping in mind the rubric that you are to do additional research and to work in some of the sociological insights you are gaining.

Some thought questions for Emergency Sex

  1. Given what you learn in this book about the UN’s actions –and inactions- before, during and after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, how can you explain UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s stand down directive to General Dallaire, the ranking UN official on the ground at the time?  Could the genocide have been averted?  If so, why wasn’t it?  After reading Ken Cain’s Guardian essay about Annan, what do you think of his assessment?
  2. How does knowing about the events in Somalia and particularly in Mogadishu help you understand the US and UN reaction the actions of the Hutu in Rwanda?  How does this lesson help you understand how other historical events are related (give an example)?  How are the actions of the US and UN in relation to the crisis in Syria right now better understood by learningEmergency Sex 2 from the lessons of the past?  At what point -if any- should the US and UN respond to ongoing concerns in Egypt and Turkey?
  3. Given what the three authors have seen and experienced around the world, what has this done to their personal sense of religion and God?  Cite at least one example where one of the three questioned God.
  4. Given everything you have read in this book both about the protagonists and the people in the countries where they worked, what is your answer to the question “are people basically good or evil”?  Given all we know about how we are all products of our cultural upbringing, can we meaningfully ask if some cultures are basically “good or bad” as well?
  5. Based on this book, what is your assessment of the UN?  Is it a good organization that has a few “bad apples” or is it a bad organization with a few “good apples”?  Does asking the question in that way seem overly simplistic?  If yes, rewrite the question to have it reflect the appropriate level of complexity.
  6. Which of the three -Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson- seems to have been more changed by their experiences by the end of the book?  Which would you like to meet in person, and what questions would you ask them?  Who was the most likeable?  The least likeable?  Why?  How can you use the concept of moral career as you describe their journeys?  How does your reading of Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit help you better understand this concept?
  7. The title of this book certainly makes an impact at first glance and indeed likely led to more sales.  What do you think of the title?  Is it misleading or usefully descriptive?  Can you think of a better alternate title?
  8. What functions does a “tell all” book like this serve?  Why do you think the three friends went forward with publication?  What other “tell all” books can you think of and how does this one compare in terms of impact?
  9. As of spring of 2011, HBO was in production with a TV series based on this book. Reports are that Russell Crowe bought the screen rights from the authors and casting has taken place.  If you were screenwriting the pilot for this series, which scenes would you put in to make the most impact and tell the story in a way that the authors would be proud?
  10. Are there classes or groups of people that you would recommend read this book?  What would you hope that they would learn from the experience?  Are the groups of people for whom you think reading this book would be too disturbing?  Why or why not?  How important do you think it is to have someone more experienced and/or mature help people through making sense of this book?  Would a set of thought questions be better handed out before or after the reading was completed?



  • Due by 10:00pm EST June 23rd.
  • Late posts will be downgraded at least one letter grade.
  • Comments to at least two colleague’s posts by  June 24th by 10:00PM EST.
  • At least three citations: at least one from text and/or other assigned reading, and at least two from outside academic sources.  Note:  you are to read/watch/listen to all of the material in the hyperlinks in the parent post above; your contact with the material should be apparent in your post.
  • List references at the bottom of the page (MLA format).
  • At least one photo and/or video link.
  • Minimum 0f 500 words (excluding references).
  • Grade will be based on quality and quantity of response to the post prompt including adherence to the above benchmarks.
  • Keep in mind that you are writing for a broad audience that is educated and interested in this topic; infuse your post with the sociology you are learning/have learned in a non-jargonistic manner

Please check Assignments/Assignment 8 before you Publish.

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