I’m a fan of podcasts. I even have one with three other guys where we discuss things. I usually listen to them during the workday or occasionally when I go running. One podcast that I’m a big fan of is Radiolab. Radiolab, hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, is a radio show and podcast that weaves stories and science into sound and music-rich documentaries. One episode, The Bad Show, wrestled with the dark side of human nature, and asks where it’s something we an ever really understand, or fully escape. The second segment is about a man named Fritz Haber.
Fritz Haber is a classic example of both extremes of human nature rolled into one person.
During the early 19th century there was a food shortage around the world. This seems next to impossible in this day and age but back then there were no processed foods. The diet of everyone on Earth was grown organically. Before Haber naturally extracted nitrogen fertilizer was used to replenish soiled that was tilled. Due to shortages in fertilizer a large portion of the world was in danger of starving to death.
Haber and Carl Bosch developed the Haber process, which is the catalytic formation of ammonia from hydrogen and atmospheric nitrogen under conditions of high temperature and pressure. He was awarded the 1918 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He essentially saved the lives of millions and millions of people.
This was the good side of Fritz Haber.
Haber was a Polish-born Jew.
He also developed chemical warfare on behalf of Germany during World War I. His most notable poison was chlorine gas. Haber once said, “During peace time a scientist belongs to the World, but during war time he belongs to his country.”
Haber’s wife, Clara, was also a chemist. She opposed Haber’s work in chemical warfare and following an argument with Haber over it; she committed suicide in their garden shooting herself in the heart with his service revolver. He still left that morning to oversee gas release against the Russians. Haber left behind his grieving 13-year-old son Hermann, who had been the one to discover his dying mother. Hermann later also committed suicide.
Haber’s mind was responsible for saving millions of lives but the same man using the same thinking caused the deaths of millions more. He propelled Germany during World War I and prolonged the war.
Haber’s story got me thinking about the different sides of people and if its possible to have good and evil wrapped up succinctly in one person. I don’t think any one person is 100% good or 100% evil but what happens when only one dominates a person at any given time?
I’d like to think of myself as a genuinely good person. I can’t help but wonder if I have some Fritz in me though. I doubt I’ll be important enough to have millions of lives hanging in the balance of what I may do but I wonder if I have some dormant evil side waiting to bubble to the surface and explode in a forceful rage? Have I subconsciously suppressed evil Tunde? Is he scratching and clawing for control like a schizophrenic personality? Hopefully this isn’t happening.