The debate on human nature II; Human Nature in Politics

paleolithic-hunter-gatherers

By Ben Wilson

Causality and human understanding

Imagine twenty thousand years ago, leading a hunting party.

Where regular hunting spots are deserted, because the animals have moved on. A spirit has put a curse on the tribe. Desperately the shaman decides to consult the ancestors by throwing an animal bone into the camp fire. Interpreting the cracks, it leads the hunting party to a previously unexplored location. The hunting is good there and the bone reading technique is used to point to new hunting locations and it consistently works, building a relationship between man and spirits.

Fast forward twenty thousand years, we could cynically point at the narrative that our ancestors created and laugh. However a technique was devised to point them into a new direction, breaking routine behaviours. Having this technique green lit and supported by part of their cultural narrative gave the hunting party a reason and the confidence to use the technique.

If you debated against your incredibly great ancestor, you would be hard pressed if you used methodological or scientific debates. The bone technique does actually work, however the reason why is why you would disagree. You would argue about the random pattern of the bone pointing humans into areas they had not hunted. Whilst your ancestor and scoff saying it was the doing of the ancestors.

Neither fish or bird…

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Now let’s brings this to the modern era. Human nature is a common catch all term and the definition I would understand it as is common traits, thoughts and behaviours that all humans have regardless of culture.

It’s an interesting term and should indicate a level of fraternity between all people. There is some evidence for universal traits, such as universal body language and facial expressions demonstrated by the work of Paul Ekman. Linguistic structures are found to all follow similar structures, and a child learns language just as well being placed in any culture, demonstrated by Noam Chomsky and his less famous colleagues. However these things aren’t what the term human nature is used for.

Anecdotally “human nature” is more used as a nihilistic term to refer to an undesirable behaviour conducted by (surprise) another human being. It can also be attached to greed, betrayal, lust and general pursuit of hedonistic things. People supporting the current system of global capitalism and corporatism, use “human nature” as a rhetoric to explain the flaws of the system.

People against the current status quo will explain these flaws are behaviours created by the system. So now the nature vs nurture debate has now become a structure for a political debate.

However like a lot of contradicting narratives, the answers lies in between. For the Nature argument, environmental factors can change or suppress genes. Genetics is an ever changing field with the wealth of information coded in our DNA being shown to be more and more complex than one simple gene. So we are born with some individual differences but they are not as distinguished and noticeable as many people think about genetics. In terms of the nurture debate, animals, humans of varying intelligences and culture all respond to behavioural conditioning. All animals needing to maximise behaviours that give them the most rewards. However Jaques Fresco and some others have reduced the nature debate by removing any kind of emotional or mental rewards for behaviour. Behaviourism as a discipline has been mature enough that Humans (and some great apes) have needs than the purely material.

So both nature and nurture as a political narrative could reduce us into two different variations of meat robot. A collection of chemicals that acts only to reproduce, or an animal with no cognition pushing a lever for a reward. We must transcend these arguments, acknowledge that the human condition is mostly positive, rewarding and an experience we appreciate to live with. But it is not a black and white experience, which can be scary and existential. Once we stare this in the face, we can consider a new type of society and governance. Since “human nature” should scare us into accepting a status quo. Flaws will always appear in system, however identifying a situation and adapting it, is just as human as adapting to a situation.

Buntstifte

Ben Wilson is a young support worker from Britain who has studied Psychology, is interested in Zen Buddhism, fairness, anthropology and finding ways to make people happy.

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