This is a repost from May 0f 2001, or 30 months ago. Because I think it’s relevant now considering how war has busted out all over. Many people are shocked and can’t believe humans could be so violent and cruel. Or I should say, other humans, because they themselves insist they never could behave in such a manner. In other words, ‘those people are evil and I am not. I am a good person!’
Okay, if you say so. However, if you think there is such a thing as human nature? it’s worth considering what it is.
Robert Wright, a writer and independent thinker, in his Nonzero newsletter, spoke about the tendency for people: “… convincing themselves that they’re right and good and their enemies are wrong and bad.” Additionally, Wright invokes “human nature” as a “challenge” to the “resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.” Indeed.
have a lot to say about human nature. Many renowned ones have something to say about it – what it is and where it comes from. Of course, they all don’t agree. One divide centers around free will versus determinism. Is our nature animal, mechanistic (machine-like), or divine?
Carl Jung, considered optimistic (opposed to Freud’s pessimism) had this to say. He thought a third world war was likely if humans could not recognize and acknowledge their dark side (The Shadow). Which is hidden in their unconscious. Furthermore, there existed a collective unconscious. Here lay the animal instincts–immoral, aggressive, and passionate. These urges and thoughts were then projected outward onto others.
His remedy was psychoanalysis.
However, one had to be of a particular type for the treatment to work. Additionally, analysis is costly in time and money. I don’t disagree.
E.O. Wilson said this: “Altruism based on kin selection is the enemy of civilization. If human beings are to a large extent guided to favor their own relatives and tribe, only a limited amount of global harmony is possible.” I agree.
also have something to say. Of course. A current fashion is Enlightenment Humanism, and Moral Realism, coupled with Scientific Naturalism. Human nature is acknowledged to be a “struggle to survive and flourish in the teeth of nature’s entropy.” Alright.
I disagree with much of this thinking. I’d call it moral fantasy. It’s fundamental principle is “the Golden Rule”. Or, as Wright calls it, “cognitive empathy”. I disagree with this line of thinking because the Golden Rule has been around since forever. Yet, here we are, again, on “the eve of destruction”.
That said, here’s my post from two and half years ago. Because I’m an optimist, too.
Set Yourself Free: Twelve Books to Read on Human Nature
If you’ve a mind to understand human nature? non-fiction may not be the best way to understand it. Or, for that matter, human behavior in general. Fiction might be more accurate. However, there is some value in science and history – and reading.
However, be prepared to endure cancellation from your tribe.
just might be (in some cases) more fiction, fantasy, or delusion than fiction. Especially now in the current “Postmodern” age wherein everything is relative, subjective, and presented as “my truth”.
What’s a person to do? Read! Outside of your comfort zone. In other words, beyond your required reading. Outside of your tribe’s recommended list.
is a much maligned Field of academic study. From its onset (from Darwin to Freud to Wilson to Buss) it has been labeled: Racist, Sexist, Xenophobic, and generally anti-progressive. Therefore it is not taught in any undergraduate curriculum. Because it threatens politically correct (progressive) thought – which dominates Western Civilization’s, and higher education’s self-concept.
Evo-psych (EP) also challenges the Protestant work ethic, and Christianity in general. Thus, it has no friends. Not Liberals or Conservatives. Certainly not almost all mental health providers.
[Yet, here I am – in a professional therapeutic relationship. Notwithstanding, a sometimes contentious one.]
Because, for some of us (humans), that’s our nature – to be curious.
- The Territorial Imperative: A personal inquiry into the animal origins of property and nations (1966) Robert Ardrey
- On Human Nature (1978) E.O. Wilson
- The Whisperings Within: Evolution and the origin of human nature (1979) David Barash
- The Blind Watchmaker: Why the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design (1987) Richard Dawkins
- Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992) Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan
- The Third Chimpanzee: The evolution and future of the human animal (1992) Jared Diamond
- The Moral Animal: Evolutionary psychology and everyday life (1994) Robert Wright
- Survival of the Prettiest: The science of beauty (1999) Nancy Etcoff
- Evolutionary Psychology: The new psychology of the mind (1999) David M. Buss
- Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian look at human behavior (2000) Bobbi S. Low
- The Dangerous Passion: Why jealousy is as necessary as love and sex (2000) David M. Buss
- Election 2016: The great divide, the great debate (2018) Mark Jabbour
of course, has costs. It’s not free. Today, as always, if you strike out on your own your survival chances diminish. One of my favorite lines from Game of Thrones is, “When Winter comes, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.”
So if you choose to read “on your own” these branded books:
[as racist, sexist, xenophobic]
be prepared to endure “cancellation” from your tribe, be it Left or Right. Recall, at the end of GoT, Jon Snow was banished to The Wall, even though he was the legitimate heir to the throne.
I wish wishing made it true; but that just isn’t so. Is it? Like the Golden Rule there are a lot of moral truisms that have been around since before we had the means to record them. If only … . But here we are on the brink of a catastrophic world war. This time, it’ll be the war to end all wars.
Does therapy work? Sometimes for some. I think Jung was right. Freud, too. Robert Wright is right, also. I’ve been in psychotherapy for over six years now. At one point Psych-girl suggested I read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning. I did.
I wanted to suggest to her she read Chris Hedges’s War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. But I didn’t. Somewhere between those two books is a shaky balance. She’s got a bookshelf full of books she’s read, and I’ve got mine. Are you what you read?
I could go on and on. But what’s the point? We are who we are and changing is, well? Can a leopard change it’s spots? “A wolf is a wolf.”