Now that’s a long title, but it’s a great Tweet, isn’t it?
This is convergence, this little essay, for me this is where all the major threads in my mind come together: the ancient classic dialogue, human behaviour, child discipline, and yes – even trolling.
OK, that wasn’t bad, but this is just the bullet point brainstorming stage right now.
- A note about “things”
- A note about the “Nature” thing
- Trolling and narrowing the argument
- The “Nurture” thing, the Abusive Ape Theory
- Warrior society’s fears, head on, a lethal mutation (too late, we already have several)
- Liberals’ fear of science, dark hints
- The “Deep Roots of War” thing
Whups, turned into a Table of Contents. Maybe that’ll work.
- A note about the “Nature” thing
Forget the list, sorry.
Nature – not the great outdoors, but some concept of a thing’s essence or purpose – as in ‘human nature,’ well, forget it, I’ve already given it away, haven’t I? The way it’s presented, it’s an archaic concept, religious, probably related to the idea of spirits being what animates and supports all things, as though a given thing has some single attribute, some fractal core that’s essential to a being or a thing that remains when all other attributes have somehow been wiped away. So, it’s a made-up thing, kind of meaningless. Mysticism aside, as the term has evolved and it’s a more complex human nature that we seek, the nature of the human being has become a moving target, really not more than a collection of empirical observations.
I mean, I know when people speak seriously about human nature, they mean a complex nature, but we don’t appear to have stopped using it in all the same sentences where a simple, pure nature would work better.
Still, perhaps talking about the “natures” of things is something we’re stuck with, part of the structure of our thought – of course, one in sense, it’s a sort of shorthand, we attempt to impose symbols over complex things when we need to visualize many of them in interaction. You don’t need as long a list of human traits as we have developed when there are fifty of them coming over the hill at you; at that point, you need some quick, accessible understanding of their natures. Probably something like that is at the root of the idea of ‘natures’ generally (and of us treating one another as less than complex sometimes), saves memory and therefore calories, which . . . evolution. Of course, the idea isn’t going away, ancient magical baggage and all.
Let’s change tack.
Simple, complex, questions of human natures simply mean “what are we?” really, and we are political for one thing, we’re trying to pass laws, we make sweeping policy decisions for ourselves and one another, and we do have to postulate some default for people, some starting point where we think they might settle into if it weren’t for our policies. An eternal, static human nature would indicate a stable or static world, and conversely, evolution and science suggest an evolving nature, probably a moving target. Nevertheless, “what are we now?” is still something we must at least feel we have an answer for in order to proceed with anything. We’ve always asked it, “what are we?” but we mostly have always had some sort of an answer too – and proceed we have, of course. I feel I have answered the question, but of course, I must play a game to do it.
I’m afraid I’m asking to modify the question.
Rejecting the simple, magical, “essence” sort of human nature Q&A, I am left with few major directions to go, “human nature” as a somewhat arbitrary collection of observations and the entire argument breaks down to details, which traits are “built in/genetic” and which not . . . it doesn’t address the issues our psyches are asking, which is, a short version we can trust. If we get that list of traits right, then it’s our answer – but it’s not a short, useful answer, is it? We’re really looking for some few things, and “good” and “bad” are not personality traits, nor are “friend” or “foe.” This is mostly the data we want in out human nature meme.
So, it’s a collection of traits, and an evolving target, it’s really about values, our interests: if humans are basically “good,” how would we treat them? If they’re mostly
“bad,” then how do we treat them? So, the original question, “what are we?” really means “are we good or bad?” which is sure to be related to a basic friend or foe question. The true answer to both questions is long and vague, both answers true often enough, good and bad, both answers have their proofs . . .
. . . for me, the question became one of nouns and verbs again. Human nature is perhaps not what we are, but behaviour, what we do. With the idea that what we believe has some impact on what we do (debatable, I know), the question has become for me not “what are we?” – again, sort of answered, pretty exhaustively if not satisfyingly – but “if we do X, then what must we believe?”
It’s like an audit, doing your arithmetic backwards to check your work. I haven’t finished my argument, not by a long shot, this is only Part #2, but I’ll jump way ahead, give you that question with my specifics inserted in place of the variables:
“If we’re so sure we’re born bad, why would we abuse our children, thereby making them worse?”
That idea has me now discounting our default natures, finding the “what are we?” question besides the point; it seems to me now the question isn’t “what are we,” but “where are we taking ourselves?” – wherever we were, whatever we were.
Nov. 17th., 2017
Dad would have been eighty-seven.