Horseshit About Human Nature
By Charley Earp at Jan 19, 2008
"We are all descended from rapacious, insatiable cheaters and (far
worse) rationalizers. Every generation of aristocrats (by whatever
surface definition you use, from soviet nomenklatura, theocrats, or
royalty to top CEOs) will come up with marvelous excuses for why they
should be allowed to go back to oligarchic rule-by-cabal and "guided
allocation of resources" (GAR), instead of allowing open
competition/cooperation to put their high status under threat."
The Enlightenment Strikes Back, Lifeboat Foundation Blog entry for
Jan. 2 2008 by David Brin http://lifeboat.com/blog/?p=111
Before I give in to my baser human nature and tear David Brin a new
anus for posting the above crapola, let me acknowledge that Mr. Brin,
science fiction novelist extraordinaire, almost seems to have his
heart in the right place, just to the left of center. Of course, I am
way to the left of center, hence my perturbation at Brin's
declarations about human nature.
Any argument that begins by asserting that something is human nature,
apart from, say, bipedalism and the prefrontal cortex is suspect from
the get-go. Again, to give respect where it's due, Brin's concern in
the above blog is to urge us all to Karl Marx more seriously. Amen to
that. However, his repeated appeals to human nature as giving rise to
oligarchy and top CEO's just ain't worth taking seriously.
Think about it, really. Brin says, "...it is the most natural thing in
the world for capital owners.to behave in the way that Marx modeled
[and] forecast.." OK, right there! Capital owners ain't representative
of human nature! They're representative of that tiny rapacious
minority that figures out how to exploit the other 90+ percent of
humanity. Again, walking upright on two legs, human nature. Becoming a
freaking quadrillionaire robber baron, not so dang much!
Brin goes on to admire FDR for taking Marx seriously. He criticizes
today's neoconservatives for not doing so. If they had, we would be in
a much better position vis-à-vis building a "progressive, dynamic
civilization." Again, Brin is encouraging a return to Keynesian and
Fordist economic models, not such a bad idea. However, his
justification for such a return is not that human beings are
suffering, not that workers are getting plundered, but rather that a
little bit of enlightened social programming will stave off the
dreaded Marxist "Workers' Revolution." What a guy!
OK, enough venting. Human nature is being studied scientifically these
days as never before and the conclusions are somewhat the opposite of
Brin's dark perspective. Compassion, cooperation, and empathy are
actually far more "natural" than is the desire to rip off the
proletariat. A recent article by Gary Olson - "Neuroscience and Moral
Politics: Chomsky's Intellectual Progeny - Are humans 'wired for
empathy'?" - summarizes a variety of research into empathy and human
nature and concludes, "Is it too much to hope that we're on the verge
of discovering a scientifically based, Archimedean moral point from
which to lever public discourse toward an appreciation of our true
nature, which in turn might release powerful emancipatory forces?"
Indeed, human nature is after all a social nature. As Marx once wrote,
".the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single
individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social
Charley Earp is an expat Texan who hankers after Molly Ivins's way
with words. He lives in Chicago with his two children and wife.