I have been musing the importance about Jerry Pournelle’s political matrix and believe that his one index concerning the ability to improve on human nature is probably one of the most critical questions that divides people.
Think about it. Everything we do or stand for is related to one’s understanding of what makes ourselves and others human. How we define what a human being is is how we define our morals, ethics, economics, and politics.
I think there is a simple continuum that can be teased out from Pournelle’s political matrix. It would be:
1) Human Nature is corrupt. Everyone else is out to make a buck, is dishonest, etc. The person who believes this will also believe they need to act the same to keep up. Some religious and social conservatives would subscribe that there are lots of people who are corrupt and will never change. Scott Adams humors us with his view that all people are idiots in his Dilbert books.
2) Human Nature is corrupt but is improvable. Most religions would be based on this philosophy. It would be the view that we have Original Sin and need to find salvation to correct it.
3) Human Nature is pure but is decaying. Some religions have this point of view, particularly some Hindus and Buddhists who believe that we are already perfect but the choices we make make us suffer.
4) Human Nature is fundamentally good. Everyone is truly a good person deep down inside. Generally summed up as pollyannaish and wearing rose-coloured glasses. People are not bad, they just make bad choices because they don’t know better, are poor, or have some other affliction.
I would also argue there is a 5th position that is not on the continuum because it is so fluid.
5) Human Nature is self-determined. It is the choices we make that create our reality. Human nature is truly what you believe it is and what you make it. Some radical psychological and mystical systems would believe in this viewpoint.
When you figure out where you are on the continuum, you then realize why you agree or disagree with others about politics, economics, etc. It explains why some people are predisposed towards socialism and others towards conservative religiosity.
I personally think that we are mostly #5 – Human Nature is fluid and self-chosen. It ecompasses all of the other points but also allows for change when the conditions are right.