If you have read my blog for a while, you will know that I am a thinker. I like to mull ideas around, post about them, and the re-post again when a new insight arrives. Today’s blog post appears to be a cumulative of many years of thinking. I think that I have solved an inner puzzle that has tricked me for as long as I can remember. The irony is that the answer is not really that profound, yet the implications are.
Based on my experience with Socialism, Green Politics, and Anti-ideology thinking, I have arrived at a conclusion that the problem with politics, political philosophy, and philosophy in general is that humans fail to understand human nature.
Absurd isn’t it? To be human and yet not understand what human nature is…
Yet, that is exactly what I think is the problem. Let me illustrate:
I have argued for quite some time that ideology is a human disease that creates wars and immense human suffering. Yet, ideology is just the dogma of political philosophy, which in turn is just a world view that claims to understand what human nature and life is.
All political and general philosophies are about understanding what our human nature is. General philosophy will be about our relationship with the world, purpose of life, etc. but it is political philosophy that deals with social relationships and the use of power within society including how to manage the economy and the government’s role in the lives of its citizens. Since governments and economies are fundamentally tools that represent parts of our humanity, political philosophies that focus on economics still make fundamental assumptions about human nature.
So, it is all about understanding what our Human Nature is, or as inspired by a past U.S.A. Presidential campaign, “Its Our Human Nature, Stupid”.
Now I am going to argue that the reason why all political philosophies are inherently limited and ultimately very dangerous is because they have limited and inhuman understandings of human nature. You will see that their definition of Human Nature is so distorted with blind, stupid ideology, it is little surprise we have the problems we see in the world today.
The largest political philosophies/ideologies can be generally summarized to believe the following about human nature.
- The Socialists and Communists believe that humans deserve equality of economic outcomes. Nature (human and mother nature) can be improved upon and perfected. It is natural for humans to share and be egalitarian. The weakness of Socialist and Communist thought is that they do not recognize humanity’s inherent inequality and the freedom to allow gifted elites to evolve the species.
- Libertarians and Anarchists believe that humans deserve equality of opportunity and freedom from coercion. Human nature can be improved upon if a person chooses it and people need to be given the opportunity to figure out their own way of happiness. The weakness of Libertarian and Anarchists thought is that they do not recognize that many people require authority in their lives and believe in Utopian societies where consequences do not exist.
- Welfare Liberals believe that humans deserve protection and opportunity to be contented. They do not believe in the free market, but tolerate it because it allows them to fund their government programs.? Human nature is perfectible when society provides everything that is needed. The weakness of Welfare Liberal thought is that they want to provide a perfect world where imperfect outcomes is natural.
- Conservatives believe that humans need to be ruled so that society can function. They believe that society functions best when the elites of society are properly ruling. Human nature is imperfect, but the best (through birth, connections, knowledge, or something else) will rise above the masses to be an example for the rest. The weakness of Conservative thinking is that it creates institutional thinking and thereby weakens society.
- Fascists and Nationalists believe that humans are tools to be used for the needs of the nation. They believe that human nature is only perfect if it serves the nation, otherwise it will degenerate into selfish and aimless behaviors. The weakness of Fascist and Nationalist thought is that it falls prey to xenophobia and racism.
- Populists believe that humans (‘the people’) need to be consulted with matters that affect them. Human nature is presumed for everyone who one of the folk and you continue to possess this human nature so long as you remain part of the group. The weakness of Populist thought is that it falls prey to mob mentality and tends to be reactionary.
- Humanists believe that humans are the pinnacle of evolution. Because humans are able to think, create technology, and communicate with advances symbols, the natural world and the universe is its oyster. The weakness of Humanist thinking is that it tends to be materialistic, expansionist, and insular.
- Greens believe that humans need to live in balance with the natural world. They want human society to be smaller, more peaceful, and egalitarian so that humanity can be happier. The weakness of Green thinking is that it falls prey to employing scare tactics, self-extinction, and scarcity thinking.
Can you see how each of the political philosophies has a rigid understanding of Human Nature? It is one thing, and one thing only, not being allowed to change. Political philosophy and its bulldog, ideology, tell us only they they understand human nature and there are no other interpretations. Sounds just like most religions.
So, what exactly is Human Nature? It is generally described as “the psychological and social qualities that characterize humankind, especially in contrast with other living things.”? While this definition is accurate, it is far too vague and does not list the qualities that makes up human nature.
Based on my own insights and a brief peruse of the internet, I think Human Nature possesses at least the following qualities:
- It is complex, and is made up of multiple factors.
- One of the most overt factors was all share is that we are physical beings that depends on our physical environment to survive.
- It is dynamic, possessing the ability to change and evolve.? See blog post ‘Are Most People Good?’. This is direct contrast with those philosophies that see human nature as being inherently good or evil.
- It possesses the ability to self-regulate, initiate action, but also be influenced by its environment. The question of Free Will vs Determinism or Nature vs Nurture is a needless distraction. See blog post ‘A Continuum of Human Nature’. We possess the ability to make choices, but also appear to generally prefer to have choices made for us.
- It is prone to solidifying and measuring things. This is done in an effort to exert control over its environment. We tend to spend lots of energy understanding and organizing our environment using symbols and technology. We create mental constructions and memes that encompass concepts such as Self, Human Nature, and Life. (This blog post is an example of this manifestation)
- It experiences a wide range of sensations, emotions, and thoughts which are intensely felt but rarely understood.
- Is is governed by what appears to be dilemma inducing laws such of Supply vs Demand, Freedom vs Safety, Time vs Money, Happy vs Right, Justice vs Peace, Familiarity vs Contempt, Mastery vs Ease.
- It resorts to past behaviors that worked, even if the problem and solution has changed.
- It possesses expectations and desires that are always changing and rarely satisfied.
- Is is easily led and suggestible where broken windows and littering can lead to increased vice and crime (as taken from the Economist article Can the Can).
- It has immense capacity for inflicting, experiencing, and tolerating suffering.
- It learns by making mistakes before getting it right.
I do not believe this is an exhaustive list of qualities, but is just a starting point. But what is listed provides a stark contrast to the political philosophies I listed above. It is now little wonder to me why I find those political philosophies to be inadequate.
Yet, I once too believed that ideology was the solution. And even when I realized that ideology is the problem, I did not understand the subtlety of the matter. I was wrong when I wrote in my 2005 resignation letter to the Green Party that the personal is more important that policies. While the the essential spirit of the letter still resonates for me, I now understand that the continued understanding of human nature is the solution.
And so, I continue to wait for a political philosophy that fully recognizes the potential and scope of Human Nature, instead of limiting it. I wait for a new political philosophy that tries to understand and support Human Nature. One that is prepared to ask questions, receive answers, and then ask more questions. It needs to be always open to learning.
With such a political philosophy we can finally become free of the dehumanizing yoke of ideology.