Monday, April 18, 2011

Misconceptions Addressed: The Inherent Evil of Mankind

If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone denounce anti-capitalist ideas by citing the supposed greed of humanity, I wouldn’t be writing this. I would be living in the Hamptons defending the stupidity that made me rich. “greedy, competetive, over-consuming, individualistic” - all of these things the human race supposedly is, and it’s why “socialism is against human nature,” “the problem isn’t the system it’s people” and my favorite “socialism looks good on paper.”

Remember that old card game we played in Middle School? I call bull shit.

The human race is a social species, like ants or bees but with consciousness and thus individuality. That is why civilization exists in the first place. It was recognized that there were long term and short term benefits to organizing. Collective survival was in the interest of all. Mutual aid and cooperation were our evolutionary advantage. They were our key to survival.

This is why it feels good when you do nice things for people, even when it is not in your self interest. Studies have even been conducted showing that altruistic behavior triggers a reward response in your nervous system. That’s not religion, upbringing or morality; that’s biology.

Reciprocal Altruism occurs all over the place in the Animal Kingdom which, as I see it, seems to indicate that it is our nature.

The greed, competetiveness and overall douchebaggery we see is not nature. There is, actually, a fundamental difference between nature and a learned behavior. When your biological means of survival -civilization- is failing to fulfill its purpose, you are going to adopt behaviors that will help you to survive. When you live in a society that awards greed and competetiveness, you are going to adopt those characteristics, regardless of your nature.

How, then, did civilization become what it is today? Power. All it took was for one person to recognize the personal benefit he would recieve from controlling the resources that others needed for survival - the advent of private property, and for that individual to develop means of protecting his property from the collective power of the masses who needed it - the advent of government.

Since that time  -through every stage of social evolution from the empires of ancient Egypt, to the Feudal Lords of Medieval Europe and Asia, and to modern Nations and regimes- that has been the basic structure of society. As such, civilization has been warped into a means of serving the powerful, rather than the people who participate in it; and the misconceptions we have about our civilization and ourselves perpetuate that structure.

Rousseau’s Du contrat social affirms this. In it he asserts that society before private property was mostly egalitarian and that the ideal state should (though it does not) function as a manifestation of the general will. Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, himself states that Government primarily functions as a means of protecting property from society.

Considering all of this, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say that egoism is a learned behavior. Society is a biological means of survival, when it fails us because its function has been bastardized, we as individuals must find our own means of survival that defies our own nature. This is not to say that egoism is completely unnatural itself, but when it is rewarded, its behaviors are reinforced and the whole system is perpetuated; especially when we maintain that those behaviors are natural.

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