Surviving Human Nature

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Pragmatists and Idealist’s Fantasy

Idealist are good at generating codes of conduct, rules of engagement and visions of the future when the good and true will prevail. The problem, of course, is that ideal human conduct is rare and when it does occur, it is temporary. Pragmatists focus on what actually happens and develop strategies to fix what is broken. As of 2008, world problems proliferated with a feverish pitch. Everywhere you look, there are big problems that promise to get worse rather than better. A list of these problems discouraged even the most optimistic of citizens.

If you take a God’s eye view of the planet, you have to notice one basic fact – that most humans generate problems on a daily basis and a smaller number try to catch up with solutions. You can supply AIDs drugs to the sick and poor in Africa, but the recovering patients suffer from malnutrition, water shortages and other diseases. Their social infrastructures are gone. If they survive their immediate adversities, warriors from neighboring tribes may arrive one day and kill them with machetes or automatic rifles, bought from US or Chinese weapon suppliers.

Even polite societies that have enjoyed periods of affluence and stability, a series of increasingly severe problems accumulate and undermine social order. In the US, an incompetent congress, an ineffective administration, a failing economy, an aging infrastructure that needs reconstruction, destructive weather events and many layers of conflict within the society are serious problems with no obvious remedy. We have briefly considered the cumulative effects of resource depletion, habitat destruction, climate change and changing patterns of disease; these descriptions point to problems that do not have easy solutions.

A pragmatic approach to an overwhelming set of problems is to establish priorities and focus on achievable goals. Within every effective pragmatist is the hope that incremental problem solving will in the end produce a rational, enduring social order. There is also the hope that young, smart, well-informed people will join an enlarging group of problem solvers, hard at work every day in every country on the planet.

A Fantasy

One useful device is the idealist’s fantasy of a better human world that is quite different from the one we are used to. For example George W. Bush, when president of the US, bristled with innate tendencies and little understanding of human nature; he insisted that a good way to introduce democracy to Iraq was to destroy the infrastructure of the country, kill Iraqi citizens impose military rule, imprison and torture anyone who objected.

In an idealist’s counterfactual world, G.W. Bush  and Cheney would not become the CEO's of the US and no-one would believe that military invasion was a tool of democratic reform. Any man or woman qualified to be the President of the USA would be nice and smart with a deep understanding of human nature and an aversion for killing. The US President, a self-declared Christian, would obey Christian ethics, love his enemies and turn the other cheek. He would love his neighbors, even people who were hostile. He would know that two wrongs do not make a right.

In my counterfactual world, there are only defensive military organizations and no adventitious killing. Nations are respectful, generous and tolerant of each others’ differences. Disputes are resolved by negotiation, grooming, gift-giving, music, dance, sports and shared celebrations. There are no “terrorists” since all humans would have constructive ways of expressing and remedying their grievances. The United Nations would be reorganized and would flourish as a forum of cooperation with a mandate to intervene when any state failed to protect the lives and rights of its citizens.

If, by a remarkable feat of genetic engineering, belligerence behaviors were mostly eliminated from the human brain, atavistic, belligerent leaders might emerge from time to time. They would be given the opportunity to duel in public displays of their skill and courage as warriors. They would not be seen as heroes but as irrational pugilists, atavistic misfits that need to do battle in ceremonial combat without harming others.



If Bush disliked Hussein, he would challenge him to a duel. Let the best man win. You would save a hundred thousand lives and a trillion US dollars spent on destroying Iraq’s infrastructure and killing innocent people. The domestic economy of the US would flourish with constructive, humanitarian enterprises and would not miss the vanishing munitions industry.

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