|Surviving Human Nature|
Surviving Human Nature
I am convinced that human nature involves a collection of tendencies and contradictions that have prevailed for hundreds of thousands of years and will not change in the foreseeable future. The basic expressions of humans are now inflected by a huge increase in population. The idea of a global community was based on wealth creation and the hope of social innovation. Some observers have been optimistic, but the reality is that problems have increased with population growth and events are monotonously recurrent - only the names and places change. The behaviors remain the same. While news reporting is focused on samples of current events called “news” there are underlying scripts that repeat with many variations. The news is not new. The scripts are built into human nature and will not charge in any foreseeable future.
I am impressed by optimistic humans who work to solve the world's problems even when successes are modest. Problems recur. Success turns to failure. In this 21st century, a more realistic philosophy of human life is required as we recognize that it is impossible to permanently change human nature by social and political means - by education, persuasion, coercion and law.
Leaning and Guha-Sapir summarized the threats to humans in the 21st century:” The effects of armed conflict and natural disasters on global public health are widespread. In the years ahead, the international community must address the root causes of these crises. Natural disasters, particularly floods and storms, will become more frequent and severe because of climate change. Organized deadly onslaughts against civilian populations will continue, fueled by the availability of small arms, persistent social and political inequities, and, increasingly, by a struggle for natural resources. These events affect the mortality, morbidity, and well-being of large populations. Humanitarian relief will always be required, and there is a demonstrable need, as in other areas of global health, to place greater emphasis on prevention and mitigation... armed conflicts persist, with entrenched internal violence lasting for years, in countries such as Sudan, The eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya.) Advances in small-arms technology and struggles over natural resources of international value (water, oil , natural gas and rare minerals) make conflict resolution challenging. Civilians bear the burden. Families are forced to move from their homes to escape internecine violence. Refugees cross national borders and are legally entitled to assistance in United Nations (UN)–managed camps. But increasingly since the mid-1980s, people have been unable to cross international frontiers and so remain internally displaced. They are often at higher risk for malnutrition and disease than residents or refugees. (Natural Disasters, Armed Conflict, and Public Health. Jennifer Leaning and Debarati Guha-Sapir. N Engl J Med 2013; 369:1836-1842 November 7, 2013)
In Surviving Human Nature, I review the most urgent problems that all humans share. I suggest solutions based on a current and detailed understanding of human nature. I realize that all the issues I discuss are complex. My goal is to harvest some of the best ideas from a voluminous literature and present these ideas with insights into human biology and human history. I am examining the negative features of humans without relinquishing hope. I am naturally optimistic and I have enjoyed a privileged life. At the same time, I am well informed and not afraid to confront the negative aspects of my nature and human nature in general.
Optimists look forward to continuing social progress in the 21st century. The hope is that rapidly regenerating social and economic problems are solvable by improving policy and allocating money to programs. One hope is that inspired politicians will be elected to office and will, by some administrative magic, do better than previously elected administrators. However, meaningful political changes emerge slowly and are built from the bottom up rather than imposed from the top down. A civil society is built from many constructive organizations that thrive in local communities. Citizens of the 21st century can be quite sure that top-down solutions will not work and the tendency toward centralized political and economic control will need to be modified or abandoned. The realist will recognize that "social progress" is not a progression of rational responses to problems, proceeding toward some ultimate solution for human deficiencies and aberrations.
Close by, I am aware of a society that is self-indulgent and often unrealistic. Canada is often viewed as a peaceful country with an enviable quality of life. This is an overview that averages the good and bad features of Canadian life. Becoming a Canadian does not change the critically disputatious nature of the country’s human citizens. There are deep dialectics in the human mind with constant battles between optimism and pessimism, suspicion and trust, approach and avoidance. There is also a deep narcissism in each human, based on the conviction that “I am the center of the universe”
A Better Understanding
Human groups are preoccupied with real and imaginary threats from enemies and spend much of their time and resources defending against and attacking enemies. The view that the good and the bad are products of culture is now yielding to the deeper insight that the dialectical nature of the human mind is built in. This innate dialectic generates culture not the other way around. In this 21st century, a more realistic philosophy of human life should emerge as we recognize that it is impossible to permanently change human nature by social and political means - by education, persuasion, coercion and law.
Humans require regulation using a system of rules that are an external form of behavior coding. External regulation can evolve and improve by creating and maintaining stable social and political structures in a democratic infrastructure. Democracies are, however, unstable and vulnerable to internal dissolution as much as external attack. Democracies require elaborate internal rules and surveillance to prevent subgroups from achieving control over critical functions such as the money supply, police, courts and military forces. Subgroups are always competing for resources and control so that no civil society can be considered stable and enduring without an energetic and educated population of activists who are prepared to defend freedoms and privileges on a daily basis. Smart people can break through old paradigms and recognize patterns in human nature. This is happening all the time. Good, new ideas always impress me and I always ask -why didn't I think of that? A new, good idea can spread from person to person and can make people smarter and more effective in the world. A good idea may seem obvious once you understand and accept it, but before someone comes up with the idea, you are ignorant. Humans who do not have access to new ideas and learn only a few of the old, worn-out and bad ideas are stuck with being ignorant.