Human Nature

Human nature describes inherent behaviors common to all people, which seem to be built in to our very being. The so called human nature problem that is often cited as the reason that societal improvements will inevitably fail is based on a very narrow view of the subject. In this view, only our baser attributions are considered. We may think that we and our friends, and perhaps our countrymen are well meaning people, but the further away people are, and the stranger their appearances and habits, the less we are willing to trust them. Yet when we travel and actually meet these people we find that they are people just like ourselves.

Not only are we humans possessed of a deep seated “better nature” but these empathy based reactions seem to be the very first instincts of new born infants. Fear is activated as a result of experience; before fear there is empathy. Better yet, we are one of the rare species that can modify our basic instinctual behavior as a result of thinking about it and deciding to behave differently.

All of the variants of human nature are present in similar proportions at all levels of society in all populations. Some conditions of life tend to foster particular kinds of pathology; the lower reaches of society experience more personal violence, while the upper reaches prefer more cerebral forms of crime, but the proportion of criminality is about the same at all levels, and it is not very high. The vast majority of people just want to have a happy life and enjoy their families and their hobbies. 

So why does it seem otherwise? Why do we think we are surrounded by criminals and live in a violent world and that people cannot be trusted? One important influence is the study of history. History is the story of the past, and it is one of never ending violence. All of the worst elements of human behavior crowd its pages. Did this then mean that this was the everyday experience of the ordinary people? Far from it. True, personal violence was an everyday occurrence, but wars and the doings of the mighty, which are what history is about, barely impinged on the population as a whole.

History tells us little about the common people, and much about the doings of a small number of people who could fairly be termed psychopaths. There is nothing natural about wars and invasions and the exploitation of the inhabitants of other lands. No other animal behaves like this towards its own kind. The vast majority of people would not behave this way. Yet the activities of this tiny class of people so dominate the information stream that we think they are the norm. We do not see them for what they are, parasites upon humanity; diseases that attack the mind of society. They do not represent human nature as a whole.

So rather than accepting that human nature is defined by the worst in us and will bring us down no matter what we try, let us activate the better angels of our nature and stop electing psychopaths to lead us.