August 21, 2012 at 6:10 pm #81506
Hi to everyone, I am a Newbe so forgive me if this topic is tired.
The “human nature” defensive bleat is one of my pet hates, when I hear it I see red.
I have a friend that I often debate with (much to his annoyance I think) and this is one of his favourite catch phrases. When I defeat his tired, standardised thinking on issues, he always whips out the “human nature” card. Without fail, despite my rational arguments, he refuses to accept the facts.
The reason I bring it up is I think it is a convenient excuse many people use to avoid taking responsibility for their actions as well as societies. In other words, if humans are inheritantly nasty then there isn’t anything they can do about changing the world for the better. So they feel less guilty about buying into the system, purchasing yet another needless gadget, without thinking of the human cost.
What do others think?August 21, 2012 at 8:37 pm #89028
LOL SP most of us have been driven close to the type of behaviour we are accused of having programmed into us by this type of person. I agree absolutely with you. The way most people play the human nature card is not to present it as an argument at all, but as a defence against accepting that they need to take responsibility, not just for their actions now in buying consumer junk made of sweated labour, but for overturning capitalism and creating a world more in line with their class and human interests. That scares the shit out of a lot of people. And there usually isn’t any way to challenge that directly, because it is not an argument, it’s just wallpaper – and you can’t argue with wallpaper. If you want to keep trying you’ve just got to find a way through their defence so you can continue to discuss rationally. And in my experience, finding a way through is different for everyone you talk to. Some people can be encouraged to think about it rationally, and are eventually susceptible to rational argument, but others just aren’t and you just have to give them an alternative image of who and what we are.August 22, 2012 at 2:25 pm #89029
Your right Hud955, some people are open to logic and rational thought, I suspect those are the ones who end up joining the party. Whereas others are perhaps too close minded and distracted by everyday issues.
Luckily there are a growing number of scientists taking on the subject of human nature, with some very intereting results, that suggest humans are hardwired with empathy, cooperation and altruism. Rather than the greed and agression that is so often the accepted view.
Hopefully the research will continue to grow and end once and for all the bullshit we have to contend with from those whose frail arguments collapse under logical scrutiny.August 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm #89030AnonymousInactive
The ‘human nature’ argument is obviously central to our case. When someone suggests that human beings are violent and greedy, the evidence is all around us to back up their argument. We have to find a way of showing how human behaviour can and is manipulated. It is a tough one and we need to keep plugging away. I only wish workers were greedy! They wouldn’t put up with capitalists owning the worldAugust 22, 2012 at 8:23 pm #89031
The problem with this whole area of discussion is that it is a hotly contested field (or range of fields), invoving a huge array of empirical research and complex argument. Most people you engage don’t want to go there. And the fact is we are not experts either. So it is dead easy for anyone to cite a piece of evidence selectively, and equally easy for someone else just to deny it. And before you know it you have a frustrated stalemate. I think the only way forward with most of us is to keep it simple and make a few telling points, then allow those who want to follow it up to do it in their own time. Frankly, people will take whatever side suits the world-view they have come to acquire and deny the rest. We may be social and co-operative but we are not really abstractly rational creatures. I tend to skirt round the issue and go for class interest. An interest is what most people can understand.August 22, 2012 at 8:55 pm #89032zundapParticipant
A couple of Saturdays back I was in Brixton with another comrade manning a literature stall, I was explaining to a guy who was asking some questions about socialism how naturally co-operative humans are, when a gust of wind had leaflets flying all over the place; all those in the vicinity immediately started picking them up and bringing them back to us which was a great help in making the point.August 24, 2012 at 6:51 pm #89033Hud955 wrote:The problem with this whole area of discussion is that it is a hotly contested field (or range of fields), involving a huge array of empirical research and complex argument. Most people you engage don’t want to go there. And the fact is we are not experts either. So it is dead easy for anyone to cite a piece of evidence selectively, and equally easy for someone else just to deny it.
While I have experienced people who are willing to just flat out deny evidence, my point was that the research that I have come across was from mainstream sources and not obscure scientific journals. And as such carries more weight for the everyday person.
I first came across one piece of research in a television documentary earlier this year (I can’t remember if it was Panorama or Horizon). It showed very young toddlers watching puppet shows with characters behaving in certain ways, selfish and helpful. The toddlers were then given opportunities to select a puppet to play with. The vast majority of the subjects opted for the helpful characters. Another experiment I have come across demonstrates young toddlers being attentive and supportive to strangers in helping them finish tasks.
These experiments are pointing towards that which socialists have maintained for years, that humans are more cooperative, empathic and altruistic than selfish and aggressive. It makes sense from an evolutionary survival view.
Now I understand that experiments can be flawed and torn to pieces. Further research over time by different scientists is required before solid conclusions can be drawn with any confidence. But the fact is that a growing number of scientists are coming to these conclusions through experiments, and their results are finding their way to the mainstream media.
If people are willing to deny a growing body of scientific evidence, then that is their prerogative. That surely can only support our arguments further among observers, as most people are turned off by blinkered idiots.
Also as socialists our whole approach and arguments are based upon logical analysis, which means we should be eager for fresh scientific ammunition that supports our views.
The key to success is in how we use that information.August 24, 2012 at 7:18 pm #89034SocialistPunk wrote:While I have experienced people who are willing to just flat out deny evidence, my point was that the research that I have come across was from mainstream sources and not obscure scientific journals. And as such carries more weight for the everyday person.
Hi Hudd955,I apologize for my opening paragraph, it suggests my post you replied to made a specific point whereas in reality I was not clear and I did not specify the research I referred to.I should have said “my point is”.Very sorry for that. I am aware misunderstandings can arise on forums, socialist or not, and lead to bad feeling. I wish to avoid such mistakes and offer you my sincerest apologies.August 24, 2012 at 8:26 pm #89035
Hi Socialist Punk, the problem I find when I talk to people is that for every piece of research you can quote that seems to demonstrate a predisposition to co-operative behaviour in human beings, there is another, usually by an evolutionary psychologist of undoubted academic standing, that ‘demonstrates’ we are all violent, territorial, selfish, hierarchical or what have you. Though I don’t have a lot of time for evolutionary psychology (its conclusions in my view are largely conjectural) it is accepted as academically respectable these days and because the EPists have been busy writing lots of popular books, their arguments are also well known. If you offer your piece of reserch and someone cites a piece of research back to you that claims to show that we are all greedy (and there is plenty of stuff like that – I have shelfuls of it), you are back at your standoff position since you are merely quoting authorities at one another like a couple of Christian fundamentalists with their bible aphorisms. I find this a real problem, and I tend to keep references to research down to a minimum and go for more common sense approaches these days. The situation is not as bad as it was ten years ago because after half a century of denying group selection could exist it is coming back into academic respectability again recently and human co-operation is once again on the academic menu. These things go in cycles though.August 24, 2012 at 10:33 pm #89036
I think you have a good point about popular “scientists” having a monopoly with their version of truth. And you are right about the stalemate scenarios. But isn’t that always the way when you try to change minds. I have found it with regard to class and race.
However I am optimistic that the likes of Steven Pinker, who has made a good living out of EP, has had his day, and the new growing research, will bury his bullshit once and for all.
Here’s an extract from a column in, The New York Times by David Brooks (2009).
“Evolutionary psychology has had a good run. But now there is growing pushback. Sharon Begley has a rollicking, if slightly overdrawn, takedown in the current Newsweek. And “Spent” is a sign that the theory is being used to try to explain more than it can bear.
The first problem is that far from being preprogrammed with a series of hardwired mental modules, as the E.P. types assert, our brains are fluid and plastic. We’re learning that evolution can be a more rapid process than we thought. It doesn’t take hundreds of thousands of years to produce genetic alterations.
Moreover, we’ve evolved to adapt to diverse environments. Different circumstances can selectively activate different genetic potentials. Individual behavior can vary wildly from one context to another. An arrogant bully on the playground may be meek in math class. People have kaleidoscopic thinking styles and use different cognitive strategies to solve the same sorts of problems.
Evolutionary psychology leaves the impression that human nature was carved a hundred thousand years ago, and then history sort of stopped. But human nature adapts to the continual flow of information—adjusting to the ancient information contained in genes and the current information contained in today’s news in a continuous, idiosyncratic blend.
The second problem is one evolutionary psychology shares with economics. It’s too individualistic: individuals are born with certain traits, which they seek to maximize in the struggle for survival.
But individuals aren’t formed before they enter society. Individuals are created by social interaction. Our identities are formed by the particular rhythms of maternal attunement, by the shared webs of ideas, symbols and actions that vibrate through us second by second. Shopping isn’t merely a way to broadcast permanent, inborn traits. For some people, it’s also an activity of trying things on in the never-ending process of creating and discovering who they are.
The allure of evolutionary psychology is that it organizes all behavior into one eternal theory, impervious to the serendipity of time and place. But there’s no escaping context. That’s worth remembering next time somebody tells you we are hardwired to do this or that.”
(“Spent” is by (E.P.) Geoffrey Miller)
If an establishment paper like The NYT seems to be airing the “new” views, then there is some hope at least.
Let us hope it continues.August 25, 2012 at 12:53 pm #89037
Yes, you’re right. There is always a problem with clash of ‘authorities’ and that’s a difficulty. In this area, where you have researchers in archaeology, anthropology, ethology, paleology, genetics, sociology, microbioloogy and god knows how many more disciplines all contributing to the debate, it’s bound to be messy, particularly as there are so many vested interests (creationists, racists, socialists, humanists) clamouring for a particualr result. I’m not convinced science is value free either, or that broader social belief structures and commercial interests don’t influence the direction of its research.
Frankly, as a non-specialist, I just get confused reading all the new research. And when there is such confusion (and even when there isn’t) people tend to choose the arguments that best suit their presumptions. We all do it, socialists included. But that is the nature of the human search for truth. As socialists we can only do what everyone else does and make the best case we can, leaving it to others to decide what they think is true or valuable or not.
In any case, I’m far from convinced that human beings are essentially rational, and I’m not sure from a socialist perspective that it matters very much. Some socialists put great store by the claim their arguments are scientific. And I think the assumption behind this, that we should engage as far as possible in discussing the case at a serious level, is a true and important one. But science is an ongoing project, not an established set of laws, and socialists, like anyone else are just participants in the game, not bearers of something called ‘truth’ – we can leave those claims to religious folk.
For me anyway, the socialist case is primarily a vehicle for getting people to see beyond the ideologies that are fed into their brains through the education system and the media and to experience what is actually going on in the world all round them and what their place is in all of it. It’s not primarily part of the ongoing scientific/rational/empirical debate, though it is that too – or should be. Once people can see beyond the ideological categories that fog their thinking, then they can start to reconstruct the way they understand things and assess what is in their interest and what isn’t.. As a socialist I’m not here to provide them with a fundamental truth. The exploitative, alienating and destructive nature of Capitalism itself must do the work of making socialists. All we can do is to speak about it openly.
So I tend to keep stuff very simple these days when I’m discussing the socialist case with non-socialists. And I try to just to put my own point of view (not easy for me as I have a definite didactic streak). I don’t try to convert anyone. If I can just get them thinking about the world in a different way, that’s as far as I can go. Then it’s up to them. I try not to get bogged down in detailed arguments of any kind, because that way you lose track of the fundamental point of socialism. A few simple ideas clearly understood will do a lot more to get people thinking about the world they live in than getting deeply into ego-fuelled arguments about the latest reasearch on genetics or ethology.
Sorry, these are just a few rambling thoughts before breakfast. But thanks for the opportunity to share them.August 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm #89038Hud955 wrote:For me anyway, the socialist case is primarily a vehicle for getting people to see beyond the ideologies that are fed into their brains through the education system and the media and to experience what is actually going on in the world all round them and what their place is in all of it.
Well put, couldn’t agree more. I have tried a few approaches over the years, and I think you said previously for different people we often need different tactics.
When I was younger I was convinced socialists had the right answer for everything. Then I got to experience the problems of communicating the idea to others, for myself. It’s far from easy.
Like you I don’t wade in with the intention of trying to convert people anymore. If we can make people question and think about society from a different point of view, then we have succeeded. It’s why I like Chomsky.
In my time I have met some socialist fanatics and it seemed to put people off. It’s why I have never used Marx in debates. I’ve seen people switch off when his name is mentioned.
Maybe, Marx and our approach would be a good topic for further discussion. I like the idea of looking at and challeging things we take for granted.
But it has been good to discuss this topic with you, and sharing our ideas here is what this place is all about. See you around.August 26, 2012 at 4:51 pm #89039HollyHeadParticipantHud955 wrote:Though I don’t have a lot of time for evolutionary psychology … it is accepted as academically respectable these days and because the EPists have been busy writing lots of popular books, their arguments are also well known.
I suspect that these books are popular because they provide support for current prejudices — they do not disturb the present order of things. When I first became interested in this topic back in the 1960’s and 70’s my local library stocked several books by the likes of Robert Ardrey and Konrad Lorenz but not one by Ashley Montagu or Eric Fromm.August 26, 2012 at 5:57 pm #89040AnonymousInactive
Another way I tackle this objection to socialism is to personalise it. I ask the objector if they, then, refuse to help those in trouble, to assist an elderly person to cross the road, etc. When of course, they say they’d help, then I ask why they fly in the face of human nature, are they some kind of freak then? This often brings home the ridiculousness of the argument.I find when discussing socialism and political ideas, is because it is often theoretical and hypothetical, the abjecation of responsibility is easier. Making the discussion more personal and in relation to the individual makes it harder to dismiss as ‘other people’ or ‘people generally’. It is similar to the racist argument often used – how many black people here have heard the argument, “it’s all them blacks over here causing trouble. Of course, you’re alright, you live/work here but…”I don’t know where the quote comes from but often find it true: people think in generalities but live in the details…..August 26, 2012 at 8:32 pm #89041
LOL. This often works. I’ve only ever heard one person claim that he would not be able to co-operate with others when asked this question. The person was Keith Joseph, Maggie Thatcher’s idiotic ‘political philosophy’ guru. It was during a public debate with the party (Hardy leading for us) in the 1970s. The response was a torrent of laughter from the audience – much to his chagrin. He couldn’t see why anyone should find it funny. It unsettled him so much he went on to make a number of other blunders, claiming, for instance, that the effect of capitalism was to ‘grind the faces of the poor’. It was a slip of the tongue but by then the audience were giving him no mercy.
People think in generalities but live in the details. Neat quote, SS.
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