Human Nature: Man’s Hope

When putting the case for Socialism, one often hears the objection: Yes, a marvellous idea if it wasn’t for human nature. You see (they often continue), we agree man isn’t naturally evil, but he has been so indoctrinated with the competitive idea of the need to survive now, that Socialism is all very nice in theory, but in practice is just not on. You are hoping for Utopia, you are living in a dream world. It will never happen if you live for ten million years.

With these daunting comments ringing in my ears, I set out to examine the facts as dispassionately as I could. First of all, if men are clawing to get one up on the other bloke: how come some will sacrifice everything to relieve others’ suffering? How come if we are taken ill in the street someone will call an ambulance or administer first aid? Some will even discard opportunities for success in order to devote themselves to some service with little or no material reward.

Oh, the objectors will continue, we agree there are some saintly individuals, but the majority couldn’t care less. If this were true then clearly the future would look black; if we all have to be saints before we can have Socialism, then clearly it will never happen. At this point I recall the experience of an English schoolteacher who took an appointment to teach in one of the new African states, where the bush people were still living in a near-primitive state. On the first days the teacher tried to interest the children in simple lessons but the children could not understand the discipline of the classroom. All her attempts to assemble them in classroom were met with charming indifference as they ran out into the sun. After some experimenting, she found it was possible to interest them in painting, and so they sat under the trees and painted what they saw around them (I believe an exhibition of their work was later put on in one of the London galleries).

But to return to the point at issue. After the lesson, the teacher handed the children the paints and told them to keep them. They smiled vaguely and handed them back. “Mine and thine” was unknown to them; there was nothing in their nature to make them want to hoard or steal. “It was not in their nature.” They were not saints and they were not sinners. Like Europeans, they simply reflected the way they were brought up.

Man is by nature a social animal. He needs to be sociable; much of the disturbed behaviour one witnesses today is born of the fact that man has to compete to survive but it is in fact against his nature. Human nature is man’s hope, not his harbinger of doom.