Human Nature

Vijay came over here yesterday, and as always, we had a ripe little argumentative session. Condensed, my side of it should’ve gone like this:

There is no such stable thing as “human nature” – the combination of drives, urges, reflexes, responses and the way of thinking that makes it up is something that is a product of evolution, and therefore, as a rule, constantly changing. Unlike animal nature though, our responses change much more rapidly, mostly because we are able to respond to changes in our surroundings that much more faster and more intelligently.

In a sentence, we can train ourselves to have a different “nature”. (I’ll prove this later)

This brings about an interesting byplay to arguments, conditions and states of being that are rejected simply because they are “unnatural”. Take the case of socialism, which many feel goes completely against the human ideal, or polygamy, or same-sex relationships, or a single parent family… What if we can (and we can) retrain ourselves so that all these conjectures suit us? Is there something intrinsically unnatural to humans then? I can imagine different societal constructs where many of today’s unworkable social ideas, economic models, sexual mores etc. can be made to function, and the society still describe itself as “normal”.

Retraining ourselves is actually very hard, perhaps impossible without the presence of an actual societal model to which you plan to convert to. However, a scenario may run thus: Consider a group of 100 core believers in Socialism. They emigrate to Mars and establish a colony there, and they build a society where the children are taught that work is service. In such a society (living in relative vaccum without any subversive contact with Earth) we might imagine the children to grow up to a world where they do not accord any great merit to material posessions, but rather to the ideal of helping other people (The Jesuit ideal, “men for others” comes to mind). In such a world, their selfish nature is satisfied because it is in their interests to help others… they are taught, it is their core nature that serving others is rewarding. The economic model of such a society I’m sure too is viable, though I’m not experienced enough to detail it here. This is something that perhaps you might have a little trouble accepting, but do think on it, this is something I believe.

Interestingly, if you’d notice, in such a world, Objectivism still holds true, the individuals are acting in their selfish interests, although perhaps the system as a whole holds that ideal in scorn.

Now consider something as innately distasteful as polyandry. As an aside, I choose sexual issues not because I have a perverse streak, but because everybody has a strong opinion about them, the resolution is more effective this way. And oh, I didn’t choose polygamy because sometimes the men just don’t get it :-D. Yup… back to polyandry, consider a world where this is normal. (Another interesting aside, it used to be so in Tibet). A rational man in the current society would have a great deal to say (and do) when his wife goes gallivanting with another man. But consider why our reaction is modeled this way… is it a natural response to the act, or more a response to how our society is modeled? The reaction is naturally one that has been evolved through the ages, and it makes perfect biological sense because if a man is able to keep a woman all to himself, he is more able to ensure that it is his sperm that impregnates her. Crude? But aye, I claim this is still the sole “natural” reason. Every other reason we can claim is something that has evolved because our society is structured this way (And I hope I’ve already shown how a society can be structured differently). Consider a world where such a competition does not exist, where a woman can choose who to be pregnant with, or more sensibly, where who the father of the child is, is a non-issue. Would we still be justified in feeling polyandry unforgivable?

Heinlein’s novels explore this theme very well.. consider reading his “Stranger in a Strange Land”, “Time Enough For Love”, and his recently discovered first: “For Us the Living”

2 Replies to “Human Nature”

  1. Genetic diversity is a tougher nut than that… while you do have a valid point, it isn’t that dismal a situation. I’ve read somewhere that it takes just 500 unrelated people to repopulate an earth without any problems, their children presumably will be that much more related to each other, but they won’t have inbreeding problems.

    Assuming 500 as genetic stock for a 1 billion+ population, you’d notice that your scenario doesn’t have that much of a problem anymore. Maybe as a safety net, people should take a genetic compatibility test before they marry (notice I said marry – as in to have children – not fall in love :-D)

    Besides, psychological profiles do prove that women have a greater capacity for love. A normal woman can emotionally give her time to more than one man without the man losing out on anything.

    It makes greater genetic sense too in some way since a woman can love a person and still have a child with another (perhaps genetically superior) person. The last reason is of course, moot. It’s not that relaxing these rules would mean that women will go hither and tither and have babies with abandon. I think they’ll rather be more selective than less.

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  2. I read your musings with great interest. Monogamy however is a natural instinct , as this prevents the mixing of genes through consanginous relationships. Imagine a world where a woman can take as many lovers as she can. Soon the world will be filled with brothers and sisters, half brothers and half sisters and cousins …. It would surely spell doom for the planet.

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