THE BIG PICTURE
By Roland Watson
In this series on human nature, we've covered a lot of material and made a lot of progress. It is now time to put everything together.
I began by saying that out nature starts with our needs and motivations. The question is: Where do they come from?
The answer to this is simple. They come from life. They are the requirements, and goals, of living things.
A final restatement of our understanding of human nature can therefore be given as follows:
Our needs and motivations are tied directly to the fact that we are alive, and this extends both to the nature of the life experience as we understand it, and also to any aspects or characteristics of which we are unaware (such as spiritual dimensions over which we can only speculate, or have faith). These needs and motivations are then translated into our intended behavior though the influences of our genes, our free will or life force, and our social conditioning or behavioral form. Moreover, there are feedback loops between the three, through which our genes affect or generate our will, and by which - potentially - our will affects the genes; and through which behavioral form affects our will, reducing its strength, and also how we use our will to reject such influences.
Lastly, our intended behavior, manifesting all of these dynamics, is translated into what we actually do through the interjection of chance.
This model describes what it is, exactly, that makes us who we are. You can use it to understand yourself, including to think about what has shaped you in your life. How did you get to where your are now, and what will you have to do to fulfill your dreams? And, we can use it to understand our species as a whole. Where we are now, and where would we like to go?
For the second question - about our species, this understanding of human nature has a number of important consequences. The first of these is that when our behavior changes, our form will change as well. Humans are evolving now, perhaps quite rapidly, into a new species, and it is our behavior that is going to get us there.
Secondly, and as should be abundantly clear by now, we are a complex phenomenon. We can be understood but not predicted - at least with certainty. Our potential behavior can only be viewed in terms of probabilities. Indeed, our complexity is such that even a short time into the future, the probability of any specific action or behavior occurring is so small that it approaches zero.
Thirdly, since control requires the ability to predict, we must conclude that humans cannot be controlled. As the quote from Joseph Conrad at the beginning of the series said, we are a natural, uncontrollable force.
The only way to control a human is to kill him, or as occurs in totalitarian states, to take away his will, his freedom to exercise his will, by turning him into a caged animal. This can be either literally, in prisons, or behaviorally, through the extreme manipulation of brainwashing.
Also, any lesser attempts at form, such as by institutions conditioning us to help them satisfy their needs, will necessarily have unexpected side effects.
Finally, since humans cannot be predicted or controlled, we also cannot - even if you could envision such a thing - be perfected. You cannot build a better human. Any attempts to construct one, or a perfect human society - a utopia - will run head-on into our complexity and the effects of chaos. The fantasies that we have are just that. We can progress, but we will never be perfect.
What should we do now?
To conclude the series, we must still face the fact that we are responsible for the world's problems. If we cannot be perfected, how can we possibly improve things? For that matter, how can we direct our evolution as a species?
One approach, the obvious approach, is to try to understand the behavior that drives the problems. Perhaps there is some way to block it: some way that is not inconsistent with what we now understand about our nature.
For example, one of the consequences of our lack of perfectibility is that it is impossible to be good all the time. It is an unachievable goal. Even the most ethical people sometimes act badly. Similarly, even the most intelligent people often act stupidly. The question is: Why?
Learning to be bad
Sometimes we act inappropriately from reflex, before considering the consequences. This is what happens when we react from emotion. I might add, this is why "love" will not solve everything. Conversely, though, it is an excellent reason to turn the other cheek.
Another problem, though, is the basic fact that life is hard, and unfair. Many if not most people react to this by doing whatever they can to get an advantage.
The consequence of this is that when you do get away with unethical acts, things that you may have done the first time by impulse, it can become a pattern. This is particularly a problem if the pattern forms in childhood, when the behavior may not be recognized or, even if it is, not corrected. If the pattern survives until adulthood, it can easily become entrenched, and very difficult to change.
At other times, life is so hard that people transfer their pain, and the frustration that they have with their lives, to others. They hurt others as a release for the pain that they feel, for everything that they have suffered.
Unfortunately, in some cases the cumulative effects of all of this are so powerful that people become just plain bad. They end up as hateful and spiteful creatures, with no conscience whatsoever, who commit terrible crimes whenever they get the chance, and who revel in the pain that they inflict.
It is essential to recognize that it is not useful - indeed, it is counterproductive - to brand such people as inhumane or evil. They are really, for most societies, just statistical outliers: extremely rare cases, but for whom the track of their life events and behavior can be understood.
Does "bad" change?
Also, another issue is that since the universe is in flux, times change, and the definition of what is bad changes as well. I would hope this is a purposeful, positive process - not random - through which we reach a better standard of behavior.
Through this process, acts that historically were acceptable become unacceptable. For example, slavery was - and even today in some places it still is - considered to be acceptable. Even though we now understand that denying people their freedom and their will is a crime, it does still persist in some countries. People are even being held in conditions of bondage in the U.S. and Europe, which we like to think of as being civilized.
But, as another less straightforward example of how behavioral norms change, before the introduction of the police if someone committed an offense against you, you had to seek justice yourself, on your own or with the help of family and friends. Now, the actions that you formerly would have taken, such as punishing the wrongdoer, are crimes themselves.
We must also hope that the police are competent, and not corrupted, and that they will successfully pursue justice.
Finally, sometimes you will find yourself in a position where, including through no fault of your own, all of your choices have, or may have, negative effects. For instance, you may find yourself in a situation where someone loves you, but you do not love them. Instead, you love another. The first person is going to be hurt, by definition, but no one is really to blame.
What is really the problem?
Of all the factors that underlie our nature, which are responsible for the wealth of bad behavior that people exhibit? Is it genetic - we are born bad; or will - we want to be bad; or is it the consequence of form, of other people and society somehow persuading us to do these things?
I believe that it is indeed form that is the cause of most of our real bad behavior, and most of the problems that we create around the world.
For example, form is regularly the cause of hate, and while love readily dies, it is almost impossible to eliminate hate. Once a tradition of hate is established, it takes on a life of its own, an existence that is seemingly eternal.
In the next series, I will examine behavioral form in far greater detail.
© Roland Watson 2013