By Roland Watson

I'm going to begin by stating the obvious. The world has a lot of problems. There is a seemingly endless stream of problems, everywhere. But, I'm not going to list the problems that people currently think are the most important. You can go to newspapers and websites for that. Rather, I'm concerned with the question: why are there so many?

The problem is us

To understand what is happening around the world, we need to accept, and act on, a basic truth. The problems come from us - from our nature. If we want them to end, and such that they will never recur, we have to understand our nature, and, we have to change.

There have been many descriptions of human nature. I believe this is one of the best.

"He felt the mass of mankind mighty in its numbers. They swarmed numerous like locusts, industrious like ants, thoughtless like a natural force, pushing on blind and orderly and absorbed, impervious to sentiment, to logic, to terror...What if nothing could move them?"

There are the thoughts of the character, the Anarchist, in The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad.

This view implies that while individuals - such as you and me - while we may have order and purpose in our lives, taken together, as a group - as a species - we are a massive, uncontrollable force, and with no collective purpose. It doesn't take a genius to realize that a powerful force, without a purpose, is an extremely dangerous thing.

Human nature is a big subject, and there are a lot of different ways to look at it. For example, we often use the phrase when we don't understand why something happened, why someone did something. We say: "Oh. It's human nature."

However, this is the same as saying nothing, as saying that we do not know. I can add, this use of human nature is particularly common when we confront the terrible things that people do, those things which are "inhumane."

Talking about human nature like this is actually an excuse for ignorance, and also inaction.

Physical and behavioral form

The standard method to discuss our nature is to begin with our physical form, in other words, what we look like. This is also the approach that we commonly use for other species, such as plants, or ants, or tigers.

Another approach, though, is to describe what we do: how we act or behave. For most species the range of behavior is relatively limited, but for humans it is very wide. We do many, many different things.

At a deeper level, physical form and behavior are of course intertwined. Form drives function. For life, form is inseparable from its behavior.

For example, take plants. Plants are seemingly benign to us. We enjoy their flowers, fruit, nuts and seeds, and even the shapes - and shade - of their leaves.

For their behavior, our only thought is that they "grow." We are blind to the never-ending war that is underway "between" plants, for space and sunlight.

For ants - they are just small insects that can ruin picnics and give a nasty bite. We are oblivious to the different types of ants that exist within a particular species, and how their varied roles combine to sustain colonies, and create complex social behavior.

For tigers, they clearly have the form of a predator. But, while we respect the beauty of a tiger's camouflage, and its power, we give little thought to the fact that all of this is designed to enhance its ability to kill.

This series of articles is going to concentrate on the behavioral dimension of human nature, and, as I just said, the diversity of our behavior is extraordinary.

This diversity is matched by, or rather, it is the product of, our specialization: of all the different ways people segregate themselves to do different things.

Also, sometimes our behavior is straightforward, but other times it seems impossible to understand.

To repeat: One thing that is certain is that it is our behavior that is the cause of most, if not all, of the problems in the world.

What are we trying to do?

So, why do we behave the way we do?

The obvious answer is that we behave the way we do to satisfy the different needs and motivations that we have, and that different behaviors satisfy different needs.

Our needs and motivations are many, and include security, food and shelter, companionship, love, and creative expression.

Then the question becomes, how are our needs and motivations, our desire to fulfill them, actually translated into what we do?

Another way to put this is: What are the factors that guide or shape human behavior?

There are many factors at work. This is the real reason why human nature is so difficult to understand.

Even more, there are factors to which we respond, but which are designed to get us to act in ways that actually diverge from our needs and goals.

In the following articles, I will describe a way to understand "all" human behavior, even the most inhumane, or saintly. I will begin with the connections between behavior and our genetic code.

© Roland Watson 2013