Sunday, June 19, 2011

Human Nature

Human nature refers to those things the human race NEEDS in order to survive. Food, water, shelter, and community.

Food, water, and shelter are self explanatory. But some might argue against the idea of community. Without companionship the human race cannot reproduce, but even with companionship we still need community. Not only is community a force for protection but it is also a more diverse DNA pool. Two people alone do not have the genetic ability to reproduce generation after generation indefinitely. The genetic problems caused by incest are many and varied. Suffice it to say that they can be very significant and compound quickly. Thus, community is not just a luxury, it is a requirement. It is a part of human nature.

What happens when some of the requirements of human nature are not met? How do people react? These questions are huge. Scholars have tried to answer them for centuries and they form the foundation of most of the social sciences. The short answer is that societies usually react in the interest of IMMEDIATE self preservation. If the requirements are still not addressed over the termination of immediacy (explained more later) than the people involved eventually die out. If the human race is unable to meet these needs, it will die. Simple as that.

I use the word "societies" and not "individuals" because usually there is a larger social movement with individual sacrifices, which serve less to deter and more to unite the masses. Some evolutionary philosophers have even argued that self sacrifice is a trait that has been incorporated into populations through natural selection of entire communities and not just the individual organism (look up "game theory" if you are interested in this idea). In a way, this idea is also a bow to the community as a force for protection as well as reproduction.

The following is human nature as seen in the world:

After the 1992 Dublin Statement corporations around the world began to define water and water use in terms of economic value. In the year 2000 Bolivia, with the encouragement of the World Bank, hired French water companies to switch water use over into a profitable system. Much of the impoverished population of Cochabamba, Bolivia, was suddenly unable to afford to use the city's municipal water supply, which had doubled in price overnight.
It is human nature to seek out and take control of a consistent water supply, so in response, the city erupted into riots. The Cochabamba Water Wars resulted in a revolution of governance, 40 injuries, and five deaths. If the people of Cochabamba had only been interested in individual self preservation they would have stopped after the deaths, but they did not.
The Cochabamba Water Wars were a response to a deprivation of a requirement in human nature. In 2010 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution that defined water as a basic human right.

When food prices go up in the Middle East so does the crime rate. Almost every major revolution in the Middle East has corresponded to an increase in food prices. The Middle East is extremely prone to drought, and has a very large impoverished population (Impoverished in this case meaning that they make less than $1.25 a day. Yes, that is adjusted to the Purchasing Power Parity and differences in currency). When the price of food goes up people get scared. It is human nature to seek out a consistent supply of food adequate for survival.
"Food" as I am talking about it may also include medications.

Shelter is more difficult to explain. I define "shelter" as "an environment, which shields its inhabitants from health depriving extremes."
Since "shelter" can be so broad it is difficult to find historical case studies about what happens when people are severely deprived of it. But, think of it like this: If there is a huge fire in a forest and you are living in the only fireproof stone building for miles around, those outside of the building will do all they can to get inside. Or, if it is extremely cold outside and you have the only fire for miles, people will be drawn to it no matter how hard you try to keep them away. If people see your environment as the only or even best option they will be naturally drawn to it. It is human nature.

The effects of a deprivation of community is the most difficult to explain and before I do so I think I need to discuss one other note of importance in all of this.

Order of Immediacy:
Each of the four requirements of human nature are placed in an order of immediacy. Water is the most immediate because it must be addressed the quickest. The effects of a deprivation of water happens within a matter of days. Food is the second quickest, it is a matter of weeks. Shelter immediacy can vary depending on the situation (for example, fires are fast) but it is usually fairly slow because the body can withstand a certain amount of exposure to relative extremes before the effects become significant (sometimes even a multitude of years). The consequences of community deprivation are the slowest and can take generations to coalesce.
Because these requirements are ranked, sometimes they come into conflict with each other. People often sacrifice shelter for food and water, for example. Community is the most often sacrificed for food, water, and/or shelter. Of course, a deprivation in any of the first three can also cause a unification of the community. But, more often than not, it causes a division of community. When a revolution occurs it is not just a coming together of the people, it is also an expulsion of a part of the community-- the former government. Different parts of a single society can unite separately and often in opposition of each other. This division can continuously happen all the way down to the individual.

When resources are extremely limited communities tend to be divided into the "haves" and the "have nots." This is independent of the economic structure applied in these places; it can happen in a socialist, mercantilist, or a capitalist society. This is a matter of human nature, not economic/political structures.

Colin Turnbull's ethnography about the Ik people called "The Mountain People" is an example of a society that has been divided almost entirely down to an individualistic system. The Ik people have virtually sacrificed all of their community for other basic requirements. The word for "good" in the Ik language directly translates to "full." Literally a "good man" is a "full man" (man with a full stomach).

These people have been systematically marginalized in the most profound of ways from being displaced to starved by other dominant groups. Their human nature demanded an adjustment in order to survive. This meant sacrificing the community in exchange for individualistic survival.

The most important thing that Turnbull found was that the ethical value system of the Ik is drastically different than those of the vast majority of people in the world. Where virtually every other culture on earth hold some kind of moral obligation towards the young of their people the Ik do not. At the age of 3 every Ik child is put out of the town walls and left to fend for him or herself among their fellow peers. There is no real governing system, and there is no respect for the old. The strong rule.

Eventually the Ik people will die out if they do not begin to value each other more, despite some reproduction. To be clear, they do not completely hate each other. They still have a pseudo-community, which is probably why they have not all died out by now. But competition for food, water, and shelter will eventually cause generational destruction unless the human nature requirements of community are addressed.

When the requirement of "community" is not addressed the result is a loss of morality and ethical value systems. The result is rampant violence, inequality, and individual depression. All of these elements fall under the category of "social disorganization theory." You may be interested in looking that up.

(Side note, could expand: The state of nature is both Hobbesian and cooperative. It is Hobbesian when the needs of human nature are not met. It is cooperative when they are met above and beyond simple sufficiency.)

In most parts of America we are rich in the first 3 requirements. The last is harder, and it's where most of us have our problems.

People don't understand the importance of community. We demand privacy and privacy rights over communal rights. And then we wonder why we have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. We literally go against human nature.

But why? Do you remember U.S. History class when your teacher talked about the Chesapeake Bay colony? John Smith had a rule: If you do not work, you do not eat. This rule worked back then. Resources were thin and it forced the community to come together in order to fulfill other basic needs like food, water, and shelter. But that rule is ultimately anti-community because it required that a part of the community had to die. Still, resources were limited and a part of the community was going to die anyway. Thus, the priorities of human nature took charge.

That is what it was like all across the frontier. We all know the old saying "God helps those who help themselves." That sentiment is anti-community and pro-individualism not to mention not in the Bible at all. Benjamen Franklin said it. At the founding of the nation community was almost always ordered last. Smaller and smaller groups were privileged and sorted based off of raw resources alone. The first 3 requirements of human nature held sway, and they still do today.

Our society has taken it way too far. For most Americans we are no longer in the the position where the first 3 requirements absolutely need to be met, yet we still hoard those things as if our lives depend on it. The result? Obesity, greed, inequality, social disorganization, high crime rates and high rates of depression.

It's not that capitalism is an inherently bad economic structure, it's that the way we approach capitalism is so predominantly materialistic. It is based too strongly on individual materialistic gains. What about the non-materialistic gain of having a community?

There is no more conservative sentiment in America than the one which states "If you do not work, you do not eat." If you are like me then you feel the pressure to conform to this idea. But if you are also like me you feel very conflicted by this idea.

It is human nature to need a good community. It is NOT human nature to lie when you do not have to in order to survive. It is NOT human nature to divide yourself out of the rest of society. It is NOT human nature to be distrustful, egocentric, self interested, or greedy. It is not human nature to be unclear with your words. All of these things are human tendencies, which can be changed. Human tendencies are what we still do based off of structures set in place in response to needs that have largely passed.

We NEED to put a greater emphasis on our communities in our individual lives. Government enforced communalism is not what I am talking about, though government should not prevent communalism either. I am talking about our own lives.

Making the decision to care about our communities, and our own social lives is making the decision to be human.

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