What is the Nature of Man?
Lots of people ask the question, What is the nature of man?
For if you knew that people were good and that it is society that corrupts the noble savage
within us, then public policy would be different than if people were inherently
selfish (essentially concentrated evil).
Last night, my friend Peat was advocating that as each person ventures
around, they recognize other humans as similar to itself, and this recognition induces
varying amounts of empathy , and that "true morality" springs from it. This
assumes, to a certain extent, that people are basically good.
He claims his stance is that people are "not bad".
I've heard the empathy argument before, and it doesn't quite work for me
(not that I think that people are not not bad).
Empathy seems to require facial expressions and interaction in order to work, and
I've donated to relief organizations even without pictures of starving children.
But the opposite doesn't always work either. I've seen people look straight into
people's eyes and lie about things like … oh, uhm … weapons of mass destruction and
just who has access to the presidential cigar.
I do think that empathy plays a part in our morality, but it is just not the whole enchilada.
Our sense of morality evolved with us, and we can see the beginning's of how
Rousseau's noble Neanderthal may have been by watching a wolf pack or a lion pride.
The members of the pack or tribe take care of one another. While I've mentioned this
altruistic gene concept before, the morality that developed was based on an
Most normal people need no outside laws governing homelife, for we can see
our wrong doings in the eyes of our loved ones that are closest to us.†† I think this is why most societies don't have many laws regarding what goes on inside the home.
I put the caveat on "normal people", for there are plenty of examples of coercion,
domination and abuse within a home.
In early hominid times, neighboring tribes would seek to expand their possessions and gene pool by
raiding other tribes, raping and pillaging if they won. The "other" then, could be treated
as cruelly as needed. We just need to keep them different than us… pyschologically-speaking.
This is why we often label enemies in war to keep them sub-human.
So, here is the origin of our morality. Where it came. No, it wasn't given to us on tablets of
gold or scratch by the finger of a god. It evolved with us, and you can see the
reminants of it in the Bible. In chapter 20 of Exodus, Yahweh tells the Hebrews,
Thou shalt not kill. And then a few pages later, tells Joshua to take the Hebrews
and kill every man, woman and child in Canaan who happen to have some very nice
land they want.
Once again, this is just where and how our morality began. This isn't how it necessarily
should be. Think about the Golden Rule. This idea has developed in most civilizations
around the world, and it shows up when the needs of a tribe or city increase.
Sure, you could kill your neighboring tribe for that wonderful hide, but if you trade
that pretty rock you found, you could get a second or third hide from them.
So with rationality came civilization which bred politics††not that politics and rationality always go together ,
and politics leads to compromise.
That is all laws are… compromises and promises between each of us in order to
get us to live and work around each other. It may be cynical to say, but justice
may be little more than doing whatever it takes to keep people to stay within our
shared society's committment.
Keep in mind that compromises requires dialog… and I don't see how politics can stay
effective if this sort of dialog is done behind closed doors or when red and blues states
are screaming so loud neither side can here, but I digress.
Once again, this is just where and how our morality began, and our natural state is
both good and bad… depending on the target audience of our ethical view. But from
this state, we've grown, and now I'd like to see how humanity, justice, and large-scale
empathy has emerged from these beginnings.
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