The Question of Human Nature

I’ve been traveling and have not had the time to service my blog for a while. In Seoul recently I made a short address to a conference organised by the Universal Peace Federation. The following is the text of what I said.

If the world isto be”transformed” to give all of our children even the prospect of a future worth having, governments must be the prime instruments for bringing the transformation about. THE problemis that governments are not seriously addressing? or not addressing seriously enough ? any of the growing pile of problems which threaten the wellbeing and perhaps even the survival of mankind. So what’s to be done?

The first thing I think we all need to do is understand whygovernments are not acting to stop the countdown to catastrophe on various fronts.

There are a number of reasons but in the short time available to me today I will deal with only one. It’s to do with the fact that the Game of Politics is all about, and only about, short-termism. Politicians are only concerned with winning the next election. How do they go about doing that?

In every so-called democratic society, and the Western ones in particular, politicians solicit the votes of citizens with the promise of MORE of everything in the way of material satisfaction ? an ever improving material standard of living and ever more in the way of consumer goodies and the money (I think I should say credit) to buy them.

Because that’s the way the Game if Politics is played, our politicians are frightenedto tell us the truth about real choices and options if we want to change the world for the better. The truth being that if those of us who live in the affluent nations really want to see the creation of a better and more just and peaceful world, we must DOWNGRADE our expectations for more of everything and even be prepared to take LESS not MORE of the global cake.

Simply stated, our politicians are not telling us the truth because they fear that if they do, we won’t vote for them. And they have this fear, are driven by it, because, like the mainstream media, they subscribe to the PESSIMISTIC view of human nature.

According to this view, we human individuals are inherently and unchangeably greedy,short-sightedand selfish, preferring to live for today at the expense of tomorrow. In other words, actually one word, human nature isbad. (Perhaps not completely bad, but much more bad than good).

There is, of course, another view of human nature ? the OPTIMISTICone. And it’s the view to which I subscribe. Always have done. Always will.

According to this view, we pop out of the wombs of our mothers as more or less blank pageson which to be written. Which must mean, surely, that we have at least the potentialto be good. (Perhaps not completely good, but more good than bad on balance). What I mean by good is having the ability and the willto think and act beyond the confines of narrow, shortest-term, self-interest. It’s true that we are born with some genetic inheritance, but almost all of us become what we become mainly as the consequence of our upbringing, our environment and our experience.

What this suggests to me is that we modern human beings have been CONDITIONED to be greedy, short-sighted and selfish. And if that is so, it follows, surely, that we could RE-CONDITIONEDby what my favourite philosopher, the American John Dewey, called “social influence and education”. Dewey put it this way:

The most powerful instincts, such as sex and pugnacity, have been considerably modified and controlled by social training; and there is no reason why other instincts, like those of acquisition and mastery should not be similarly modified by social influence and education. We must unlearn our ideas about an unchangeable human nature.

In my opinion, the affluent minorities of Planet Earth ? over-developed Westerners and the upper and emerging middle classes of the fast developing nations – have also got to claim back their humanity.What do I mean? Those with purchasing power are becoming de-humanised by allowing themselves to be regarded as nothing more than units of consumption.

What I am trying to say comes down to this. If we the peoples of nations really want to play our necessary part in creating a better, more fair and peaceful world, we have to start by changing ourselves?. This, I believe, is the best way to demonstrate to politicians, and leaders especially, that they will NOT be committing suicide by telling us the truth about choices and options for stopping the countdown to catastrophe.

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