We interrupt your regularly scheduled program to look into an argument that is starting to annoy the tits out of me.
One of the most frequent arguments against Communism that I seem to face almost every day now, is the one that says that human nature is such that a system based on cooperation and altruism could never be achieved.
The claim is that this human nature is necessarily greedy, competitive, aggressive and whatnot. With such a nature then it’s only understandable that we’d have wars, poverty and capitalism as these are the only things that our nature is compatible with. It’s then no wonder that Communism has failed every time it was attempted. It went against human nature! Nevermind other factors, it was doomed to failure from the start.
These interpretations basically take the view that human nature is generally “flawed” and is such that only under Capitalism can it be somehow tamed. It is with such reasoning that white becomes black and vices become virtues in order to defend the current system. Against the human nature argument one cannot win for nobody can escape his nature.
Or can they?
The point of calling something a human nature is that a human cannot escape or avoid it. I cannot avoid eating for it is my nature to need energy. Perhaps at some indefinite point in the future we might arrange that we won’t need food anymore but we’ll certainly still need energy, thus our nature remains. The same goes with anything else that we cannot escape.
And this is where evolutionary psychology comes in and tell us that we have genetical predispositions to various behaviours. Fight or Flight, children’s language learning capability etc. One of these predispositions is then posited to be Competition and thus that the human society must be organised in a way that Competition is put to good use. Ergo Capitalism.
Putting aside the quite large controversy around Evolutionary Phychology itself, I have the following arguments:
If one thing is said to certainly be part of our nature, then that is our ability to reason and use logical arguments. Indeed we are the only known animal that uses it so one can easily even call it our defining nature. It is the only reason why humans are capable of introspection and thus of managing their own predispositions.
It is with reason that not only can we control our psychological predispositions, but even our biological ones. It is because of it that I can suppress my urge to eat because I am overweight. It is because of reason that men can suppress urges to rape women when they otherwise could and are driven to it by their biology. And it is because of it, that I can suppress whatever urge I have to compete or simply turn it into a noble or friendly competition.
Thus, the strongest and undeniable part of human nature, indeed the one that can be said to be defining humans, is the one that allows us to control all other parts of our nature, whatever they may be. This means that even if, theoretically, competition, greed or whatever else is in our nature but it is against our benefits, we have the innate capability to suppress it.
Cooperation VS Competition
Humans are a social animal, that much is certain. As such we have a definite predisposition towards cooperation with other humans. But is it stronger than any predisposition we may have towards competition? I believe that is the case.
Someone reading about the origins of the family and the state can easily see how before civilization, the humans were barely competitive with each other at all. Within a gentile community, the predominant behaviour was of mutual cooperation and the further back one goes into the stages of barbarism and then savagery, the more powerful this cooperation becomes. This is simply because the less tools and ability humans had to survive independently, the more they had to cooperate with each other to survive.
The only cause of competition that could have happened, was when meeting another band of humans and there was a lack of resources to go around. Then, as a results of humans being separated into haves and have-nots, competition emerged. Other than that, there was no other competition to be had. Their societies were ones of group marriages and thus there was not even male competition for women.
This cooperative method of living persisted for millions of years with the strongest forms of cooperation lasting longer (as the lesser forms of evolutionary progress lasted longer) until eventually, roughly 9000 years ago, humans enterred civilization. It is with civilization that the monogamy, private property and the state emerged. This was the reason why humans were separated, for the first time in history, into classes. And it is because of the friction between those classes that competition became the fact of life.
The larger the society grew, the bigger the class separation, the larger the gap with other humans in one’s society, The impression of individual independence grew even though it is patently false. Nevertheless, the human within a huge society finds it impossible to perceive it and ends up assuming that he actually has no codependence on other humans. Thus in this vast society, competition feels like the only choice, add to that the constant reinforcement of this idea by popular media and memes and it’s no wonder that this feels like “human nature”.
But what do you think is evolutionary stronger. Cooperation which lasted millions of years or competition which in the grand scheme of things is as long as a blink of an eye? Not only logic but simple empirical evidence points to the former. Cooperation survives even in the most hostile environment of Capitalism – the system which honestly expects people to act rationally and individualistic and ends up having to work with emotional cooperative humans.
And to top it all off, we still have reason, as explained above, which can further suppress competition in favor of cooperation when warranted.
If there is any truth to evolutionary psychology, it is as Marx noted, in that humans have the nature of cooperation and individualism. Our nature do not prevent Communism at all, it yearns for it, for it is both in all of our best interests and also closer to our psychology.