Is Communism or Anarchism impossible to achieve due to the inherent flaws of “Human Nature”. Not at all. On the contrary, it’s human nature that makes it possible and yearns for it.
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.
40 thoughts on “This Human Nature”
Bah! And I just jumped into the debate on the last post. Great post as usual.
When the latest reference you can give as support is from 1884, and when there have been numerous advances in anthropology, archeology, and comparative animal behavior which contradicts it, I know where I would place more credibility in. Especially since even the American Indians which were cited as the example in the reference you're suggesting have turned out to be warlike and practiced slavery in reality.
I have cited several sources which contradicts your claims in that other post, all of which are much more recent than 1884, some of which even mention the fact that some past anthropologists had a rather rose-colored view of the past. Why should I consider something from 1884 the authoritative source on the subject over a much larger number of recent works, especially considering that the book you cite has a political agenda while the sources I cite just care about the science?
Detailed information is in the book itself! How do you expect to see them through skimming?
You said you skimmed the book. But the information is not given in easy to digest bites. I don't even know what you were looking for.
This is not an easy to read book, it provides historical facts almost throughout the whole length and only in the end of the very last chapter does it bring up communism and Marx. I cannot tell you where I found any specific point because I read it cover-to-cover and now I have digested the information, remember it in a more abstract form which is enough to make my own conclusions.
I might be able to see your point of view, if I had any idea what the older evidence is.
From what I can infer from what Engels says in the book you cite, he seems to have based it on observations by his contemporaries of the American Indians, but more detailed and recent research show that appearances were deceiving. If I'm wrong, then you'll need to educate me on what actual evidence was used to paint the idyllic view of the American Indians Engels gives.
It is an egalitarian society with everything shared. And it's one that has a shocking amount of violence.
Please, don't undermine your own arguments by basing them on outdated knowledge. Ancient humans weren't particularly more peaceful or cooper… than we are.
Please, don't undermine your own arguments by basing them on outdated knowledge. Ancient humans weren't particularly more peaceful or cooperative than we are.
Sure, although my first reading only found it outdated and missing the claims you say it makes. And will you be reading any modern books I suggest? Even ignoring all of this discussion, I highly recommend Nicholas Wade's "Before the Dawn" as a very readable and engaging science book on human evolution.
Odd. I don't recall mentioning anything about skimming the book in this thread. And it has been some time since that other post.
Reading through the book, I couldn't help but feel how outdated the book was, and I still seemed to have missed what you have been claiming.
My knowledge is not outdated. You are talking about a completely different time period.
Unless other sources directly contradict the older findings, then it does not matter how old it is. From what I've seen, newer findings do not contradict it because they're talking about post-farming age.
Huh. An egalitarian tribal society with no farming and which depends on hunting and foraging is post-farming? Chimpanzees and other primates are post-farming? I had no idea.
Not to mention the fact that the very American Indians that's cited in the book as the example of the egalitarian society were not so peaceful and cooperative as they were thought to be, and even worse, the book you cite makes no mention of "millions of years of cooperation" (this time I did scour the whole thing).
At this point, I'll need some actual concrete references that explain how they arrived at their conclusions and the data they used if I am to be persuaded to your point of view on this particular matter. I'm actually a bit troubled that you seem to be completely unable to even consider the possibility that Engels may have been wrong, through no fault of his own but simply because of the state of knowledge at the time. For all I know, his particular view of history could have been made up out of thin air by the anthropologists at the time.
I am not, but like you, I am not convinced that newer evidence contradicts older ones.
Now hold on, is it an egalitarian society or not? If it is, then it does not contradict Engels.
You cannot draw conclusions from primates because it is because they were not acting cooperatively like humans, that they did not evolve a society.
You cannot draw conclusions from primates because it is because they were not acting cooperatively like humans, that they did not evolve a society of this complexity.
It's not. As I said, I looked through the entire book. Are you sure it's in there?
Primates that are distant relatives of ours are not universally peaceful and cooperative, which points to a lack of indications of great cooperation in the distant past, archeological digs and primitive tribes today don't indicate a particularly peaceful society, which contradict great cooperation during a large portion of the intermediate past, and humans today aren't incredible cooperators.
Where is the "millions of years of cooperation" supposed to fit, and what is the actual evidence for such a period?
Actually it doesn't. The author counters that almost immediately in the very first chapters.
Which chapter? The very first chapter only talks about the development of how humans sustained themselves, and nothing about cooperation. In fact, it talks about the earliest stage lasting "thousands of years" and even states there are no direct evidence for it, which shows just how outdated the book is.
Look, the only way to give you precise information is to go back and reread the book in order to find the exact evidence you want. I will not do that because it is unfair to me. If you do not have the time to read it then that's fine but you cannot claim that it's obsolete simply because it is old.
I end this discussion here. As it simply desolves in me asking you to read the book and you refusing until I convince you that the evidence is there, which I can only do by reading the book again myself.
Odd. I don't recall skimming the book in this thread. And it has been some time since that other post.
Reading through the book, I couldn't help but feel how outdated the book was, and I still seemed to have missed what you have been claiming.
Sorry, you said "scour" not "skim". I am not certain however if that means that you read it or simply fast-read it
Have you thought whether you have been fair to me? After going through the entire book you suggest, after looking it up multiple times for specific content, after searching for my own sources and confirming them, only to be dismissed with "read this book", I feel a bit unloved … 😛
I'm not opposed to it certainly and I will attempt to read it (if there is an online version I can download on my ebook, this will happen sooner rather than later)
However, have you seen how many people suggest books and links to me lately? It's insane!
By "scour" I meant that I did an exhaustive text search on multiple terms, independently of the separate reading I did. Sorry if I wasn't clear enough.
And yet you're doing the same thing to me. 😉
Only because I have no choice 🙂
To be clear, I just found the earlier and last parts outdated. Not being a history buff, I have little idea about the parts in the middle.
"Their societies were ones of group marriages and thus there was not even male competition for women."
No male competition for women? Where did you get that statement from? Do you really believe it?
"Cooperation which lasted millions of years or competition which in the grand scheme of things is as long as a blink of an eye?"
To both your comments
Yes I have proof. I linked to it in the middle of the post: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1884/o…
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