UNDERSTANDING HUMAN NATURE AND
Ideals do not exist in a vacuum. In order for ideals to matter, they must be appreciated and understood. This ability to comprehend and appreciate ideals is one of the fundamental differences between humans and the other known species.
Plants and animals exist according to a blueprint. Outside of very narrow limits, these life forms are unable to alter their own blueprints. They survive or die according to instinct and circumstance. For them, it truly is a matter of survival of the fittest, in the manner in which Darwin actually used that concept. Nature is quite indifferent as to which species thrive and which do not. Each life form possesses a set of skills and competes with others for the available resources. The so-called balance of nature can only be determined in hindsight. No one would have been able to accurately predict which of the billions of species that have existed throughout history would succeed and which would become extinct. We can look backwards and see that one species adapted better than another to the exigent circumstances because of one or more abilities in their nature.
Human are very different. While we are still fragile creatures of nature and subject to annihilation either self-inflicted or due to natural catastrophic events, nature provided us with a tool that, if properly utilized, gives us a tremendous advantage over other know life forms. That tool is the human brain and the human ability to use reason. Through the use of observation and evaluation, and for better or for worse, humans are able to break free of many of the instinctual responses that are otherwise programmed into their nature. However, that does not mean that these instincts do not still exert an influence. In fact, that they do is the reason for the subject matter of this paper.
Trying to comprehend human behavior without considering human nature is a mistake that is made far too often. When we look at politics, religion, or any other system of organization of human activity, we would be very wise to strongly consider the influence of human nature. It has been said that “…if we were angels, there would be no need for government.” I am not sure what an angel is, but this can be restated as, “If we were perfect, there would be no need for government.” While some would say that nature is perfect in the aggregate, as individuals, humans are not perfect – physically nor in any other way.
It is this imperfection that prompts our hunger for “order”. There is a legitimate reason why humans do not like chaos. A reasoning mind is fairly useless in an unpredictable environment. You cannot plan or prepare if there is no structure. As competitive as some of the “lower” animals are, even some of them have instinctually discovered that hunting cooperatively in packs (as just one example) is more conducive to survival than hunting individually. Humans have devised a plethora of systems of organization that take this instinctual reaction and “refine” it in multiple ways.
This leads us to the question “What system of organization is most conducive to the survival of the human species”? If self-awareness is one of the requisites of utilizing a brain capable of logic and reason, then we might want to start with an examination of human nature with regard to “the self”. That no man is an island is no doubt true.
However, from the perspective of human consciousness, each individual can only directly experience that which affects the self. How we experience “objective reality” is influenced by many factors including our physical nature and that which we have been exposed to since birth (especially since first conscious thought). Although we may be a black box at the time of conception, by the time we are able to effectively use reason, the box has had a great deal of material stuffed into it.
Survival requires an individual organism to make choices which promote its own well-being. That is no different for the human animal than it is for any other known life form. A plant bends toward the sun and sends roots down into the soil in search of water and other nutrients. A predatory animal hunts and eats its prey in order to sustain its own life. Organisms may then go on to perform cooperative acts with other like and disparate organisms, but it is safe to conjecture that lacking individual survival, no such cooperation would be possible. That is why self-survival is the primary responsibility of every organism. All this may seem obvious until you consider human philosophies which attempt to promote self-sacrifice and cooperation at the expense of one’s own best interest. Such philosophies are unnatural to humans and lead to unnatural results.
Self-interest, individual freedom and individual responsibility are the foundation upon which any further cooperative behaviors must rely. That does not minimize the importance of cooperative behavior, it merely puts it into perspective. Disregard for individual, self-promoting behaviors that human beings are by nature prompted to perform is tantamount to tearing the foundation from under a structure, and yet expecting that structure to stand on its own. Any long-term strategy for human organization must take this fact into account. That is where the United States Constitution and the ideal of a Constitutional Republic obtain their strength.
If you read the words of the U.S. Constitution, you will discover that it is founded upon the ideal of individual freedom and responsibility. While providing “order” to the organization of individuals in a society, it does not hold the “society” as the greater good. In fact under a Constitutional Republic such as ours, the legitimacy of the authority the government holds is dependent upon the wishes of the individual citizens rather than those of a Monarch, a dictator or even a President. The “execution” of that authority may be a problem, however that is usually true of all ideals.
Just as in calculus, one can approach zero by halves, and yet never reach zero, it is also true that we can only approach achievement of the ideal of a Constitutional Republic. For those of us who still believe in the value of the ideal, the question becomes “What appeal to the true nature of humans will motivate them to participate in their own governance”? Without participation by the people, there can be no successful Constitutional Republic.
In my personal view, the appeal must be made to the instinct of self-interest and self-preservation. No tricks need to be employed. We should be able to present the truth in a way that the average human will embrace. I believe that this is the primary task of those of us who still believe in individual human rights and responsibility and who see the value in voluntary cooperation with those who respect those rights. Nature provided us with the tools we need to get the job done. I encourage all who bother to read this far to employ their ability to reason to help us reach those who may have lost faith in our foundation. Yes, the execution has been faulty, but the foundation is as solidly based in reason as any that is ever likely to be developed.