The Basics: Human Nature and Perfect People

If you discuss anarchism with people, there are two statements that are supposed to kill your political thinking dead. They are ‘You ain’t thought about human nature, mate’ and ‘Your views require people to be perfect’. Both of these have been thought about and it’s very easy to retort to these questions, the problem is getting people to realise your arguments are good.

Many people think we can not live in a stateless society as we are stuck in some Hobbesian world view. People are stuck in Hobbes’ view that life outside outside of a state system would be ‘nasty, short and brutish’ and that in order to have a life worth living we need to have an authority in charge who has the power to save us all. This is for many people the way they view ‘human nature’ and this is the usual ‘You can’t reply to this statement’ from many people arguing against anarchism.

A simple reply here would be then, if people are so irredeemably evil that we need an authority to stop them attacking each other, what then makes the authority not evil. Surely all you have done is instead of being the war of all against all, you have just given one person or a group a carte blanche to do what they want? What stops this person who you have just invested all the power in from not using it for ill? To think that this fixes the problems of society is surely the utopian thinking?

So we have admitted that people are capable of great evil but they are also capable of great good. If we look back over history we can see many things that were considered normal human nature, now we would these things repugnant, think of slavery. The reason these acts were though as normal at those times was because of the institutions and structures that were around at that time. We always believe that the time we are in just now represents true human nature, but it always changes and we find it hard to see. If we look at the French Revolution do you think a month before the change that the ordinary citizens of France could imagine living without a monarch? They would have had problems with that thought as it would not have seemed possible, as at that moment all the institutions and structures were guiding them towards this being the true way humans live.

Look at the news on your television, it’s very probably telling you how western democratic capitalism is the best thing ever and that the Middle East should be following our role. Then there is the adverts telling you what to go out and buy. There is then the programs showing you cooking, gardening, house renovation, all good western ideas that we should follow or at least prescribe too. All day you are being told how to live and that this is the true human nature. This is where when you tell people that human nature is fluid you have to be careful to avoid sermons/lectures as people will shut off. You have to engage them, show them the structures, help them to free themselves and then they will carry on the spread of ideas.

Once you have explained there is a great Chomsky quote from the Chronicles of Dissent to pop into their thinking. ‘If we have institutions which make greed the sole property of human beings and encourage pure greed at the expense of other human emotions and commitments, we’re going to have a society based on greed, with all that follows. A different society might be organised in such a way that human feelings and emotions of other sorts say, solidarity, support, sympathy become dominant. Then you’ll have different aspects of human nature an personality revealing themselves.’

Human nature therefore is shaped and guided by society, it is a fluid concept and will change over time and change will always happen. The argument that we are in the a state showing true human nature is flawed and I will revisit in more depth as time goes on.

The tied in argument of needing people to be perfect is also a fallacy. People will always have their foibles. What the idea here is to change society around, just now we have very negative traits brought about by our societal structures. We highlight greed and jealousy as these two fire our need to buy more. Money has been fetishised and we have people now willing to despicable things in order to climb up the social ladder. This allows them to have more power, more power is what is being sought by our current societal model. This comes back to believing that we need a power in charge but everyday we can see what the powers in charge do so as to stay in charge, evils are carried out that if we abolished hierarchy we would no longer have any need for.

What then is needed is not perfect people but people who are willing to set themselves free from the current bonds of society. Once a majority of people are free from these shackles we can then move towards a new society, until then we are liable to just make the same mistakes again. Conflict will not disappear over night but will slowly until it becomes a new human nature to not have conflict. This is not utopian thinking, this is just looking at history and proscribing a course for humanity to move itself down.


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