Last night, my boyfriend Ryan and I were discussing the definition of human nature; specifically, how “human nature” is used when discussing democracy and sociology. We began the conversation talking about Trump’s request to boost military spending by $54 billion and explored the foreboding implications of this increase, particularly because Ryan’s brother will be signing up with the Army next week. As we had recently visited El Salvador, US military interventionism has been fresh on our minds. It seems that this is our new conception of war: aiding foreign governments in destroying insurgent rebellion. Considering the violent authority with which our own government conducts imperialist experiments of perverted democracy, it makes sense that we would help eliminate any and all anti-state forces (unless, of course, the state happens to be socialistic).
Our conversation unraveled into a discussion about political philosophy and whether I would like another glass of wine (an easy question to answer). We talked about local politics, the glorification of politicians and the military, and how the main difference between parties is the zealousness one has for the “free market” over the other. All are topics that deserve their own college courses, let alone blog posts by me that no one else will read, but what caught my attention was the frequency with which Ryan cited “human nature” as an obstacle to true democracy.
But what is human nature? Neither of us had a good answer. I suggested that it was the primal aspects of being human – appetite, competition, narcissism, jealousy – that distract us from evolving into ideal democratic players, or that was at least what he was suggesting. Ryan said it was something like that, but more so that our history as highly evolved social beings posits us as implicit supporters of conflict and elitism.
I have been thinking about this at length (for the last 4 hours), and I’ve come to the conclusion that “human nature” is a general term applied to a variety of issues we are told to think actually divide our communities. Who is telling us this? The famous conquerors of history, our politicians, our coaches, our best friends, makeup companies, advertisements, religious figures, psychologists, CEO’s, political scientists, economists, police officers, judges, lawyers – nearly every faction of our society is perpetuates the belief that people disagree enough to need to be regulated. In reality, our “human nature” is just a source of profit. It is also a lie.
There is nothing biological that determines how ideologically differentiated we become. Of course, there are things like physical and mental illness, but even these conditions are politicized. We labor under an assumption that our brains and bodies need certain things. Hunger, for instance, is a feeling that biologically signals us to eat. But for anyone who has ever dieted or fasted knows, the brain is intelligent enough to ignore these signals. We do not answer to every visceral impulse; in fact, we criminalize such behavior. At the risk of going into a deep Freudian hell hole, one could argue that our society is built upon the expectation that men self-regulate their sexual impulses, although this is an area in which even our president has failed. Human nature reveals itself in these ways, but it does not govern our politic. It is actually the politic that has manipulated the idea of human nature.
Our democracy is built on the assumption that the “free market”, when implemented correctly, is the perfect system to enable fair trading and consumption. Many people believe in the “free market” system as if it is some divine algorithm put in place by St. Adam Smith after God gave him marginal utility graphs etched into stone tablets. In reality, our economic system is the consequence of hundreds of years of economic theory that found relevance in societies where most people had to work endless hours to barely exist on basic subsistence levels, and these people were generally supporting uber wealthy and uber powerful upper classes and/or royal families. This is actually the case now to some degree, but we don’t get to see children making Donald Trump ties in a toxic factory in Southeast Asia. Why do you think we got into tall those wars in the first place?
In contemporary America, the “free market” is justified as being the most democratic way to consume the objects that define who you are. This, of course, depends on the prerequisite that objects, brands, lifestyles, etc. do define who we are. Now, you might think you are too smart to play into that idea. Maybe you have even uttered the words “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” and try to make the best possible consumerist decisions every time you buy something. The fact remains, however, that we define our personal identities largely from the things we consume. We do this because we are told this is a democratic exercise in embracing our human nature.
Because what is being human besides being the best? Owning the best? Acting the best? We are different as a species because we are winners. And we are winners because we’re not afraid to take what’s ours.
This myth of inherent conflict, of biological individualism, is the vaporous cloud on which our economy and our politics have been built. Republicans are capitalizing on this more than ever as they argue that socialized health care should not be funded by tax dollars because it does not fit everyone’s individual ideal of health care. Since when did having access to a doctor become a dependent variable of economic activity? They argue that the competition of the market will drive prices down and make health care affordable to all. While this has failed to happen, particularly because economic entry in the American insurance market is an ideal fantasy, the premise of this assumption is cause for deeper concern.
It is not human nature to want to share or not share our resources; rather, it is our human nature to care for our bodies, and we often make reckless decisions to do so. It is a construct, and a form of evolution, to push for policies that improve our communities. It is impossible to do so, however, when a powerful authority is making those decisions for us in the name of human nature, and it will be impossible to establish a true democracy unless we take authority away from our glorified government and corporate leaders and apply it to making utilitarian, secular policies in our communities.