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Response to Yavin4 (Original post)

Thu Aug 21, 2014, 04:03 PM

54. I don't quite agree, but yours is a lot closer to my point of view than Ayn Rand's nonsense

My view of the world is through the lens of Rousseau, specifically his dichotomy of the natural and social orders of things.

Our species is not cursed with original sin, as Christian doctrine holds, but there is certainly no evidence of the opposite, perhaps we should call it original virtue, which seems good for selling overpriced paperbacks in a new age bookstore, but little else. Since I've mention Ayn Rand, an overrated hack novelist and quack philosopher, her ideas about human nature are closer to the Christian doctrine of original sin, except that she thinks that the emotions and behavior Christians enumerate as sins are virtues.

To give that lady her due, however, greed and selfishness do fill a positive role, along with some of our more aggressive traits that get out of hand too often. If we were created by a god, then it created us, like it created every other species, to survive for at least for time on this planet while it is still inhabitable.

Nevertheless, Ms Rand's view of human nature is at best a half truth. Her heroes are "born without the ability to feel others." Such a person usually ends up committing criminal acts, like a serial killer. If her novels don't ring true to most of us, that is the reason: her heroes aren't like most of us, and we don't hold them up as people to be admired. That ability to feel others is as much a natural part of us as greed, selfishness and aggressive behavior. Primitive humans live in groups and hunt in packs. A human with no ability to feel others would not survive very long in a state of nature. He would be a lone hunter. No one would do his hunting for him or look after his health if he were laid up for a while with the flu or if he catches a cold that digresses into pneumonia. He might pass on his genes if he can find a mate who's as sick as he is, as happens in Ms Rand's novels such as, for instance, with Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged.

While it is true that we can be characterized as being greedy and selfish, there is a reason we don't often think that those are part of our better nature. Humans are also, by nature, a social animal. By nature, we reach out to our fellow humans. One can call that empathy. It's a good word for it, although I think empathy means something more, something less clinical or academic, but something warmer. If we didn't do that, we would have become extinct long ago. A slow runner (compared to a hungry leopard) and poor tree climber (compared to a frightened monkey) had to have something else going for it in order to have been as successful as we have been. A good part of this might have been that magnificent brain of ours.

Do I hear the Objectivists chortling? Do they really think a lone human hunter could have survived in a state of nature more than a winter or two by himself and his brain? No, he would not have. He would not have lived long enough to become a hunter. Most of human cerebral development takes place outside the womb, after birth. Our childhood comprises about the first 20% of our life span. It is necessary for our survival to the age of puberty that we be nurtured by other, older humans. Again, it is natural for humans to live in groups. If it were not, few of us would survive childhood and the likelihood we would be extinct by now would be rather high. Therefore, we have the family, the village, the tribe, the community, or if one wishes to use some more general term, society. Human society cannot be separated from our nature. It is part of us.

True, it comes at a cost, such as limitations on individual freedom. Part of that limitation is what we call morality, that is, the rules by which we agree to live in a particular group. Believers in the Abrahamic god assert that morality comes from their god. I don't agree with them. People who have never heard of that particular god still live in groups that have rules by which they live. A society could not function well if we allowed any individual to resolve a dispute with another by killing him. Nobody needs a god to furnish a prophet with a stone tablet saying so in order to know this. Even Pharaoh, who most certainly did not believe in the Abrahamic god, enforced laws prohibiting murder and theft.

Morality, in my view, grows out of a social pragmatism growing, in turn, from our natural need to live in groups. I don't think that need is the same thing as empathy, but it is related to it. Empathy is something like an elaboration on that need. We don't really need empathy for survival, but it makes the world a more pleasant place.

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