I’ve never understood the term human nature. It baffles me that the term is used to reinforce such things as gender roles or racial prejudice. The historical context of such oppressions seem ignored in the face of the scapegoat that is human nature.
The two main arguments for its existence seem to stem from zoological and sociological bases.
The zoological argument delves into our animal ancestry. This form disregards every cultural, philosophical, and technical advancement we’ve made as a species since human intelligence arose. It is a diluted view that attempts to define humans without the human part. Often, concepts from behavioural ecology and zoology are taken out of context and applied to the humans.
‘Sexual dimorphism exists. Women are meant to be caregivers. It’s in a man’s nature to sleep around to increase his fitness.’
These sentences are riddled with flaws. Behaviours arise through the environment. Humans do not live in the same environment as the animals studied. We do not share their resources, nor their hierarchical structures. The entire field of behavioural ecology relies on examining the environment to determine why behaviours occur. It is nearly a century old and an insult to borrow concepts from without a basic understanding of how they came about.
Futhermore, we have developed the concept of free will for a reason, and to deny the freedom that philosophy gives us is to deny human intelligence. We have the capacity to evolve culturally, and intellectually. Behaving in terms of instinct only, if such a thing exists, is a rejection of our entire history as humans.
The second argument delves into society. Human nature defined by the actions of the majority. Though this appears a more reasonable definition than the zoological one, cultural evolution and social structures are often left out of the analysis. In other words, actions are analysed without context; overarching systems are not considered.
‘The majority of criminals arrested in the United States are African-Americans. It’s in their nature to commit more crimes.’
If we were to look only at statistics, we’d likely never question such statements; however, we’re smarter than that. Culture has a massive influence on the way we think and act, and the predominant culture of western societies has come about through colonisation. Both British and American imperialism have lead to insidious amounts of racism that have yet to dissipate.
Firstly, the socio-economic backgrounds between whites and blacks are hugely dissimilar. This has caused societal changes that are reflected in crime rates, though barely is the origin of these differences delved into in news reports. Furthermore, the concentration of police efforts on lower-class crimes, rather than upper-class ones, exacerbate these issues. In other words, a systemic prejudice exists against those born in poorer districts. The imprisonment of blacks is merely a symptom of an unfair justice system, rather than a reflection of inherent criminality in their race.
Clearly, the road from slavery to freedom is still being tread.
I guess what I’ve been trying to say is human nature cannot be defined without context, and even then it is a fluid definition that changes as our systems and cultural values evolve. To try and define any part of ourselves is prescriptive, rather than descriptive, and does more harm than good.
Human nature is a consequence of our times. A surface term that does not reveal the deeper roots of our being, but merely reconstructs a snapshot of history. Too often people generalise and follow their prejudices, rather than delve deeper into issues and discover the true underlying causes of human behaviour.
We are born into a world, dynamic, yet filled with centuries old ideologies. To live a full life is not to simply follow the ideologies you believe in, but to question them, critique them, and dismantle them.
In this, human nature is but one pillar that needs to be dismantled.