The Fetters of Human Nature

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.’

An early 20th century depiction of a housewife and her husband
‘My soul is slowly withering under gender oppression!’
‘That’s my girl!’

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.’

Black slaves toiling in a cotton field
‘It’s in our nature to be slaves!’

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.

2 thoughts on “The Fetters of Human Nature

  1. Definitely more eloquently put than Marx.. 🙂

    My thoughts; while of course it is necessary to repel those justifications of oppressive ideologies, the concept of a human nature is perhaps still important to consider.

    While humans differ enormously in terms of culture and context, we all still share certain needs. Food and shelter perhaps being the most obvious ones that come to mind.

    It seems that the beginning is to dismantle, but the next step is to rebuild our ideologies around what actually is our basic nature. In this way you could turn it around and use the notion of human nature to critique the fact that we live in an economic system where the basic needs of enormous populations of people aren’t actually being met.

    “Far from it being the case that you can’t change human nature, the capacity for change and development is an essential part of human nature”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are certainly needs all humans share, though I would pull that further out and say that most, if not all, of those needs appear across all life. The obvious being food and water; the more abstract being shelter and security.

      This was definitely a post addressing the misuse of the term human nature, rather than an attempt to properly redefine it, but you’re right about there being an inherent nature. This nature is after all what separates us from the inanimate, and to a further extent, what separates us from other animals, though that in itself has led to rampant speciesism (but that’s for another post down the line).

      I think the flexibility of the human mind is something of great potential. However, it frustrates me how much people shackle themselves to the thought that our nature is violent and selfish, and that an overbearing moral or civic system is required to keep it repressed. For a system to even arise in the first place suggests that is not so.


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