Human Nature

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Human Nature

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Tue Dec 16, 2008 4:29 am UTC

I'm bringing this up as a new topic because some posters were getting purpled for bringing it up too much in other threads, but I think it is worthy of further discussion.

Hypothesis: Human nature is constant.

Discuss.

(To get things started, Foucault trolled history in the sixties by saying that the people of the past have a foreign culture that cannot be understood today. This means that historians judge the past by modern values that didn't exist at the time, or weren't thought of as important, and therefore cannot learn anything from what they study. They are instead doomed to rewrite the old histories with todays values, for them to be rewritten again when even more modern ideology replaces ours. So essentially, human nature changes across time and cultures and cannot be understood across boundaries... Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la Prison, or Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, was an attempt to define one such boundary.)
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Re: Human Nature

Postby roc314 » Tue Dec 16, 2008 4:59 am UTC

I think that human nature changes over time--although progresses or advances would probably be a better word. (Most of this is grounded in Hegel's, Marx's, and Nietzsche's philosophies. The idea that over history, humanity is progressing towards some higher form would necessitate that human nature changes over time.)

However, I don't see how human nature being variable would imply that we cannot judge the past because the culture is so dissimilar. It seems as though being in a different culture would allow us to look at history more impartially and get a clearer view. I would think the "lesson" of history is what makes the past different from the present, which requires us to look at history with modern values.

EDIT: It's just important to remember that there are differences, and keep that in mind when studying the past. Much like you wouldn't study how some obscure African tribe exists expecting them to act like the Western World, you shouldn't expect the past to always reflect the present.
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Re: Human Nature

Postby Evellex » Tue Dec 16, 2008 5:13 am UTC

I believe that the changes in Human Nature prevent us from empathising with peoples and cultures in history, especially antiquity (Greek, Roman ect...) and any Historical evidence is viewed through a modern perspective, this however only serves as evidence of a change.

It is also possible that human nature changes to fit within a culture, not a culture changing to fit human nature

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Re: Human Nature

Postby Malbert » Tue Dec 16, 2008 5:24 am UTC

I would say there are some parts to human nature that won't change and some that will. I think we will always be selfish, or at least care more about the people we identify with than the ones we don't (monkey sphere theory). However, some aspects I would expect to change because it is not like just because we are human doesn't mean we can't evolve anymore.
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Re: Human Nature

Postby InstinctSage » Tue Dec 16, 2008 6:11 am UTC

I don't think that historians can't learn anything from what they study of the past just due to cultural differences. That's like saying we can't learn anything about ourselves from anything but ourselves. Isn't there a mathematical principle that says you can't compare something with only itself, as there's no basis for comparison?

I'd argue that differences in human nature over time present the best case for study and learning from the past. If we weren't learning anything would we be changing? If we couldn't perceive how we were changing would we be equipped to deal with those changes?
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Re: Human Nature

Postby SpiderMonkey » Tue Dec 16, 2008 11:31 am UTC

Malbert wrote:I would say there are some parts to human nature that won't change and some that will. I think we will always be selfish, or at least care more about the people we identify with than the ones we don't (monkey sphere theory). However, some aspects I would expect to change because it is not like just because we are human doesn't mean we can't evolve anymore.


I don't find people to be selfish at all. Altruism and cooperation are the rule not the exception, which is why even in places with high crime its always a minority of people doing it. The idea that people are inherently selfish (beyond their teenage years anyway) has been spread around purely to push social-darwinistic agendas. The trouble is, thinking everyone else selfish tends to lead to selfish behaviour on your own part - you want to nab a big slice of cake straight away because you 'know' thats what everyone else will be trying to do and you are afraid of losing out.

Selfishness is not hard-coded into human beings, its indoctrinated into people by a culture that wants to deny people human interaction and then sell it back to them through crappy consumer goods.

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Re: Human Nature

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Dec 16, 2008 11:46 am UTC

SpiderMonkey wrote:Altruism and cooperation are the rule not the exception, which is why even in places with high crime its always a minority of people doing it.


Are you familiar with The Prisoner's Dilemma? Basic summary: Cooperation and altruism are in our own best interest. These things are probably evolutionary traits, because it's far easier for organisms to survive when they cooperate rather than when they selfishly fuck their neighbors over.

Here's the problem: Cooperation and altruism are not necessarily good things. Point in fact: Here's a great example of some cooperation; here's another one, and here's a third. Group A performs horrible acts upon Group B, but it's okay, because Group A was using teamwork to do it--go teamwork!

As long as you are on the 'right side' of an arbitrarily drawn line (be it biological, geographical, or psychological), people are more than happy to cooperate with you and help you out, but as soon as you cross over that line, they will fucking shiv you.

No need for you to feel guilty about your status as a human being, but let's not be unrealistic about where our species stands on the whole 'not raping and killing our neighbors' thing.

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Re: Human Nature

Postby SpiderMonkey » Tue Dec 16, 2008 2:51 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
SpiderMonkey wrote:Altruism and cooperation are the rule not the exception, which is why even in places with high crime its always a minority of people doing it.


Are you familiar with The Prisoner's Dilemma? Basic summary: Cooperation and altruism are in our own best interest. These things are probably evolutionary traits, because it's far easier for organisms to survive when they cooperate rather than when they selfishly fuck their neighbors over.

Here's the problem: Cooperation and altruism are not necessarily good things. Point in fact: Here's a great example of some cooperation; here's another one, and here's a third. Group A performs horrible acts upon Group B, but it's okay, because Group A was using teamwork to do it--go teamwork!


Let me raise a fourth example that has nothing to do with teamwork as such; the Milgram experiment. That showed how peoples response to authority figures can cause them to toss away their morals - and in all three cases you mentioned there is an authority structure at work. Cooperation, especially voluntary cooperation, does not depend on some overriding authority.

As long as you are on the 'right side' of an arbitrarily drawn line (be it biological, geographical, or psychological), people are more than happy to cooperate with you and help you out, but as soon as you cross over that line, they will fucking shiv you.


Historically, its taken large periods of time and extensive propaganda to work people up into the state where they are willing to be that black-and-white towards their fellow man. That suggests its not an inherent property of humans, or at the very least its a property of humans that has been warped way out of its natural function on purpose (unless you can think of an evolutionary advantage of spending all your excess energy on wiping out other humans, regardless of if they are in direct competition with you).

No need for you to feel guilty about your status as a human being, but let's not be unrealistic about where our species stands on the whole 'not raping and killing our neighbors' thing.


Our species as a whole stands pretty much firmly against it - if you can find it this documentary is quite informative:

http://dirtyliberalwords.blogspot.com/2 ... lling.html (the best summary I could find with a quick google)

Basically, only 15-20% of US soldiers in WW2 would shoot in the direction of the enemy, and only 2% of men would shoot specifically at another human being - and half of those are psychopaths. If the bloodiest war in history won't push 98% of people to conciously kill, I'm struggling to think what would.

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Re: Human Nature

Postby odenskrigare » Tue Dec 16, 2008 2:56 pm UTC

SpiderMonkey wrote:http://dirtyliberalwords.blogspot.com/2005/08/truth-about-killing.html (the best summary I could find with a quick google)

Basically, only 15-20% of US soldiers in WW2 would shoot in the direction of the enemy, and only 2% of men would shoot specifically at another human being - and half of those are psychopaths. If the bloodiest war in history won't push 98% of people to conciously kill, I'm struggling to think what would.


I'm willing to bet more soldiers were willing to shoot at the Japanese (an 'other' group) than the Germans. In fact I remember some Hitler Channel documentary saying that significantly larger portion of the US forces genuinely wanted to harm the Japanese than the Germans. (Although some of that probably owed to how tenacious they were, and how they used terrain.)

Also: prisons.

The Great Hippo wrote:As long as you are on the 'right side' of an arbitrarily drawn line (be it biological, geographical, or psychological), people are more than happy to cooperate with you and help you out, but as soon as you cross over that line, they will fucking shiv you.


As someone born with an autism spectrum disorder, I can personally attest to what you are saying. If you are different, you will be shit on. I would genuinely like to see what SpiderMonkey has to say about this, but, frankly, it's going to be a very hard sell for me.
Last edited by odenskrigare on Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:06 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Human Nature

Postby SpiderMonkey » Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:06 pm UTC

odenskrigare wrote:
SpiderMonkey wrote:http://dirtyliberalwords.blogspot.com/2005/08/truth-about-killing.html (the best summary I could find with a quick google)

Basically, only 15-20% of US soldiers in WW2 would shoot in the direction of the enemy, and only 2% of men would shoot specifically at another human being - and half of those are psychopaths. If the bloodiest war in history won't push 98% of people to conciously kill, I'm struggling to think what would.


I'm willing to bet more soldiers were willing to shoot at the Japanese (an 'other' group) than the Germans.


I don't know if the numbers came exclusively from the European theatre or not, but I guess you are trying to extrapolate killing other races from lesser forms of racism (verbal abuse, assault etc.). Given how counter-intuitive the low number of people in war willing to kill is, and how little it relates to how racist soldiers were (there was some pretty nasty stuff going around about both the Japanese and the Germans back then) I don't think its valid to do that.

Also: prisons.


Prisons have brutally enforced hierarchies, and a selected population with a strong bias towards violent and antisocial individuals. Its really not possible to draw conclusions about the 'nature' of humans in general from such an unusual environment.

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Last edited by SpiderMonkey on Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:11 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Human Nature

Postby odenskrigare » Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:09 pm UTC

See my edit.

The point I was making is about another thing that disgusts the hell out of me: that so many people find prison violence humorous. I heard a lot of casual remarks about all the violence that will be done against that Blagojevich guy, and while he may be very sleazy, it's simply not funny. And here I am talking about people outside of that environment.

I hate the human race.

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I'll respond to this off the thread.

Thank you

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Last edited by odenskrigare on Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:14 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Human Nature

Postby SpiderMonkey » Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:14 pm UTC

odenskrigare wrote:See my edit.

The point I was making is about another thing that disgusts the hell out of me: that so many people find prison violence humorous. I heard a lot of casual remarks about all the violence that will be done against that Blagojevich guy, and while he may be very sleazy, it's simply not funny. And here I am talking about people outside of that environment.

I hate the human race.


People find watching it funny, when its presented in a funny way. AFAIK nobody in the Stanford prison experiment was laughing by the end of it.

Schadenfreude doesn't necessarily translate into actual malice. Personally, I've always thought of it as a socially safe outlet that people use for their nastier thoughts - but I've no proof of that it is just an opinion.

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Re: Human Nature

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:15 pm UTC

SpiderMonkey wrote:Basically, only 15-20% of US soldiers in WW2 would shoot in the direction of the enemy, and only 2% of men would shoot specifically at another human being


the source you cited said '15-20%...were shooting to kill' and that 2% managed to do it.
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Re: Human Nature

Postby SpiderMonkey » Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:19 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:
SpiderMonkey wrote:Basically, only 15-20% of US soldiers in WW2 would shoot in the direction of the enemy, and only 2% of men would shoot specifically at another human being


the source you cited said '15-20%...were shooting to kill' and that 2% managed to do it.


That differs from my memory of the programme, but seeing as I can't find it on the Internet I can't check. I could be mistaken.

My point still stands Captian Nitpick Person Who Was Correct and Who I Thank For Pointing Out a Factual Error, Thus Contributing Positively to This Forum - the majority of people will not kill even on the battlefield (unless they've modern military training which is expressly designed to circumvent this psychological barrier).

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Re: Human Nature

Postby odenskrigare » Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:28 pm UTC

Why are they given modern military training?

Think about it.
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Re: Human Nature

Postby SpiderMonkey » Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:35 pm UTC

odenskrigare wrote:Why are they given modern military training?

Think about it.


Because prior to entering the military they are generally incapable of killing, thus showing that killing is not an inherent part of the human condition.

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Re: Human Nature

Postby The Great Hippo » Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:46 pm UTC

SpiderMonkey wrote:Cooperation, especially voluntary cooperation, does not depend on some overriding authority.


Large-scale teamwork and cooperation most certainly does. I challenge you to find an effective large-scale teamwork effort that does not rely on some sort of authority structure (and actually provides something useful and positive).

SpiderMonkey wrote:Historically, its taken large periods of time and extensive propaganda to work people up into the state where they are willing to be that black-and-white towards their fellow man.


The Milgram's experiment (which you mentioned) is a pretty clear refutation of that. It doesn't take large periods of time or extensive propaganda; it just takes a little implied authority.

Presto! Instant sociopathy--just add lab-coat.

SpiderMonkey wrote:Our species as a whole stands pretty much firmly against it - if you can find it this documentary is quite informative:


It stands pretty firmly against it under very specific contexts, and usually for the wrong reasons.

Edit:

SpiderMonkey wrote:Because prior to entering the military they are generally incapable of killing, thus showing that killing is not an inherent part of the human condition.


I'd agree; humans are not (usually) natural born killers. We have to work at it; cooperation is a far more effective survival tool. This isn't pertinent to the point at large, because, again, cooperation and altruism are effective survival tools. It's actually to our benefit not to kill one another under normal circumstances.

The problem lies in our ability to define people as "not people" and then kill them, rape them, or otherwise oppress them with a press of a button--be it the trigger of a gun or the tab of a voting machine. We let the few humans that are natural born killers (or have received the training to become such) do the rest.

We have refined this shit down to a fucking science.

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Re: Human Nature

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:58 pm UTC

Andrew Denton is an Australian tv presenter who interviewed Chris Abani, a Nigerian author, a month or so ago. The transcript of the interview is well worth reading, but the bits most relevant to this discussion are below.

When Denton asked about an event Abani had written about before, Abani said:

I think that when you do a certain amount of violence to people, violence becomes accepted and after the [Biafran] civil war there was sort of these rash outbursts of anger, where somebody could be walking through a marketplace and all he had to do was annoy someone who would then scream “thief, thief,” and if he started running then a mob would descend on him and the mob justice was to lynch you and the lynch in Nigeria was to put a car tyre round your neck, douse you with gasoline and set you on fire. And when this would happen of course as children we would you know run the opposite direction but then the older people would grab hold of you and sort of this very Catholic sense of ritual force you to either look at this or walk up and spit on the burning man as a way to understand what happens to people who are bad.


Abani goes on to talk about his experiences in prison:

Here’s this 14 year old boy who.. one of the things that particularly military regime would do at the time was if a family member was being sought after and they didn’t find him they would arrest somebody and hold them as ransom and someone had gone after his father who’d fled the country and they took John James and held him as ransom. So here was a kid who’s essentially in prison on death row with a bunch of killers and rapists who has no business being there. But who had the most cheerful disposition and the guards, it’s one of those moments where I think, you know, some of the guards must have recognised their own sons, cause he was the only one allowed reading material and he had three comic books with him. You know, The Green Lantern, Spiderman and the Silver Surfer. And he would teach some of his older inmates, these really vicious men how to read with these comic books and so like you know late at night you would sort of hear a bunch of men reciting things like you know “take that, Spidey,” or “my Spidey senses are tingling” and sort of there’s something really amazing about literature that that this is the thing about stories that it it doesn’t whatever its original intent is it has a way it’s almost like a like a virus. And, you know, John James was essentially tortured to death. They handcuffed him to a chair and nailed his penis to a table and left him to bleed to death. It took him three days to die and that’s how some of us ended up in solitary because we we kind of rioted after that. So there are these ways in which this sort of remarkable young kid continues even in his absence to to kind of reverberate.


From these stories, Denton brought up how Abani had previously stated that the time in prison had made him question the inherent goodness in humanity. Abani went on to respond (bear with me here):

Yeah. It is, you know, when people act towards their better nature I’m always amazed by it and humbled by it, and never, never take it for granted and actually go out of my way to acknowledge it because it’s much rarer than we think... I think that goodness is something that is earned and fought for on a daily basis and it’s something that you have to be vigilant about.


I guess... this is the perspective of someone who has lived in a different world to most of us, and from the way he describes these things people can readily enlist in violence and killing. I dont want to post anymore of the interview here but he talks more about the torture... I honestly don't think humans need that much convincing to do terrible things.
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Re: Human Nature

Postby SpiderMonkey » Tue Dec 16, 2008 4:29 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
SpiderMonkey wrote:Cooperation, especially voluntary cooperation, does not depend on some overriding authority.


Large-scale teamwork and cooperation most certainly does. I challenge you to find an effective large-scale teamwork effort that does not rely on some sort of authority structure (and actually provides something useful and positive).


Scaling is a problem for voluntary cooperation, but that doesn't imply anything about human nature, merely the difficulties of organization. Diseconomy of scale and communication difficulties would still apply to us if we were sentient cats or octopuses because they are problems independent of the type of agent the organization is made up of.

SpiderMonkey wrote:Historically, its taken large periods of time and extensive propaganda to work people up into the state where they are willing to be that black-and-white towards their fellow man.


The Milgram's experiment (which you mentioned) is a pretty clear refutation of that. It doesn't take large periods of time or extensive propaganda; it just takes a little implied authority.

Presto! Instant sociopathy--just add lab-coat.


The problem with your argument is hidden in the word "just" - a hazardous word at the best of times. In itself a lab-coat has no power, it is merely a garment. What has power is the years of social conditioning that give the lab-coat meaning in the mind of the subject. Surveys show that (in the UK at least) scientists are the most trusted public figures, way ahead of politicians and businessmen, which is understandable given what science has delivered for people.

So you don't "just" add a lab-coat - you add a symbol of authority that a person has from birth associated with benevolent near-omnipotence. Obviously it is a bit silly viewing scientists in that way, but people do and that is why the authority of science is invoked all the time by non-scientists, and why certain religious folk have made science their enemy because it appears to them nothing more than a false God.

I'd agree; humans are not (usually) natural born killers. We have to work at it; cooperation is a far more effective survival tool. This isn't pertinent to the point at large, because, again, cooperation and altruism are effective survival tools. It's actually to our benefit not to kill one another under normal circumstances.


I'm not a big fan of evolutionary psychology - humans are just too damn complex, and I tend to view attempts to simplify the human condition as unscientific at best and downright sinister at worst. Not enough is known about how humans developed from apes to really discuss how our evolutionary benefit shaped our behavior, if it did at all. A common fallacy about evolution is that every aspect of an organism is finely tuned for some purpose - in reality some things are just side effects.

Consider also the theory that human intelligence was never selected for at all (at least not on its own merit). There is a theory that our big brains developed for the same reasons as a peacocks tail - a difficult to fake signal that you've got excess calories available to burn and thus are a strong potential mate. In which case, the nature of our intelligence would have practically nothing to do with the environment our big brains developed in.

The problem lies in our ability to define people as "not people" and then kill them, rape them, or otherwise oppress them with a press of a button--be it the trigger of a gun or the tab of a voting machine. We let the few humans that are natural born killers (or have received the training to become such) do the rest.

We have refined this shit down to a fucking science.


The abstraction of the voting booth does allow people to support killing (people voting for Hitler never had to look his victims in the eye) but that is a property of the system a person finds themselves in, not the person.

Just as an aside, the documentary I mentioned doesn't show people are trained to be killers, more that they are trained to kill in response to a stimulus so quickly their moral brain simply can't assess the situation fast enough (again though, this is from memory). Their non-killing nature remains intact, but for brief moments on the battlefield it is circumvented. The psychological consequences of this trick are, I think, fairly well known.

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Re: Human Nature

Postby Azrael » Tue Dec 16, 2008 5:12 pm UTC

Spidermonkey has been banned from SB for repeatedly breaking the acceptable SB decorum.


Let me reiterate for everyone: You *will* remain civil in Serious Business threads or you *will* be ejected from them.

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Re: Human Nature

Postby Indon » Tue Dec 16, 2008 5:51 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:I'm bringing this up as a new topic because some posters were getting purpled for bringing it up too much in other threads, but I think it is worthy of further discussion.

Hypothesis: Human nature is constant.

Discuss.


Isn't this true by definition?

That is to say, the 'constant' part of human operation - the part which is persistent, common to all (or most) humans, and part of our fundamental operation, is our nature. So it's going to be constant.

I don't think that human nature can be directly percieved, however. "People are selfish" is an example of this. I don't think "People are selfish" is human nature. I think "People are selfish <under X circumstance> and altruistic <under Y circumstance>" could be human nature, though.

It's been mentioned earlier in the thread that humans seem to have a highly tribal mindset - I'm inclined to think that this mindset is a part of human nature, and probably one of the simplest parts (not that it's as simple as 'us and them', but that it's simpler).

In regards to human nature and history - if we knew human nature, as well as the historical circumstances surrounding any given event, we could determine what aspect of human nature was invoked in order to generate the result that event had, at least that's how I think it'd go, theoretically.
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Re: Human Nature

Postby Vaniver » Wed Dec 17, 2008 12:17 am UTC

People have similarities; people have differences.

Any statements about human nature will be about averages; there will be outliers, there may even be significant majorities that are significantly different from the norm.

As well, the more loose (or, I suppose, customizable) a statement is, the easier it is to call human nature- for example, it's possible to say that everyone is selfish and use altruistic behavior as a justification for this. It just requires reasoning that the individual in question does altruistic things because it pleases them to do so- and so they're maximizing their own happiness just like the penny-pinching miser, just with a significantly different utility function.


I'd say that human nature forms the foundation of nearly everything and so it's hard to see- where does the foundation begin, and where does the road end? It's also as hard to see as any statistical feature- I don't know any murderers and no one I know has been murdered. But murders take place.
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Re: Human Nature

Postby Rebelionature » Wed Dec 17, 2008 2:00 am UTC

I find the word selfish being used a lot here. It is in my mind that it is only our desire for our thoughts and feelings to be made more realistic by creating them in others, This gives us comfort. This is human nature, but is possible to realize this in yourself and move beyond it. Most people don't do it because often it leads to suffering. Our thoughts flow from the same base desires. to have food, to have shelter, to have companions and love. But if you are observant you can learn from the mistakes of others and yourself and change them. I know what i find honorable in people and what i hate about people, If we can live up to our own highest standards human nature can be swayed by the actions of individuals.

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Re: Human Nature

Postby Fett42 » Wed Dec 17, 2008 3:12 am UTC

I am currently in the Army and for anyone who is truly interested in the psychology of killing as a soldier, historical firing rates from many different wars, and psychologial factors affecting a soldier's willingness to kill, I would highly recommend the book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. It is an excellent study by LTC Dave Grossman, a former Army Ranger and former psychology instructor at the United States Military Academy. Read it.

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Re: Human Nature

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Wed Dec 17, 2008 7:15 am UTC

Indon wrote:
Pez Dispens3r wrote:I'm bringing this up as a new topic because some posters were getting purpled for bringing it up too much in other threads, but I think it is worthy of further discussion.

Hypothesis: Human nature is constant.

Discuss.


Isn't this true by definition?

That is to say, the 'constant' part of human operation - the part which is persistent, common to all (or most) humans, and part of our fundamental operation, is our nature. So it's going to be constant.


I think the thread had moved towards discussing the morality of human nature, or at least to a discussion about what the nature of humanity is and how much of it is changed by culture (does our culture temper our homicidal impulses or cultivate them?).

Something worth considering is how our gods have changed over time. There are many people today who zealously beleive in a higher being of some sort. There were people who believed just as strongly in Zues, or Odin. Today we would think of them as naive. Angels used to be depicted as beings of fiery death with four heads who rained down destruction on sodomizers and scared the flip out of shepherds. Now we have Touched By An Angel. Why has the mighty and vengeful God of the old testament become this chilled out deity who thinks its cool if anglicans have gay bishops? Did god become more tolerant of homosexuality, or did we? From the arcahelogical record we know that people have buried their dead with possessions...signifying a belief in the afterlife, since about 50kya. THis implies religion is inheret in human nature... and yet relgious beliefs today are very different than in the past. Can we really claim kinship with people from 2000 years ago?
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Re: Human Nature

Postby JBJ » Wed Dec 17, 2008 8:54 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:Hypothesis: Human nature is constant.


Wow, pretty broad topic. It seems the general consensus at the beginning of the thread is that human nature changes over time. Followed by some discussion of altruism vs. selfishness. I have a slightly different idea borrowing a bit from economic theory.

I would suggest that human nature can be directly correlated to population size/density and the availability of natural resources. The smaller the group and the greater the abundance of resources, the stronger the cooperation, hospitality, and sense of community. As population increases and availability of resources decrease, the spirit of community and cooperation declines where individuals and groups become hostile towards each other.

This can be seen in observations of human nature over time. Before recorded history, when we were tribes of nomadic hunter-gatherers, it's fair to say that tribes would occasionally run into each other. If resources were plenty, lots of buffalo to go around, tribes would be likely to be friendly and open. Maybe even get together for a cooperative hunt and have a little feast. They may intermingle and become a slightly larger tribe, or they just may go on their separate ways in peace. If resources were scarce, the tribes would probably be quite hostile to each other, even though fighting it out and the fatalities and injuries as a result would be more harmful in the end.

Fast forward to when we started settling into agriculture. Population is larger now and starting to concentrate into more urban centers. When resources are plentiful, outsiders will be drawn to those locations and generally welcomed. As the population grows to the point where it's difficult to maintain those resources the trend starts towards in-fighting or aggression towards other areas with resources.

The same situation can be seen today replacing natural resources with economic resources. Economically depressed areas have a tendency to be more closed and violent, not because the people there are naturally hostile, but because the people there have seen their resources (jobs, property value) become stretched too thin or disappear. Economically flourishing areas are more open and hospitable. Incoming people or groups are not perceived as a threat.

So yes, human nature is altruistic and hospitable if we've got plenty to go around. We become selfish and aggressive when we see our resources disappear and our quality of life diminish. We can go from "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." to "They took our jaaaaaawwwbs!!!"
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Re: Human Nature

Postby odenskrigare » Thu Dec 18, 2008 1:52 am UTC

JBJ wrote:So yes, human nature is altruistic and hospitable if we've got plenty to go around. We become selfish and aggressive when we see our resources disappear and our quality of life diminish. We can go from "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." to "They took our jaaaaaawwwbs!!!"


Correction: "They t'k rgh j'bs!" It's a Lovecraftian kind of thing.

It seems like humans see life as a zero-sum game when they have exceeded the carrying capacity of their environment, and non-zero-sum when they are at or under it. That makes sense ... it seems like an oversimplification though. Some broke-ass countries aren't terribly violent, while some first-world countries are.

So your recommendation, then, would be to give us more supplies, (inclusive or) reduce population size?
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Re: Human Nature

Postby texasranger » Thu Dec 18, 2008 6:37 am UTC

I don't understand you all. You all seem to separate all other animals from humans, as if other animals do not share our characteristics. All animals have a way of communicating, but just because we cannot understand it, that doesn't mean that it isn't there. I, honestly, do not believe there is a such thing as human nature. There's human behavior. There's rat behavior and lion behavior. Human behavior is not constant. Thousands of years ago, cultures used to sacrifice animals to gods, eat each-other, and even sacrifice children to gods, but (most) humans have evolved to not do that sort of thing anymore. If you grow up in America, you will hold american values high, just as if you were to grow up in germany, india, etc. It's the environment that controls behavior.

People shouldn't have to steal, lie, and cheat, but it is the injustice of the society that leads them to do that.

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Re: Human Nature

Postby JBJ » Thu Dec 18, 2008 6:23 pm UTC

@texasranger - I think we're starting to split the fine points on defining nature vs. behavior vs. culture.

Nature and behavior are very closely related, at least the way I see it. At our very core, just like all biological creatures, is our survival instinct. We do our best to preserve our life and pass our genes onto the next generation. We can't really say our survival instinct is our behavior, because it manifests in many different ways. Survival is in our nature. How we choose to survive is demonstrated by our behavior. Humans are also social animals, and it is our nature to interact with others of our species. Again, interaction is in our nature, not our behavior. We can behave in many different ways when interacting; welcoming, hospitable, compassionate, aloof, shy, aggressive, defensive, etc...

Although the title of the thread is Human Nature, I believe the spirit is in actually discussing human behavior, or how we manifest our nature. If we take the literal meaning of the OP's hypothesis: Human nature is constant then yes, our instinct to survive, reproduce, and socialize is constant. That would make for an awfully short thread.

I agree that culture does have an impact on how we behave, but not our nature. It's my opinion that culture is like gravity. At long distances and low mass it has little effect. In a large, cumulative mass, it has a profound effect. Take the culture differences between America and the USSR during the cold war. It's fair to say there was quite a bit of tension between the two nations. Put a Russian in the middle of America, and he wouldn't stand a chance. Same for an American in Russia. But, if you took an average American and an average Russian and put them in the middle of a rain forest, cultural differences would take a back seat to our instinct to survive and interact.
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Re: Human Nature

Postby Bassoon » Fri Dec 19, 2008 9:24 pm UTC

odenskrigare wrote:I'm willing to bet more soldiers were willing to shoot at the Japanese (an 'other' group) than the Germans.


There's also the distinction that Japanese actually attacked US soil while the Germans were an intangible threat at that moment.

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Re: Human Nature

Postby Fett42 » Sat Dec 20, 2008 5:51 am UTC

There's substantial evidence that in war people more easily dehumanize others the more different their culture and/or appearance is, making them easier to kill (see the book I recommended earlier).

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Re: Human Nature

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Sat Dec 20, 2008 6:11 am UTC

Bassoon wrote:
odenskrigare wrote:I'm willing to bet more soldiers were willing to shoot at the Japanese (an 'other' group) than the Germans.


There's also the distinction that Japanese actually attacked US soil while the Germans were an intangible threat at that moment.


I read a history of comic books recently, which was also a sort of cultural history of the US. It brung up World War Two and where there were anti-German comics, there were also ones that portrayed German immigrants in a positive light (like something goes down, everyone blames the German, the hero investigates other possibilities anyway, and the German is vindicated and everyone learns a lesson about prejudice). Whereas the Japanese were always demonized... portrayed as slanty-eyed gorillas, with exaggerated yellow skin, mercilessly picking on the weak. For interest, look up Dr. Sues's 'slap a jap' posters, or stuff on google images about 'Japanazis.'

Essentially, American hatred was more heated towards their pacific neighbours than the Aryan enemy. Also, there's an arguement that says the Americans allowed Pearl Harbour to happen (not as unlikely as you'd think... you had to be subtle with the way you handled enemy intelligience or they'd realise you'd cracked their codes or comprimised one of their communication lines. Handily, only the more outdated ships were docked at the harbour at the time, and the newer ships all hapened to be elsewhere). So, yes, the Japanese had done more damage to the Americans (although the US was none too fond of the U-Boats interfering with atlantic trade) but there was also an undercurrent of racism that was everpresent.

I don't think the tangential "Who'd someone hate more, and when?" discussion needs to continue.

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