Thanks to a friend for bringing my attention to this recent essay on human nature.
The bad news on human nature, in 10 findings from psychology
It’s a question that’s reverberated through the ages – are humans, though imperfect, essentially kind, sensible, good-natured creatures? Or are we, deep down, wired to be bad, blinkered, idle, vain, vengeful and selfish? There are no easy answers, and there’s clearly a lot of variation between individuals, but here we shine some evidence-based light on the matter through 10 dispiriting findings that reveal the darker and less impressive aspects of human nature:
- We view minorities and the vulnerable as less than human.
- We experience Schadenfreude (pleasure at another person’s distress).
- We believe in karma – assuming that the downtrodden of the world deserve their fate.
- We are blinkered and dogmatic.
- We would rather electrocute ourselves than spend time in our own thoughts.
- We are vain and overconfident.
- We are moral hypocrites.
- We are all potential trolls.
- We favour ineffective leaders with psychopathic traits.
- We are sexually attracted to people with dark personality traits.
The essay concludes with the obligatory happy thoughts that most mainstream journals require today:
Don’t get too down – these findings say nothing of the success that some of us have had in overcoming our baser instincts. In fact, it is arguably by acknowledging and understanding our shortcomings that we can more successfully overcome them, and so cultivate the better angels of our nature.
There’s no reason to dispute the accuracy of this article because it’s written by a respected scientist, is backed by peer-reviewed research, and is consistent with human history.
It’s interesting and diagnostic that this list of behaviors does not include reality denial as explained by Varki’s MORT theory. Perhaps the author was able to discuss our unpleasant behaviors because he denies he shares any of these behaviors as his concluding paragraph suggests.
The lack of reality denial on the list is consistent with my belief that denial of denial is and must be the strongest form of denial. This belief was constructed from much observation of how people (don’t) react to Varki’s MORT theory, and the following thought experiment:
If you believe genes control life, as of course they must, then how could intelligence emerge without denial, and how could an intelligent species function (not be depressed and/or go insane) unless it denies its denial?
This blog has had the following central themes:
- We dominate the planet because humans are uniquely intelligent and this intelligence evolved because of an improbable adaptation to deny unpleasant realities.
- We are in a severe state of overshoot and our modern civilization will not survive for many more years.
- We are increasing the suffering that will occur by denying the reality of our predicament.
- We will not act to reduce future suffering until we acknowledge and override our genetic tendency to deny reality.
I’ve assumed to date that we are not acting appropriately, by which I mean optimally, rationally, ethically, and morally, because we deny the severity of our overshoot predicament.
What if I’m wrong?
Perhaps we see our predicament and don’t give a damn if it means we have to sacrifice something for someone else, even our own children.
Maybe the reality we’re denying is our own human nature.
Perhaps this explains why meaningful debate about the dangers of excess debt is now absent from political discourse.
Perhaps this explains why we never discuss saving some precious non-renewable resurces for future generations.
Perhaps this explains why we never discuss population reduction.
Perhaps this explains why 28 years after the first IPCC report, CO2 emmissions are 65% higher and still climbing.
Perhaps this explains why the only thing citizens from both sides of the political spectrum can agree on is to spend an outsized proportion of their collective wealth on weapons of war.