Saturday, January 17, 2009

Human Nature Part I

There seems to be a paradoxical aspect of human nature that may help explain the penchant for aggression and violence. On the one hand, humans as members of a family, group, tribe or nation, are able to work harmoniously with cooperative effort towards goals that benefit everyone. This collective behavior operates effectively; unless, severe catastrophic conditions such as profound environmental calamities, famine, epidemics, etc disrupt this cohesiveness, or an individual is plagued with mental illness. I believe that this capacity for concerted endeavor is wired into the human brain as a result of millions of years of social evolution.

Juxtaposed to this natural propensity for harmonious behavior is the equally potent fear and mistrust of those outside the community whether it is family, group tribe or nation. Fear can trigger the body, directed by various chemical signals from the brain, to react with the classic “flight or fright” response. The urgency of such a reaction, precludes rational thought or reasoned consideration; it is a purely survival mechanism. This propensity is also wired within the fabric of the human brain.

As individuals, we are often confronted by choices that may illicit responses dictated by either of these pathways. I view this as a life long struggle between the voice of intellect and reason and that of the emotions. It is both these aspects that define us as humans; we can not extricate them from our being; that would be wholly useless endeavor.

The path that a society chooses in confronting possible collective conflict or crisis, i.e. the path of reason or that of the emotions, depends largely upon education. If the culture at large condones and encourages violence as a legitimate response to threat and punishment as the primary means to promulgate justice, then individuals within that culture will adopt these methodologies. However, if the intellect and reason are the attributes that are encouraged and nurtured, then an entirely different set of outcomes are possible.

Although human civilization has tended in the past to succumb to the reactive pathway as dictated by hostility and fear, this does not preclude alternative outcomes in the future. The utopian ideal for human societies is not outside the grasp of human history. We need, as a species, to reeducate ourselves and transform our view of self and other.

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