Friday, November 24, 2006

Anarchism and the Question of Human Nature by Thomas Martin

In these first years of the new century anarchism, as a philosophy and as an ongoing praxis, is faced with a number of disconcerting adjustments. Chief among these is the growing evidence that we, along with most other ideologies on the Left, have based our theory on a mistaken concept of human nature. We have learned over the years to distrust words like sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, and above all that dreaded buzzword, “hard-wired” — yet we can no longer ignore the fact that these sciences are probably right about human nature. It does exist; it has biological roots; and while it does enjoy a large measure of free will, its most basic drives and emotions are indeed hard-wired. The Left has long resisted and denied these facts, on the grounds that they might justify discrimination based on heredity, or that they militate against the possibility of radical social reform, or both. I hope to demonstrate that these fears are groundless.

The “hard-wired” concept is thoroughly anchored in evolutionary theory, and this is the first obstacle the Left runs up against when objecting to it. Evolution is a fact: we are animals, closely related to other primates and only a little more distantly to the rest of the mammals. We share many physical and emotional traits with them, and it is absurd to suppose that they are governed by instinct but that we are not. We don’t know exactly how evolution works (in fact there are some serious alternatives even to Darwinism’s most basic assumptions, like the central role of the gene); but it does work. Very few if any radicals or anarchists would disagree with that. But certain conclusions follow inevitably from that ‘given,’ and if we deny them, we put ourselves into very unsavory company. Biblical fundamentalists insist that we are a separate creation from the animals, our consciousness governed by a ‘soul’ which is in turn answerable to a ‘God’ — do any of us want that idea for a bedfellow? On the other hand, if we accept uncritically (as many on the Right do) the view of human nature suggested by today’s neo-Darwinism, we wander into even more unsavory neighborhoods. The notorious Bell Curve is founded on those arguments, and so is neo-Nazism and other overtly racist movements. more..


Anonymous Adam said...

We are all kin, and if we could get that through our heads, we could all be friends, as well. As for morality: this is learned behavior. The fact that we do not all agree on what is ‘moral’ proves that morality is not hard-wired. Many of us believe that conformity and rank are immoral, that lack of cleanliness is a byproduct of hierarchy, and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

12:29 AM  

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