How do you describe human nature?

The following is a response to a letter to the editor in the Asheville Citizen-Times several months ago. The first letter-writer was concerned about the thoughtlessness of others. The second responded:

. . . you naturally desire what you will never get, which is a world that is fair and just. You want to live in a world where people always do what’s best for themselves and for everyone else.

But, alas, you live in this world. And in this world, people are forever doing things that are thoughtless, rude, vain, ignorant, cruel and just old-fashioned stupid.

Don’t we all want a world that is fair and just? Is that a world we “will never get?”

Please respond by clicking on “Comment.”


#1 Mark Steger on 08.04.18 at 3:47 pm

“The poor you will always have with you, so why even bother.”
— Matthew 26:11

#2 casey on 08.04.18 at 9:07 pm

Evidently Matthew was more pragmatist than idealist. That is OK. We need both, don’t we?

#3 casey on 08.09.18 at 3:09 pm

I didn’t read 1984 in the 1960s-70s, when everyone else did. I am reading it now.
When Winston (the protagonist) receives a copy of the book written by Goldstein, author and critic of Big Brother and the Inner Party, he reads the opposition’s musings on human nature. Goldstein points out that, throughout human history, societies have always divided themselves into hierarchies. According to him, it is the way people have always distinguished among themselves, and it will always be that way.
One reason it will always be that way is discussed in Goldstein’s description of war among the three superpowers — Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. According to him, war is,

deliberate policy to keep even the favored groups somewhere near the brink of hardship, because a general state of scarcity increases the importance of small privileges and thus magnifies the distinction between one group and another.

I understand that 1984 describes a dystopian society, but much of it points to fundamental truths about history and human nature. A hopeful reading of the novel might be that we should reverse the order of our efforts to live in peace with each other. Instead of trying to improve human nature as the way to end war and social hierarchy, we should use the surpluses generated by scientific and technological advances to end war and hierarchy (no longer needed, since we have surpluses). That might result in the the development of a human nature that is fundamentally generous, instead of selfish.

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