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Human Nature is not a barrier to Socialism

Is Human Nature a Barrier to Socialism?

Some critics are skeptical about a society of free men and women, without leaders working for the common good and producing goods and services just to meet human need. They say that people will not work in a Socialist society; they will not co-operate and would pursue selfish and anti-social behaviour.

They justify this criticism by saying that Socialism cannot do anything about the innate laziness of human beings or the propensity towards aggression and war. Religious critics in particular say that men and women are flawed and carry the original sin of Adam and Eve or are marked by the violence of Cain. In Socialism, they say, everyone will either stay in bed all day, or do as least as possible or fight and kill each other.

However most religions believe human beings have compassion, are altruistic, possess a tendency to help others and have the ability to lead selfless lives. This is conveniently forgotten by theologians and religious leaders when they dismiss Socialism as utopian, idealistic or impractical. Human behaviour is not underpinned by the cosmic design of a fictional supernatural any more than human nature has “sinful origins”. Changed social conditions have been responsible for changes in human behaviour and human behaviour under capitalism is largely conditioned by the division of society into two classes and the private ownership of the means of production and distribution.

As an example of the social rather than genetic causes of social problems, there is an established causal correlation between far-right views on anti-Semitism and xenophobia with sustained and rising unemployment in what was East Germany (TIMES 14th November 2012). Unemployment is a relatively new phenomena associated solely with capitalism not some form of evolutionary genetic disposition. And of course a previous incarnation of evolutionary psychology, social darwinianism, was a central ideological foundation stone of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Then there are the evolutionary psychologists who say our behaviour and thinking is a result of our genes which evolved out of surviving and reproducing in a hostile environment tens of thousands of years ago which has left human beings innately aggressive, competitive and war-like. Evolutionary psychology has been championed by defenders of capitalism as evidence of a “scientific” case against Socialism by saying that human beings have a natural propensity towards selfishness, competiveness and acquisition rather than altruism, co-operation and sharing. However these scientists never apply the negative characteristics of competition, violence and selfishness to themselves only to others.

Being Human: Creativity, Co-operation and Social Labour

The intellectual status of the theories of human behaviour associated with evolutionary psychologists is similar to Monty Python’s Professor Ann Elk and her theory of the Brontosaurus. When asked; “what it was?” she replied “Well you might well ask me what is my theory…my theory, which is my theory, is mine”.

As an example of the crass pronouncements of some evolutionary psychologists we can look at the recent published research of Professor Gerard Crabtree of Stanford University who claims that intelligence reached its peak with hunter gatherer societies and has now gone into reverse. He wrote in the magazine TRENDS IN GENETICS: “A hunter-gatherer who did not correctly conceive a solution to providing food or shelter probably died…a Wall Street executive that made a similar conceptual error would receive a substantial bonus and be a more attractive mate” (THE TIMES 15th November 2012). Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics at University College London, dismissed this “Just So” tale as “arts faculty science” which is a polite way of saying that it isn’t science at all.

The “just so” stories, named after the book of the same name by Rudyard Kipling, are put forward by evolutionary psychologists with relenting monotony but are unverifiable and unfalsifiable narratives committing the ad hoc fallacy of explaining away evidence which contradicts the authors own underlying beliefs about genetic determinism. Most of these theories fade quickly into obscurity after momentarily appearing in the capitalist media having no application to the real world except to justify, capitalism, class privilege and the profit motive.

In fact, many of the contemporary tribal societies studied by anthropologists have been discovered not to have the negative characteristics of human behaviour championed by the genetic determinists. Rather than being war-like, aggressive and selfish the reverse has often been the case. The many native communities living in the Amazon Forest or the hunter gatherer tribes of the Kalahari Desert, for example, have associations of egalitarianism which do not favour the theories of the evolutionary psychologists that state human beings are intrinsically competitive and selfish.

What of the first human beings? They are thought to have evolved in southern Africa some 200,000 years ago ( Did they really display a human psychology determined by evolution and genes that was rigid and fixed forever and unable to change in a significant way? Such a view has been dismissed by many leading anthropologists. In a BBC documentary, Professor Marta Lahr, co-director of Cambridge University’s Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolution, said that these early humans had “the potential of invention that we have. And I think that’s actually what makes them modern”. And she went on to say that they had the ability to “…invent solutions to new problems” (DAWN OF MAN - THE STORY OF HUMAN EVOLUTION 2000 and published by the science correspondent of the SUNDAY OBSERVER, Robert McKie as a book to go with the series which highlighted language and tool-making as important factors in social evolution).

Professor Lahr’s colleague Robert Foley, a Cambridge University professor of human evolution, in a recent newspaper interview, also argued against the belief in the fixity of human nature. He went on to say that ‘Becoming human, in an evolutionary sense, is a continuous and gradual process. Our species, rather than being a fixed entity, is more like a piece of putty, changing shape and dimensions all the time.’ (DAILY MAIL 13th June 2011).

And in any case the diversity of early human societies makes it very difficult to say with any certainty what particular group of traits or characteristics was dominant in what must have been a difficult and hard environment to live, reproduce and survive. We just do not know enough about their lives, with fossil remains giving insufficient data except for generalizations of how and through what process they hunted and gathered food and this lack of knowledge accounts for the wide diversity of different theories accounting for origins, habitation, time frames, movement and dispersal of early human societies.

The Process of Historical Change

The error made by evolutionary psychologists is their habit of projecting current human behaviour found in capitalism with its leaders and the led, the rich and the poor, economic winners and losers, the strong and the weak and so on and to project them back over pre-history. Their “art faculty science” might fill the columns of THE TIMES and READERS DIGEST to justify a competitive market economy or the supposed superiority of the “alpha male” in Wall Street or the City of London to the “omega male” working elsewhere in capitalism but their theories are more often than not just empty speculation rather than fact.

And those who argue that human nature is a barrier to Socialism usually promote social reforms to eradicate violence, war, racism, sex and gender discrimination; characteristics of human behaviour they tell Socialists that are immutable and cannot be changed. Our critics cannot have it both ways.

Socialists have on our side the process of historical change. Social systems come and go and so do ideas, beliefs and patterns of human behaviour. Some evolutionary psychologists say that to be a capitalist is an outcome of genetic inheritance but they conveniently forget that the capitalist class has not always existed in human history and an earlier incarnation of today’s evolutionary psychologists, the social Darwinists of the 19th century, favoured the aristocracy rather than the class of trade. It was not until the late 19th century that a tradesman entered the Cabinet. Genetic determinism just cannot overcome its own contradictions and inconsistencies.

It was once taken for granted that Kings ruled by divine legitimacy. In the more recent past it was assumed blacks were incapable of taking part in human affairs. Even more recently a woman was debarred from politics on the grounds that her husband thought for her. And the working class was also considered incapable of voting and taking part in government. The British Library is full of long forgotten pamphlets written by reactionary politicians, scientists and theologians saying that these changes were against God and human nature.

And what of those who argue that there will be a sizeable population not willing to work in Socialism. We would remind our critics that capitalism carries an enormous horde of parasites and it doesn’t worry capitalism. THE TIMES RICH LIST gives the names of all the people who are so wealthy they don’t have to work and are instead carried by the majority of society.

And capitalism is not marked out by complete selfishness. If it were governed by complete selfishness the profit system would not operate. Capitalism needs co-operation among the workers to be able to produce commodities and run capitalism from top to bottom albeit not in their own interest. And instead of aggressive competitiveness surely a Socialist society working and acting together for a common purpose is more reasonable and efficient?

The Socialist case against Capitalism

There have been some Evolutionary Psychologists, like the psychologist Professor Andrew Whiten, who have claimed that the human species is innately co-operative in order to survive as a species. However the Socialist case does not rest on genetic determinism and we do not need the natural sciences or Darwinianism to provide a case against capitalism. The socialist case against capitalism is that it deliberately underproduces due to the profit motive and it is only the establishment of Socialism that can free the forces of production, including co-operative and social labour, to meet human need throughout the world whatever this social happens to be.

What does govern our lives in a wholly anti-social way is the highly competitive nature of capitalism particularly over jobs, housing and the necessities of life. People are sometimes selfish, cruel and anti-social within capitalism but these are a result of competition, economic struggle, conflict and war; factors all associated with the profit system not some “innate” set of attributes supposedly defining the thoughts and actions of human beings forever.

The existence of private property causes crimes of theft not as a result of our genes. In any event, the act of murder is a rare occurrence in most societies while war in enforced on men and women by governments. Workers have to be conscripted to fight in capitalism’s wars or are driven into the armed forces by poverty, economic circumstances or sheer desperation. Rather than celebrating being in tune with their genes, many returning soldiers from war are often reduced to homelessness, suffer mental problems, are violent in their relationships and end up in prison.

War and Killing People

To kill another human being is very difficult and in the army it has to be taught to recruits by bullying sergeant majors through a process of alienation and dehumanization. As Sean Rayment, himself a former soldier, noted in the SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (11 November 2012)

…close-quarter combat is not an heroic activity. It is brutal and barbaric and can be achieved with murderous intent. It takes a certain type of individual to stab a fellow human being with a bayonet or smash his skull as he pleads for his life”.

Seam Rayment was reviewing a future documentary programme PARRIS ISLAND ( where women are being recruited in the US Marines for front line killing of the enemy and put through a dehumanization process in the same way as the male recruits. Is this really what feminists, active in the 1970’s wanted; equality for women to kill in the battlefields of the world?

War is associated with class societies, notably capitalism. The reason why Socialists state that in Socialism there will be no war is that there will be no nation states, no national boundaries and no trade. What World Socialism will not be saddled with is the inefficiency of competing nation states fighting over trade routes, raw resources and spheres of economic influence; the causes of war in capitalism.

What men and women believe and how they act is not the result of innate human behaviour but the result of customs, regulations and inhibitions that derive from the social environment in which they live. They are an outcome of social process whereby people of succeeding generations have had to solve fundamental human problems of shelter, food, clothing, communication, transport and other problems necessary for human survival.

What of those who did not want to contribute to a future Socialist society? Even if Socialism did have to carry some social parasites, what would it matter? We would also add something stressed by Marx of the superiority of socialism over capitalism and that in a Socialist society people will change their outlook on life and they will realize that doing creative work is an necessary task of life, just like food, clothing and shelter, they will not look upon labour as something that has to be avoided at all costs.

What Socialism means

Another point should be made about incentives. Opponents of Socialism have a problem in comprehending what Socialism means by equality in a society that has no wages. Socialism would be from each according to ability to each according to need. As every worker knows of life in capitalism, if he doesn’t work and cannot get any money he may starve. However if workers can act socially and co-operatively together to produce and distribute what they and their families need in order to live decent lives where does wages, salaries and money come into the equation?

In a society where production takes place by voluntary and co-operative labour just to meet human need there is no need for the compulsion and rationing of the wages system. In a social system that has no classes and no process of exploitation wages and money are meaningless.

What Socialists are saying is that you will not need incentives like wages and money in a Socialist society because they are in effect no incentives at all if society is producing sufficient for the world’s population to live decently and humanely. Once class monopoly is abolished and replaced by the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society men and women will willingly co-operate in harmonious association for the mutual benefit of all society.

The last point opponents have about Socialism is the question of crime and what a future Socialist society would do about criminals. Our opponents have not taken in the full dimension that in Socialist society there will be free access for everybody, not just for the people who happen to be working. Our opponent’s thinking is so dulled by a life time of pro-capitalist propaganda that they appear incapable of thinking for themselves. Perhaps one day they will prove us wrong.

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