Sunday, September 04, 2016

Communism and the Rest of Human Nature

I once read a poster from the former Soviet Union stating that Communists had attempted to remake human nature, and that that was wrong.

In fact Communists did what everyone else does: Elevate one aspect of human nature to universal legitimacy while condemning all others.

Communists believed service to humanity to be the true human nature. Other aspects of human nature – anything from monetary self-interest to spirituality – they condemned. Every other belief structure on the face of the planet does the exact same thing.

Capitalism believes monetary self-interest to be the true human nature and sees anything else as an attempt at one or another kind of a theft. Patriotism believes serving one's country to be the true human nature and sees anything else as weakness, cowardice or betrayal. Different kinds of psychology see different things as being true human nature and anything else as an attempt to cheat at these things. We see this with “erotic striving” and Adlerian “adequacy striving.” We see this with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. We see this with personality psychology. We see this with self-esteem psychology. And on and on and on.

And of course religions teach us that the true human nature is submission to God or spiritual growth, and that everything else is “flesh,” “ego” or “sin.”

While service to humanity may not be a part of the nature of everyone, I have definitely known any number of people who were not Communists who were naturally altruistic and were happy doing tasks that did not bring them much money but that resulted in benefit for many other people. Scientists, educators and social workers do not make very much money, but their contributions to prosperity are vast. Someone else makes money out of the knowledge that they produce and out of the work of the people whom they make employable and law-abiding. Many of them do not mind this state of affairs. When they do revolt – rightfully - is when people decide that their work is useless, that only business creates prosperity, and that everyone else – including the scientists whose knowledge is at the root of the things that they sell and the teachers and social workers who make people employable and law-abiding - is a parasite.

In 1960s, the naturalistic hippie ideal – to be a part of nature and to live naturally – was seen as the true human nature. In 1980s, that changed, and human nature was thought to be family life and economic self-interest. Both appeared to appeal to the same people at different stages in their lives. Both obviously speak to a part of the human nature. But neither has the right to exclusivity.

In fact, everything that we see – both the desirable and the undesirable – is an outcome of one or another aspect of human nature at work. There will be ideologies favoring all of them, and there will be ideologies condemning all of them. Communism is merely one of such ideologies.

As for the psychological theories, I have found all of them lacking. Adler would pathologize everything that has taken humanity from caveman to man on the moon. Maslow was obviously wrong; there are any number of people – especially in religions – who put their higher needs first and either have the lower ones fulfilled as part of striving for higher needs (“Seek ye the righteousness of God and all else will follow”) or denied as contrary thereto (overcoming the “flesh” or the “ego”). There are plenty of people – especially nuns, monks and ascetics - who live well enough without sex. There are plenty of people who live happily enough – and frequently successfully enough and kindly enough - without self-esteem; and there are plenty of people with high self-esteem who are horrible human beings. As for personality psychology, it claims that some people are evil and can only be evil whatever they do; which is of course contrary to most basic reason. And given the definitions of some of these disorders, the world owes vastly to people whom they accuse of having them.

The error in Communism was not seeing service to humanity to be human nature. The error in Communism was claiming that that was the only legitimate aspect of human nature. There are any number of people who are naturally altruistic, and that is a legitimate aspect of human nature. It is a valid aspect. It is an important aspect. But it is not the only one.

I have found that all aspects of human nature can go right, and all can go wrong. We have plenty of historical examples of all of the preceding. Capitalism can mean anything from Oracle Corporation to fracking and predatory lending schemes. Natural life can mean anything from the happy Pacific Islander tribes to the cannibalistic Maoris. Patriotism can mean anything from Eisenhower to Hitler. Psychology can mean anything from Rollo May to the lobotomy man. All human phenomena are capable of both good results and bad results. And none deserve to speak for the whole human nature.

Was Communism wrong to see only one aspect of human nature as the legitimate one? Yes. But that aspect of human nature exists all around the world, and it will continue existing, Communism or no Communism. This aspect needs to be recognized, and mechanisms need to be put into place that it be legitimately fulfilled. It is wrong to give Communism the credit for something that has existed for as long as the world has existed, or to equate it with Communism. It is a part of the human makeup; and the rational solution is to allow it to do its work without making fallacious equations with a vanquished ideology.


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