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If It Were Truly Human Nature...

If It Were Truly Human Nature...

By Dennis Loo (10/20/15)

One comment that regularly comes up from at least some students during my sociology classes at some point is some variant on this statement: "It's human nature and that’s why we have social problems. People are naturally selfish, greedy and violent." This is something that you can hear someone in the street or other setting state very readily and with great assurance in their voices that what they're saying is as true as the sky is blue.

The follow-up statement to this is usually: "So any plans to change anything are bound to fail because of human nature."[1]

This is so common an idea and taken for granted as so well understood and true that nobody has to bother to try to justify it. Some teachers in fact can be heard in some classes engaging in what appears to be a routinized call and response with their students of: “And why can’t this problem be fixed class?” Chorus: “Because of human nature!” “That’s right,” the professor declares with great satisfaction.

I want to ask this question in response: if humans are naturally selfish, greedy and violent, or at least, narrow-minded gullible dupes, then why does the government find it necessary to cloak what they are doing in lies and deceits that are intended to make it look like they are doing the just, humane, legal, and reasonable thing at all times?

Now to some people the answer to this question is immediately obvious: “Well, of course, they would not admit to doing anything else but that!”

But I want to ask, but why not? Why bother to prevaricate? Why go to so much trouble to dress it up as the very opposite of what they are doing all of the time?

This is an important point: why say the precise opposite and not something at some other angle to the whole truth?

If the vast majority of people are naturally, spontaneously, and irrevocably selfish philistines, then why doesn’t the government appeal to that vast majority according to that vast majority’s basic nature? Why, if they aren’t going to tell the unvarnished truth, don’t they adopt some version of facts and motives that are not the polar opposite to what they’re doing? 

Why not adopt something that is more in line with alleged “human nature” and why adopt a stance that is precisely the opposite of this so-called “human nature”? You cannot answer my question, as one student once did, by saying, “Well, they don’t and wouldn’t do that” because that is really a non-answer. It’s the equivalent of saying that “this happens and therefore that is why it happens.”

If the government and the media reflected what the people want (which is what most people mistakenly think that they do, in line with what functionalist theory and democratic theory assert), then why don't the government and mainstream media behave more like the majority? If you're going to be logically consistent in your reasoning, that is indeed what you should expect.

Is it not further the case that the government and mass media are the most powerful proponents of the view that “human nature” is to be avaricious and/or self-interested and that altruism either doesn’t exist or is exceeding rare unless it’s in the service of your own country as a “patriot” and not in service to the world and done for truly unselfish reasons?

If you doubt this, watch almost any episode of a drama or comedy on TV. Check out virtually all ads in the mass media. What message are they almost invariably promoting? That happiness means having more stuff. That people are quick to stab others in the back and almost always only interested in Number One (this is the overwhelming message conveyed on reality shows that are NOT unscripted but in fact, scripted in terms of fomenting fighting among the participants for their dramatic value and ideological message that people are opportunists). That anyone who cares deeply enough to do something about serious social problems such as the ever-yawning gap between the rich and the poor and global warming is just a huckster or a secret sadist who will kill and lie in order to get their way, not someone to honor or to be a model for others. That truth is merely a matter of spin, or whatever is most popular, or whatever will make you money, not something that can actually be determined and that is independent of how popular it might be. That the measure of how “true” something is is whether or not it’s wildly popular or not.

There are exceptions to this litany but that is what they are, exceptions.  

Why do authorities promote this “human nature” argument so frequently and nearly invariably (with very few variations, in some documentaries or some subtheme hidden in The Simpsons’ episodes) if they don’t honor this in the arena of the public statements of government officials announcing their policies? Why do people like CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Fox reporters, and MSNBC etc. et al claim that “we are the good guys” and that what the US government is going or at least intends is on the side of truth, justice and the proper thing to do? Have these supposed reporters ever heard of investigative journalism? 

Why don't the government and the mass media just come out and say openly that the US government is invading other countries so that they can steal other countries' resources and bring back some of those riches home for Americans to live off the fat of the (world’s) land and oceans?

Why make up lies about WMD? Why not just say straight-up: “Might makes right and we have the might and we’re determined to make sure that we always have the might. Yes, we torture people and we have tortured more than a hundred to death. Torture is part of the price you pay for being an Empire. If you’re going to remain in a dominant position where you essentially steal other people’s resources and despoil their environment of course you have to crush any inklings of resistance and that includes using torture, including on innocents because the objective of torture isn’t intelligence. The purpose of torture is intimidation and what is more intimidating than torturing people you and they know for a fact are innocents?

Why claim that you’re concerned about global warming and behind the scenes do the exact opposite, as Obama has been doing his entire time in office? Why not say that you couldn’t care less about the planet and come clean, so to speak? Why don’t the Democrats join the Republicans openly and say “Country First,” to hell with all those damn foreigners with their funny accents and their not speaking English?  

If that involves rigging elections and assassinating people (which it invariably does involve), killing tons of innocent people, including people not only as collateral damage but many on purpose so that the US' adversaries will recognize our government's utter ruthlessness, then why not just be truthful about their actual actions and their real motives? The US government could tell the truth (and other governments too since I'm not just singling out the US. Vladimir Putin could do likewise, etc. and so on) without having to manufacture the huge lies that they fabricate such as WMD in Iraq and candidly admit that the Afghan people really despise Hamid Karzi, etc. and so on. They could admit "We're interested in oil because oil is the lifeblood of the capitalist system. We need to dictate the terms about oil and all other precious natural resources so that America stays on top. We are ruining the planet's atmosphere and ocean in the process but we aren't going to live forever anyway and we'll let future generations reap the full terrible damage of what we're currently doing.” If they truly were social Darwinists and Ayn Randians as so many of them claim, why not let big corporations fail in the battle for survival of the fittest?

Now I’m not expecting them and I would never suggest seriously for the sake of pursuing a logical argument thread as I am now doing that they tell the other part of the truth: As long as big corporations are kept happy and allowed to keep getting bigger, and as long as the 1% keep getting richer, we don't give a damn about the other 99% since they'll keep believing the lies we tell them. Anyone who dares to contradict us we will make an example of by ruining their reputation, either revealing something about their secret life or by making up something that we say often enough that people will believe it's true, or we will buy them out with bribes or neutralize them with threats, and if that doesn't work we can get rid of them on trumped up charges or we can make sure that they have an accident or are killed by a "lone mad man." 

If they revealed these particular truths, then people would forthwith refuse to honor such authorities and rebel. And that was what Occupy was but, of course, the protestors could not continue to be allowed to be visible so authorities, under Obama’s auspices, used force to wipe their encampments away.

So I will answer my question here:

Authorities don’t come out with something closer to the truth because they actually know that what they claim about “human nature” doesn’t reflect the truth. They know but won’t say this out loud that most people in this country – I would estimate about 80% of the population - want to do the right thing and would be shocked to find out that their government routinely lies shamelessly to them.

In other words, the view that they project to the public about the true nature of humans isn’t true and they recognize on some level or another that they absolutely cannot afford to tell the truth to the public because they need people to believe the very opposite of the truth about them and this system.

The point that I am making is this: political power rests very powerfully upon a social construction and framing of reality by those in authority. Authorities have to lie because the social compact rests upon deceiving people into thinking that what’s going on is the obverse of the truth because most people would not otherwise go along with it all because in fact the nostrum about human nature is wrong and anyone who believes it has not really studied sociology or anthropology or history very carefully.

Now it’s not as simple as just telling people the truth in contrast to the lies.

If authorities were seen for what they truly are the system would not collapse, contrary to what some people like Chris Hedges believe because their notion overlooks the very important fact that political power also rests upon the use of state violence through the persons of cops, cops in suits (e.g., the FBI), and soldiers.

There is a reason why you never see a cop show that shows that the very institution of the police is riddled through and through with contempt for minorities and women, that racism and police murder and police frame-ups of innocent victims of the police is standard operating procedure rather than just a rare mistake, and that the police as an institution (not every single individual cop) is designed to ride herd over those that the system most oppresses and that this includes very frequently murdering people, especially black people. The most you ever see in the mass media is that any bad behavior among the police is either due to a few bad apples or to over-zealous good cops who are just cutting some corners in order to get the real bad guys or gals and therefore are justified in what they’re doing, at least in large part.

Now I enjoy watching the NBC show The Blacklist because it has interesting plot lines and a reasonably strong acting cast of principals and I’m a sucker for thrillers, but if you pay attention to the content of their plots, they fit very neatly into what is ideologically acceptable to the PTB. The FBI Special Task Force is always out to do the right thing, even when they have to bend the rules, and their mission is only threatened when corrupt higher officials (who are acting as rogues from the “real” character of the political system which is fundamentally supposedly good) try to manipulate them for personal ends or when a shadowy conspiracy is trying to run the world from behind the scenes. The villain is never the system as it really is because the guardians at the gate do not allow that message to be conveyed and if that message ever rears its head, it is unceremoniously squashed or quickly marginalized and/or dismissed.


[1] The follow-up statement is actually often the actual premise, with the first statement that premise’s justification.

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