To begin, a little Carroll:
(The King says): " . . .And I haven't sent the two Messengers, either. They're both gone to the town. Just look along the road, and tell me if you can see either of them."
"I see nobody on the road," said Alice.
"I only wish I had such eyes," the King remarked in a fretful tone. "To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too! Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!"
. . .
"Who did you pass on the road?" the King went on, holding out his hand to the Messenger for some hay.
"Nobody," said the Messenger.
"Quite right," said the King: "this young lady saw him too. So of course Nobody walks slower than you."
"I do my best," the Messenger said in a sullen tone. "I'm sure nobody walks much faster than I do!"
"He can't do that," said the King, "or else he'd have been here first."
The argument about human nature goes in a similar fashion.
The first problem is the term "human nature" itself. In its most common usage, this phrase is a densely packed abbreviation for pro-capitalist ideology. Teased apart, its components are something like:
"Human nature = bad/selfish = lazy = prone to dishonesty = will not work productively unless under supervision . . ."
Thus the definition then sets up the following equation: "Human nature makes it unlikely that people will do work unless under supervision, therefore capitalism is the only economic system in accord with human nature." Flowing from are a host of related concepts, all can be traced, ultimately, to being ideologically serviceable to capital.
You all know the spiel: "The desire for power over others is human nature"; "It's human nature to want to own a home"; "It's human nature to want to own a better car than your best friend does."
And I shouldn't forget the most famous reactionary syntax of all: "The problem with ___________ is that it's against human nature!"
(Fill in the blank with your choice of the following: feminism, communism, socialism, Marxism or any other progressive concept.)
Why, I've even heard a person--a person with a PhD, incidentally--state that the desire to sit in the back of a restaurant while facing the door is 'human nature'!
The term 'human nature' is so sullied with reactionary sentiment that I don't use it. Indeed, I haven't employed since high school when I wrote the famous "communism doesn't take human nature into account" in a term paper.
Of course, terms such as "morality" and " moral absolutes" rank even higher in the capitalism shit-o-meter, so of course these must be rejected as well.
But I reserve a special status for the term 'conscience.' My notion of the term 'conscience' is that it is a more abstract entity, having to do with our connectedness to all things, especially the rights and sufferings of other sentient beings. To me it's a much more fluid concept which causes problems for people who are the philosophical equivalent accountants or McDonald's short-order cooks. That is, a fluid conscience is anathema to people who need their moral codes and instructions written in stone, tabularized, codified, laid out in advance and spoken to them from pulpits or textbooks.
As I said, our conscience is our sense of connectedness to all things, past present and future. It's what makes us truly repent when we've wronged another person, be that through an act of comission or an act of omission. But the conscious manifestation of the conscience is ephemeral, mediated by the ego, and indeed must be if we are to function in our daily lives. We live in a world in which wholesale exploitation, murder and eco-cide is the norm--not to mention the fact that, even in a perfect world, death will surely be the end of us all. Without some psychological defense against this dreadful reality, how am I supposed to get out of bed in the morning?
I need my ego, if for nothing else than to help make the ego impossible.
People's egos are a major block to revolutionizing social relations. The ego--a psychological entity which can easily burst into a flaming narcissism, a condition which capitalism encourages--is our precarious defense against our conscience which connects us to people It should be no wonder why capitalism promises salvation through consumerism and athletic footwear! The ego is a protective shell over all that is good, but unchecked it smothers it.
The ego is the opposite of the conscience, but it is also its protector, its connection to the material reality of staying alive. An overblown ego is dictatorship; an overblown conscience is suicide.
So, I propose reserving the word 'conscience' for that aspect of humanity which is inborn, innate, natural. In my scheme, having a conscience is just as natural as having ten fingers, ten toes, and just as natural as having a capacity for learning a human language.
As far as Behaviorism goes, I I have a respect for its commitment to human progress and liberation. But as I've shown before, I think it represents a dogmatic constraint on the nature of scientific inquiry, especially in the field of (interestingly enough) behavioral sciences.
We shouldn't forget that the Soviet linguist Vygotsky's work was banned by his government because he had some evidence of differing abilities to acquire language. While his "social learning" theory met with wide praise, subsequent studies met with government censorship. An d it was because he didn't conform to the approved paradigm.
(This is little example is not to suggest that Vygotsky's work is 100% correct, nor to give yet another needless example of Soviet censorship, rather it is to illustrate the point that science too is a community which is not immune to political pressures. )
Any understanding of what happened in the Soviet Union in the years 1905 to (?) to . . . to (erm) . . .to 1989 must understand this. Any understanding of history must take into account the wholly subjective factors of what it was like to experience what it was like. It's no use to pull a Lark and shout "the Bolsheviks were murderers!" but it's also no use to pull a Stoller and say "no, Leninism doesn't mean that . . .and anyway capitalism did the same."
Furthermore, good history serves no purpose but to illuminate the present. This is in contrast to bad history which seeks to obscure the past or justify the present. Thus, Spielberg's "Schindler's List" was bad history, because it pulled our heartstrings (consciences) but also justified "free-market" solutions to social problems and, most obscenely, sneakily justified Israel's treatment of the Palestinians on the grounds that the Jews were tortured/killed in Europe therefore they deserve their own "homeleand."
History, literature and introspection tells us that governments, like individuals, tend toward self-preservation. The Soviet Union was the same. The U.S. was the same. There's no difference. And if there IS a difference, please tell me its POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE TODAY in which we're faced with the EXTINCTION OF THE PLANET. I'll read, watch, listen to, rally for, cheer for, do for, drink to any political party which will convince me that it's going to change that.
I'm out for my own ass. And 'my own ass' means having a planet that's liveable for my kids and their kids. I only care about myself, and if I care about that enough, that's caring for all. It's the same psychological that makes me go "ho-hum" when read of the Rwanda massacres , yet get upset when my wife criticizes me for being a bad father. It's the same mechanism that makes me worry when my mistress tells me she's going to call my wife and tell her all about our affair. And the same impulse which makes me tell the girl last night that if she says anything I'll deny it.
Like I say, I'm looking out for my own ass. And my ass stretches to every continent every corner of the globe. It even goes all the way down in Antartica where theiy're drilling for oil . And they're drilling hard. I don't like that.
But who's to blame? 'Nobody', of course.