Monday, May 26, 2008

Human Nature and the Prescription of Proscription by Means of Description

The most central question to any serious consideration of anarchism is that of human nature. The debate is an ancient one, and may best be summed up as, absent of any contact with society and it’s chains of conforming conservation – it’s politics, morality, aesthetic opinion, and abstractions – what remains of a single human’s humanity? What are the holds-true-in-all-cases assertions a person is logically entitled to make about their own species?

The term human nature possesses two parts, the adjective and the noun. It may be reconsidered as the nature of humans, or the properties of the natural human, but if those rewordings imply any science differently than the colloquial “human nature”, we will surely prove to be at the mercy of our language, the mercy of ideas we’ve invented after the fact of our humanity. So let us analyze the fullest spectrum of interpretations in order to make our conclusion.

First, to define nature. We’ve all heard the poems and paeans in praise of what is popularly understood to be nature – the trees and the squirrels and the bees and the pearls – but this is nature perceived in a xenophobic frame. It is nature minus what is considered it’s chief production, human society. By this logic does the word unnatural make it’s entrance, that anything man makes is seperate, either above or below, from what made him. It is the synonymization of the words “unnatural” and “artificial”, where all of man is none of nature, and vice versa.

Nature understood more widely, as the deterministic consequences of each moment becoming the next, not only includes man, but includes all the species that may arise after or by his influence: cyborgs, tabletops, lampshades, microwave ovens. Every one the evolutionary consequence of man’s inquiring mind and idle hand. This conception of mother Earth does not dictate that nature existed only in the past, as some “state of affairs” where either the tyranny was red in tooth and claw, or the liberty was white in primitivism and paw. It merely acknowledges the existence of reality as a descriptive entity, and a susceptibility to rapid or gradual fluctuation as it’s prime attribute. Nature, then, is anything that has ever happened or was. Nature is history.

What is human? Well, nothing is, really. Human is a syndrome, a set of attributes possessed by an organism. Humanity is a binary measurement, answers either yes or no to whether a creature meets all the requirements of identicality to some arbitrarily agreed upon stage of transition in the continual process of evolution. So what if we share 50% of our DNA with the banana, does that mean the banana is 50% human? Who knows. But we may say with certainty that while nothing in existence is purely human, all things are to varying degrees more or less human.

So it is, in light of these slippery words, with much care that we should approach human nature. There are many people out there who would attempt to bamboozle you with the term. In fact, the tendency is so common as to have garnished it’s own stature as a fallacy – the appeal to nature (a fallacy of relevance).

The appeal to nature is a fallacy because of what students of philosophy know as the problem of induction. The problem of induction is a conundrum that asks, when we throw an apple into the air and watch it come down, how can we know with certainty it will continue to do so in the future, under the same circumstances? How many times must we observe gravity in order to know that it will always be there?

The answer is: we can’t.

We cannot know anything based upon what was. We can make guesses, certainly. We can perform experiments, and set up conditional guarantees, but we can know nothing absolutely. For example, on the condition that the theory of gravity holds true (and nothing obstructs it), the apple will continue to fall. On the condition that it doesn’t, it may not. Correct conclusions are dependent upon correct precepts, but no precept can be categorically guaranteed, meaning we can never know whether or not they are true.

So, when we speak of human nature, what we really mean is social history. Social history tells many tales, tales of Christians being eaten by lions, tales of celebrated pedophilia, tales of Zeus and Thor. Tales of genocide, war, and an 1,000 year dark age of religious integrity and barbaric practices.

Then came Gutenberg. People began to read, and they began to understand. In a literal sense, humanity had first sunk it’s teeth into that forbidden apple from the tree of knowledge. The spirit of humanism and the Enlightenment bloomed. Monarchies descended (or were violently thrust) into comparatively libertarian Republics and Democracies.

And as the centuries rolled by, government, at least in ratio to population, decreased. No longer is cat burning any man’s idea of a good night out on the town. And that particular attraction was popular even into the 16th century.

So it must be realized that yesterday’s conservatism is today’s reactionism. And so too will today’s conservative be tomorrow's reactionary.

“We know what we are, but not what we may be."

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

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