It’s commonly asserted that humans are inherently selfish beings. Thus, a system that harnesses our selfishness while providing benefit to society at large (as the current arrangement of society purports to do) is the only correct way to organize the world. Any other way is doomed to fail because it would go against human nature. The profit-motive based on competition is it. There is no alternative.
“It’s human nature to be greedy.”
Yeah… I’m always perplexed when I hear statements like that. I’ve often argued that human nature allows us to be just as selfless as selfish. And I might just be crazy but it seems apparent that the existing arrangement isn’t working so well. So instead of using greed as the foundation of things, maybe relying on an opposite trait – say, compassion – would be a better way to go about it.
It turns out that the debate over human nature may actually be much more on the side of compassion, rather than being a tie with greed. In A People’s History of the World Chris Harman argues that for more than 90 percent of our existence, humans have lived in classless societies whose survival required anything but greed. It was cooperation between individuals, not selfishness, which allowed bands to continue to exist. So if anything, it’s “collective values” that made their way into human nature. Harman quotes anthropologist Richard Lee as saying the following:
It is the long experience of egalitarian sharing that has moulded our past. Despite our seeming adaptation to life in hierarchical societies, and despite the rather dismal track record of human rights in many parts of the world, there are signs that humankind retains a deep-rooted sense of egalitarianism, a deep-rooted commitment to the norm of reciprocity, a deep-rooted…sense of community.
Hopefully this post comes off as a bit uplifting, in contrast to the last few I’ve written.