When I was asked whether I thought humans were naturally good or bad, or what human nature was, I was confused because such a concept had never occurred to me.
To say that there humans all share a common nature, and to claim to know what that nature is seems quite presumptuous to me. I have never thought that many meaningful conclusions can be made about every human that has and will ever live, since their thoughts, beliefs, goals and actions vary so much.
Many people claim that humans are naturally selfish. This, as far as I can tell, is a generalization made based on bad experiences. Of the seven billion people on this planet, very few if any can say that they know enough people to have a sample size large enough to be representative of all humans. This fallacy occurs because of several reasons.
One reason is that people assume that the people they know are representative of everyone else. If everyone someone knows is selfish, then that person’s view on life is biased as they have only seen selfishness. Another related reason is that most people do not know how large a sample size has to be to represent the whole.
Regardless of how many people you know though, and even if you know enough people to have a large enough sample size, it is illogical to then claim that everyone else is the same. While this might be statistically probable, it mistakes correlation with causation. To take this one step further, imagine if everyone on earth right now were selfish. While it would be true that all currently livings humans have this in common, to say that this is human nature is a fairly large leap. If everyone on earth were selfish, it could be as a result of the way they have been brought up, as opposed to the way they are born. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that humans are born that way.
On the contrary, kindness, and often self detrimental kindness, is not only common but scientifically proven to be a part of the way humans have evolved. Another excuse that cynics use to justify the assumption that humans are selfish is that kind actions are only done out of selfish reasons. At the most basic level, they claim that even if for no other reason, the pleasure that someone gets for doing something nice is the main motivation for doing good things. This is not only a huge assumption, but has no evidence. For this to be proven, every single human being that it applies to (which is incidentally every human that has and will ever live) made the decision to do all the good things they did because it made them feel good.
A counter example is any action that was done which had little if any pleasureable effect. Selfless actions are not hard to find, especially when they hurt the person more than any satisfaction can make up for. Any morally good act which goes against survival instincts, and causes pain, is such an action. Buddhist monks self immolating themselves, people sacrificing themselves or their belongings to others, and other such actions prove that, assuming these actions are done of their own free will and logically, people are capable of being selfless.
Whether it be by incorrect assumptions, generalisations, or projecting their own beliefs onto others, one cannot say that human nature is bad without thorough evidence. Similarly one cannot say that human nature is good without thorough evidence. If one were to make an assumption either way, it would only make sense to assume that human nature is bad to avoid being tricked by others, and to assume that human nature is good when dealing with people that are not a threat, but instead should be treated well. Either way, what matters more are individual’s nature and actions.
War is another example people use to say that human nature is bad. While there are plenty of wars throughout history that could say that humans have been constantly fighting, this is a giant fallacy. Wars are generally started by a few people and fought by many. Those that fight are often tricked or forced into doing so, whether it be by propaganda, patriotism, lies, or out of self defence. Those with power often value the lives of their people so little that they will start wars to further their own goals by gaining fame, glory, resources, pride, or other things through conquest. Wars can be fought for justified reasons, but this is always the result of unreasonable people not willing to negotiate.
The fact still remains that most people do not fight in a war. If you take any one country, they have wars on average much less frequently than there are wars in the world. If you claim that there is always a war going on, it is worth considering that that is partly because there are so many different groups in the world. There are parts of the world that haven’t seen a war in decades if not centuries. If fighting was a part of human nature, then it would not make any sense for whole generations of people to have never fought. That is why fighting is not a part of human nature. I do not want to fight others, and I never have. The idea of doing so has never made any sense to me. Fighting only makes sense when done in self defense, and even then it should be about stopping the other person from fighting and hurting others, not about hurting them.
What is part of human nature is empathy. We are built to understand and help others. This is clear with babies and infants who know when someone else is sad and consequentially feel sad as well, and try to console them. People have different levels of empathy for different reasons, but it is a trait that everyone has unless they have a defect that makes them not capable of understanding other’s feelings.
Speaking and thinking in terms of human nature often makes people think that humans cannot change. This again is another concept that people believe out of assumptions, generalisations, and projection. On the contrary, people can, and have changed. Too often though this is a change for the worse, as a result of a traumatic experience. There are times though, as I can attest to myself without it being bragging, that you can decide what you want to be.
I don’t like to say that I have changed. What I am is what I decide to be, but my upbringing made me for the most part a good person. I have and have had many issues, but everyone should be constantly identifying and fixing issues with the way they are. Arrogance, cynicism, hatred, anger, cruelty, and other negative features and emotions should be fixed. By “fixed”, I do not mean repressed, or simply rejected, but the root of these things must be eliminated. By realizing that these things are illogical, not necessary, and harmful, one can start to eliminate the causes of them. This is not always easy, and will often seem impossible, but without rigourous evidence, one cannot say that it is impossible. Being a better person requires that you be strong, dedicated, open minded, and good.
Human nature does not seem like a very relevant topic to me, not because it is not important, but because there is little we know about it for sure. What is more important is that we make ourselves better people.