On so-called human “nature”

Most certainly one of the oldest debates known to civilization is what constitutes human “nature”. This debate is truly ubiquitous with almost every major religion and philosophy chiming in on the matter. In China, this was one of the fundamental differences between Legalists (the philosophy adhered to by the Qin and the First Emperor) and Confucians (the philosophy adopted by Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty and had since become the de facto state religion ever since). Human ‘nature’ has been used to justify many things, both good and bad, throughout the ages. I will discuss some examples where ‘nature’ or the ‘natural order’ justifies some otherwise difficult to justify stances.

Example 1 – stance against homosexuality/gender reassignment.

The argument: certainly this is “unnatural”, since the basic goal of any organism is to reproduce. Since humans reproduce sexually, in order to reproduce we must seek a mate of the opposite sex. Certainly gender reassignment surgery never existed in ‘nature’, and even if it did, all it does is to make a specific person unable to reproduce at all. Thus this kind of state of existence is undesirable and thus there must be something wrong with it.

A possible justification: aiming specifically to refute the argument above without introducing any other loftier ideals of equality and human rights, a possible explanation for the continued existence of homosexuals and other persons with distinct gender and sexual identities in our collective gene pool is that while for individual organisms reproducing and passing down their specific genes is obviously optimal, evolution tends to favor entire species which can pass down their genes collectively. From that perspective, individuals that are not able or unwilling to reproduce themselves but willing to rear young may be useful to the collective. Indeed, even in nature, orphans will exist; and often cannot survive on their own. Sometimes orphans are taken care of by their clans, but if there are individuals that are willing to take in orphans because they have no offspring of their own, then it helps preserve genetic diversity and perhaps even pass down some of the best genes. Thus, from this perspective, there is no “natural” problem with the existence of homosexuals or persons with distinct gender identities.

Example 2: People (males specifically) are more violent by nature, and so the basic aim of reducing forms of violence that tend to be perpetrated by men (i.e. sexual violence) is fundamentally futile.

Argument against: There is a lot to be said of sense of ‘violence’. Speaking broadly, most dystopian works of fiction and almost all apocalyptic films focus on this concept that humans are fundamentally violent, chaotic beings and as soon as the established order is broken, they will kill each other. One only needs to look at any zombie movie or even the new Planet of the Apes movie to get a sense of this. However, as was pointed out here, it was human nature in the first place that built civilization.  And despite the recent spate of news about sexual violence (not just the Eliot Rodger incident neither, even in India and Sudan we hear related news all the way over in North America), the cause isn’t that this is happening more often; it’s just being reported more as it enters into the public consciousness. Without any statistics on-hand (this type of thing tends to be under reported anyway, so I am not sure how much statistics can prove), one can guess that sexual violence as a whole is going down. This has many reasons. Among them is that through better education and overall social progress, more men understand that sexual violence is morally wrong (and not just wrong because it might land you in prison). However, a more subtle and definitely less lofty reason is the increased access to sexually explicit material. Much of the ‘nature’ of men’s tendency towards violence (against women) is from a physical need. When that need is dealt with by ‘Pamela Handerson’, the urge to commit violent acts decreases. At that point it becomes psychological and surprise, psychology mostly comes from social construction and not inherent from birth.

However, as I’ve stated in other media before, the women’s rights movement will always have a tough time compared to other similar causes (arguably, the LGBT movement has made much more progress in the same time period than feminism) because a lot of men fail to see the fundamental concept in feminism as it is divergent from their daily experience. I forgot where the quote comes from, but I believe this is a brilliant way to summarize why a lot of men don’t feel like they are the ‘dominant, aggressive’ one in their lives: “When I was a child, my mother bossed me around. When I became a man, my wife bossed me around. When I became a father, my daughter bossed me around. How am I oppressing women?” This is not unfounded. Using another ‘this is nature’ argument which I have advocated against thus far, men aren’t really needed in the grand scheme of evolution. There is no inherent problem with keeping a small male to female ratio in a population; indeed that’s exactly what happens with livestock. This is the most logical reason why men have traditionally been used to fight wars or to work the most dangerous jobs; they are expendable. Thus far men have tried to justify their existence through intimidation and violence, but this time has come to an end. To continue to justify our existence in the future, we have to do the fair share or better.

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