contradiction/ human nature

ermadog at ermadog at
Fri Dec 21 23:43:24 MST 2001

On Fri, 21 Dec 2001, Charles Brown wrote:

> CB: Need to eat, drink, sleep. Sexual reproduction. Desire to have sex.

This is too easy, Charles. These features we all share with animals; and,
therefore, they do not address the question of human nature per se.

Carrots, also, do the first four.

> Upright posture. Use of language.

Upright posture and the opposable thumb laid down the *preconditions* for
the development of the uniquely human. Language, I'm not too sure about.
I'm halfway through the Carling paper; and where he talks about symbols, I
get confused. My dogs *seem* to assign their own unique meaning to voice
commands. They quite obviously have no grasp of grammar; and I'm not too
certain about those various primates who seem to use grammar in signing.

One quick example from my dogs. When I first began using a cane, I was
surprised to realize that they were studiously ignoring it. By contrast, I
had to guard other hand tools. Elsie, in particular took great delight in
stealing my hammer when I repaired the chicken-coop. One day in town,
however, Irma and I encountered an elderly gentleman with a cane. Irma
padded carefully up to him, placed her teeth gently on his cane, and
tried to take it from him. I have no idea what my cane symbolized to them;
I never used it for anything but support in walking. (I never beat my

> Instinct to struggle against being exploited and oppressed;

Again, I suggest this is something we share with animals. From watching my
bush-raised dogs, and comparing them with town-raised dogs, I'd have to
say that wild animals do not submit naturally to domestication. My ducks
took off with a wild flock; and my bantams would have, too, had they been
stronger fliers.

> this underlies the thesis of the Communist Manifesto that class struggle
> is the motor of history; it may relate to your argument that democratic
> rights are inalienable by natural law.

I suggest that the class struggle is a matter of survival. Only in the
period of post-War prosperity has the class struggle seemed benign, and
then only in the core.

My natural law argument:

When we began to walk upright, we were able to turn tool-usage into a way
of life, rather than just a passing fancy as with other animals. This did
two things:

1. It allowed us to intervene directly into the chain of cause and effect
that inexorably determines the lives of animals:

2. It exponentially increased the sheer amount of data to be processed. In
self-defense, the brain learned to classify, concatenate, to think in
abstractions, etc.

I conclude, therefore, that freedom of choice is a uniquely human
attribute; and that to deny such freedom goes against natural law. All of
the usually recognized democratic freedoms devolve around this. For choice
to be truly free, it must be informed. To be fully informed, we require
freedom of movement, freedom of access, freedom of association, etc. The
right to privacy is bound up with the need to process information - to
"set a spell", as Jed Clampett would say. We also need to check our own
reality against that of others in case we've gone off on a tangent. That's
one thing every bush-dweller knows.

At this point in the argument, people usually object, "But, Joan, aren't
you forgetting the warm-fuzzies; aren't you just evading the touchy-feely,
mushy stuff?" No; my dogs do this, too. It's at this point that my endless
dog stories usually come in; but, I don't want to try my readers'
patience. I will simply jump to my conclusion which you may take or leave
as you see fit, which is that dogs have the intelligence of a 4-6 year old
human, and, as well, an emotional intelligence superior to that of most
humans I know.

However, dogs don't seem to have the same range of sophisticated nuance in
their emotional life as we are capable of acheiving.

> > CB: You seem to imply that pre-conditions do not determine .

I suggest that the pre-conditions set the stage; but, that, once freedom
of choice enters the scene, the props become plastic.

> CB: I'd say that the dialectic at the center of the human is that of the
unity and struggle of the social and the biological. Our social or
cultural does give us more flexibility , but our cultural capacity does
not obliterate or entirely overcome, ( or hasn't yet) our natural in which
it is in unity and struggle. <

Charles, there is nothing natural about neat little rows of corn with no
weeds in between. The human is entirely unnatural. Any being which lives
in total harmony with nature is indistinguishable from nature, and is
either a plant or an animal.

You point to the biological as constants in human nature. It is true that,
in class society, the vast majority of human beings spend an inordinate
amount of time in satisfying basic biologic needs. But, the brutal fact is
that they consequently live a sub-bestial existence. I can well understand
how a feudal lord would value his prized war-horse or hunting dog more
highly than he would the peasants who toil his fields.

Paradoxically, we live this subhuman existence precisely because we *are*
human: we can be convinced to act against our own material interests
precisely because our capacity for abstract thought allows us to value
ideals more highly than reality. Very often, the toiling masses are in
fact starving, and not even satisfying their basic needs. Even a dog seeks
shelter from the storm, yet some German emperor is remembered for having
stood barefoot in the snow, awaiting the pleasure of the Pope. This
behaviour cannot be seen as being biologically determined.

The imposition of class society can be seen as unnatural, if we define as
natural (for humans) the development of human potential. It is entirely
natural, on the other hand, if we trace its development from its historic,
material conditions.

Of course, it's not that cut and dried. Even the lowest of the low try to
extract some sense of being human out of their meager existence, by
putting curtains up on the dung-heaps on which we live. And in this, women
are the agents of their own destruction, because it is usually women who
hang the curtains, thereby ensuring the perpetuation of a status quo that
wages a war of attrition against them.

As for overcoming the biological, only the ruling class is entirely
capable of transcending material existence; and they are not a pretty

Joan Cameron

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