Human Nature and Libertarian Socialism

In this excerpt from the Chomsky - Foucault debate "Human Nature: Justice vs. Power" from 1971, Noam Chomsky argues that an egalitarian Anarcho-Syndicalist society is best suited the nature of humans. He also argues that sympathy, kindness and the feeling of justice are grounded in our nature:

Now, I think what he's saying makes a lot of sense. Being creative, active and contributing to one's surroundings based on one's own capacity in a relatively egalitarian social organization has been kind of a thread thruout our evolution, and it would therefore logically follow that this is part of our nature.

In my article "The Society We Should Strive For" I also argued that human nature is best suited Libertarian Socialist organization. I wrote that "the history of human evolution has been dominated by relatively egalitarian groups who cooperated for the common good. This type of organization which goes far back in our evolution also continued after we evolved into humans (Homo Sapiens) a little over a 100 000 years ago (cf. Hunter-gatherer societies etc)"

Now I want to explore this issue of human nature in the context of Libertarian Socialism more thoroughly:

Now, we have to face the fact that we don't know everything about human nature. We do, however, know that there are some fundamental human characteristics. Human nature allows for different kinds of behavior and it can be shaped to a certain extent, but there are certain things, such as solidarity for example, that make up some of the core features. Again, look at the history of our evolution: For millions of years things like cooperation, sharing, caring, sticking together and so on, basing social organization on a relatively egalitarian principle, have been central parts of our evolution. Even as far back as Homo Habilis working together for the common good, cooperating on finding and getting food etc, were essential and crucial for the survival and further evolvement of the species. Now, there were also things like rivalry and violence that took place at that time, and these things have to a certain extent also been passed on, but as our ancestors evolved further, all the way up to Homo Heidelbergensis and later on Homo Sapiens, these things decreased and elements like solidarity and egalitarianism, in addition to cooperation, became more integrated in the social organization. Working together for the common good turned out to be a crucial and highly successful factor in our evolution. And with cooperation and working together, things like solidarity, altruism etc - a more collective mentality - also became a natural part of our ancestors' way of thinking and acting. When our ancestors finally evolved into Homo Sapiens this had become a big part of our way of life: Some of the first human societies consisted of hunter-gatherers basing society on solidarity, cooperation and egalitarian principles. Marx and Engels studied and wrote about these types of egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies; they called them "primitive communism" - a kind of preindustrial version of the modern classless stateless communist society they envisioned might come into place in the future.  



In other words, evolution has allowed us to develop a free will, a mentality that allows for variation in behavior, making room for adaptation and molding of the mind, but our ancestors have also passed on certain elements, mostly good ones, that are determined and part of humans today.
Things that were the main reason for our evolutionary success, like solidarity and cooperation, are parts of our nature.

In fact many of these things can also be seen among most species, simply because sticking together and helping each other increase the chances of species survival. Peter Kropotkin, a zoologist, philosopher and Libertarian Socialist - contributing especially to the philosophy of Anarcho-Communism - wrote about this issue in his book "Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution", looking at mutual aid and cooperation in nature, arguing that evolution naturally would develop things like commitment to helping others, and that these were important factors in the survival of the species.

Another important contribution to this topic is of course "The Selfish Gene" from 1976 by professor and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. In this book he pointed out that altruism, and cooperation naturally would evolve among species thruout evolution because organisms act as if their genes, not the organisms themselves, are selfish. It is the gene that is being passed on endlessly thru organisms, and things like altruism would therefore accrue in order to increase the chances for the gene to survive. And it makes perfect sense: individuals sharing the same genes would naturally evolve cooperation, altruism and solidarity, because it increases the chances of the gene being replicated. Most scientists on this field regard Dawkins' contributions to be correct.

Robert Trivers' work is also very interesting and worth mentioning in this context. He focuses on what he calls "Reciprocal altruism": the phenomenon of an organism, or individual, acting in a way that might reduce its fitness, being a cost or loss, while increasing the fitness of another organism, with the expectation that this other organism will act in a similar manner at a later time.

Now, with all this mentioned so far in mind, it would logically follow that cooperation, solidarity, altruism etc. are essential and fundamental elements of our nature.

But if these things are huge parts of our nature, why don't we see a lot more of this in our society today? Well, the problem is that today these things are being suppressed. In today's (especially Western) societies things like greed and consumption are being encouraged. In fact, capitalism requires corporations f.ex. to only think about the "bottom line". If they don't, they're out of business, and corporations that do think profits and greed replace them. A society like this will of course produce a lot of greedy individuals. Capitalism encourages greed, and since human nature allows for some molding of the mind, the system we have manages to suppress many individuals' core characteristics. Take advertisement f.ex: Private tyrannies spend huge amounts of money on this. We're being pumped full of this garbage almost everywhere we look, whether it's TV, radio, internet, newspapers etc etc, day in and day out. It is a highly unnatural phenomenon, it's been a part of human history for an extremely small amount of time, yet it affects us, many of us in a huge way. But with that said, I think it s worth mentioning that even though we're being encouraged to be greedy and selfish, we still see lots of kindness and solidarity. Even in a society based on greed and consumption, human characteristics, opposing this lifestyle, are lived out.

In a Libertarian Socialist organization society would encourage all the good things in us. When society no longer encourages us to be greedy the true nature of humans would come to the fore. If a big part of our nature is based on cooperation and solidarity, and the society encourages cooperation and solidarity, guess what, it would produce cooperative and soldaric humans! There will of course be a few immoral individuals in a libertarian socialist society as well, but that shouldn't prevent us from organizing society in a way that is best suited human nature in general.

Now, getting back to the Chomsky - Foucault debate, I do think Foucault (although expressing some good points about different elements in society being power structures and affecting our way of life) underestimates the impact of the nature of humans in this debate, especially when he talks about justice - taking an almost Nietzschean approach. Human Beings are biological creatures. We have gradually evolved into the creatures we are today thru millions of years of evolution. Of course we have evolved a nature that is essential to the way we think and behave .

Now, going back to Chomsky's statement on this human nature being best suited Anarcho-Syndicalism. I find this highly credible. Anarcho-Syndicalism would base organization on a principle that has been a thread thruout a big part of human evolutionary history: people being in control of their own creative work, contributing on one´s own terms, cooperating and working together for the common good in a decentralized egalitarian social organization. Such a society will in other words not only pave the way for people's true creative work, it will also bring about the other good things grounded in our nature evolved thruout our history, like community interests and solidarity.

So, to sum up: Living together in solidarity, cooperating, looking out for one another and being creative on one's own terms in an egalitarian social organization is in accordance with human nature. It would then logically follow that the most appropriate way to organize society would be one that is based on Libertarian Socialist principles: a free, egalitarian, non-hierarchical society where human characteristics like solidarity, kindness and creativity would come to the fore.

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