Human Nature and its Clueless Detractors

The fantasy filled fear-mongers like Louie Gohmert and Wayne LaPierre don’t just misrepresnt Muslims or the dangers of fiscal chaos, they misrepresent human nature. And this is far more dangerous to the United States than any terrorist threat because this misrepresentation destroys the fabric of human society in the name of defending it.

“The American people clearly see the daunting forces we will undoubtedly face: terrorists, crime, drug gangs, the possibility of Euro-style debt riots, civil unrest or natural disaster. Gun owners are not buying firearms because they anticipate a confrontation with the government. Rather, we anticipate confrontations where the government isn’t there — or simply doesn’t show up in time.” Wayne LaPierre. (for more see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/13/wayne-lapierre-more-guns_n_2681260.html.)

“We’ve got some people that think sharia law should be the law of the land — forget the Constitution. But the guns are there, that Second Amendment is there, to make sure all of the rest of the amendments are followed.” Louie Gohmert. (for more see http://www.mediaite.com/online/gop-rep-louie-gohmert-guns-are-necessary-to-protect-against-sharia-law/.

Representative Gohmert in particular appears to believe in bullets over ballots – remarkable for an elected official in the most successful democracy in human history. Perhaps we should look to people who have done the bullet thing, and where they are placing their faith.

On Sunday March 3rd the news brought a report from Allepo about the Syrian civil war. The city itself is in rebel hands, and faces frequent but random bombardment by the Asad regime. It is almost completely surrounded by enemy forces. But its leaders say that they have adequate food and medical supplies. And it is also holding its first free democratic elections.

Despite the terrible circumstances in which they live the people of Allepo continue to go to work, buy groceries, entertain reporters, and now vote.

This snapshot of life in the midst of war is actually pretty typical of what history offers us. There have been moments when societies slipped into chaos. But they have been brief relative to sustained periods of social order even in the midst of continued violence.

Consider the fact that in the last two centuries the human population has grown at its greatest rate precisely as it has been convulsed by its most destructive wars. How is this possible? Why don’t vast swaths of humanity die out as the infrastructure that feeds, clothes, and houses them is destroyed?

The answer is quite simple: because even through the horrors of war people continue to do their jobs. Farmers continue to grow far more food than their own families need. Buyers purchase them, processors process them, truckers ship them, wholesalers receive them, and yes – shopkeepers sell them. Oh yes, and the folks in charge of the electrical grid keep going to work, as do those who make sure that there is water. War brings intense suffering. But only rarely does it bring the complete breakdown of social structures. Somalia, surely one of the most chaotic places on earth, has cell phones and a working airport and hotels.

The reason for this is that humans are social creatures. One can argue the theological point about total depravity and a sinful nature. But these arguments are actually quite pointless when it comes to understanding human society. Whether you think individuals are inclined to good or evil it is certain that we are inclined to socialize and help each other in times of need.

And specifically we are inclined, strongly inclined, toward highly productive and security-creating divisions of labor. Since the rise of humanity there has never been a real individual human. And in this moment we are, as a species, better off and more secure than we have ever been in the history of our planet precisely because we depend on each other and WE ARE DEPENDABLE.

This is why Gohmert’s fear-mongering about Muslim populations rising up and creating a Shari’a based theocracy in the U.S. while unarmed Christian sheep stand idly by is non-sense. This is why the LaPierre’s blather about individuals needing to defend their homes when police departments cannot be paid is pure bullshit. History proves that humans will band together to protect their interests by voting rather than retiring to their homes to either stockpile ammunition or sew white flags of cultural surrender. History proves that the police, being humans, will continue to work for long periods without pay. Because they understand (as the fear mongers don’t) that they depend for food, shelter, fuel, and indeed everything on their fellow humans who they protect.

In Allepo, and in thousands of other cities under siege in human history, police departments, fire departments, civil servants and other worked have tirelessly without pay for months. For months in WWII the city of London was bombed nightly, and every day civil servants and shop keepers went to work. This wasn’t some particularly British pluck. The same thing happened a few years later in Berlin and Vienna. Because it is NOT the promise of payment that makes us work for each other. Nor is it threats from some government or another. It is our human nature to cooperate, do our jobs, and help each other. Money and middle men and governments are just a way of greasing the wheels and making the system more efficient.

One of the deepest and most powerful myths in the human sub-conscious is that of the invading barbarian. From tales of a great Beast arising from the pit of hell to Attilla the Hun to Planet of the Apes we have given ourselves a vicarious thrill by imagining how some apparently sub-human group challenges the great works of society and civilization. And Americans in particular love the stories of doughty survivors of natural or man-made disasters. But we need to recognize that these are fantasies. The great barbarian invasions of the past have scarred society and civilization, but have never ever destroyed it or halted more than temporarily our human progress. And who best survives the great natural disasters? Well actually people in highly organized and differentiated cities. Not lone individuals in the wilderness.

And the reason for this is simple: We are dependable as neighbors and friends. In the worst possible circumstances the human tendency is that we protect each other, share our food, and care for our children. The convulsions of Sarajevo or Mogadishu are as strange in human history as two headed snakes and one eye’d frogs are in natural history. Care for each other, dependability, division of labor, and safety in society is what defines our humanity. And to deny and mistrust one’s neighbors, to try to go it alone? Sub-human.

  • Matt Thornton

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. Your point about the myth of the barbarian invasion is a great one. Many have burned considerable blood and treasure proving that the takeover of one society by another almost never happens by war. Pop music and cheeseburgers, yes. Violence, not so much.


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