Whither Human Nature?
I talked to Sean of Black Sun Journal, and he has a somewhat different perspective on the issue. He talks to a lot of Buddhists and New Age people who claim that their moral ideology of cultivating compassion above all else is the best path for mankind. In fact, all religions make this kind of exclusive claim – that only one specific part of human nature is good, and that the rest must be subjected or rejected.
So Sean’s question was "who’s right ?". I would argue that this is a bad question, and that the real question is "why privilege one over another ?". It makes no sense to repress any part of human nature, and the tension that ensues is bad for the individual, and bad for society by extension.
My comment, re-posted here:
My question about "who’s right?" really had to do with sorting out evolutionary influences. Which parts of human nature should we be evolving away from? Which should we be emphasizing as we move toward the future?
Depending on your persuasion, you can use "human nature" to argue for the morality of any type of behavior.
If I like monogamy, I can argue that it’s "natural" for humans because that’s how most societies are organized. Conversely, if I like polyamory, I can point to Bonobos, who seem to get along just fine that way, and argue that humans should evolve toward multipartner bonding. I can also point to human societies where polyandry and polygyny have been effectively practiced.
If I like deception, I can say that our brains evolved for deception. If I don’t want to be lied to, I can argue that using the brain to deceive for advantage is immoral.
In terms of evolutionary utility, someone could mount an argument to justify murder, rape, even religion, based on the fact that they are all "human universals." And at some point, they conveyed advantage onto the perpetrators.
So I understand your various points about morality. But I think from an evolutionary standpoint, the question I raised still remains as relevant as ever: How do we make a moral argument for an evolutionary direction? What evidence can be brought to bear to support a particular trait being supported or discouraged?
This is especially important when discussing memetics, which is now the dominant force in evolution. Ideas about what are good and bad behaviors can actually change the level of acceptance of those behaviors.
This is not about a utilitarian standard of "goodness" or anything like that. It’s about advocating for individuals to advance to higher levels of personality development so they can get the most out of their lives. Which direction should they move?
The answer will be different for everyone. Sure we need to take all influences into consideration and hold the tension between them. Sure we need to be free to apply our rational mind to make individual decisions. But we are not really free to do this. We are all affected by social norms.
To challenge those norms, we need to be able to justify our position based on what is the "true" or "authentic" or "preferred" human nature. Not in a religious sense, but in a sense that supports the individual. And true human nature takes many conflicting forms.
I don’t have the solution, but I think it’s an important discussion to have.