Most people with strong political opinions like to think that their opinions are perfectly logical, and derive directly from natural principles. Although most people are correct and reasonable in that their political opinions follow logically from their perception of human nature, the problem is that people have an extremely varied range of beliefs when it comes to their perceptions of human nature. In some cases, there’s no way of knowing who’s right.
Take, for example, the question of nature versus nurture. This is another way of asking: how much of a person’s behaviour can be attributed to natural causes that they were born with, such as genes, and how much can be attributed to environmental causes, such as how they were raised?
All positions on this extremely important question fall somewhere between 100% nature and 100% nurture, the former being known as “genetic determinism” and the latter being known as the “tabula rasa” (“blank slate”) theory. This sounds objective and scientific, but it really isn’t, because one’s attitude here will reflect one’s political opinions.
Take the question of Third World immigration and refugees, for example. A person who believes in genetic determinism might be extremely reluctant to open the borders to African or Muslim refugees, because they will tend to believe that these people will never and can never learn to behave in a civilised manner.
A person who believes in the tabula rasa theory, by contrast, will tend to believe that the wealth of Western nations is because of cultural reasons, and therefore African and Muslim refugees will acclimatise to the Western way of doing things, and therefore over time their crime rates and income levels will equalise with the native population.
Another area in which this occurs is with regard to bonobos and chimpanzees. Here we can also see that a person’s belief about the scientific, biological reality of the human species has a profound effect on their political beliefs.
Bonobos and chimpanzees are the two generally accepted chimpanzee species, and some (such as Jared Diamond) have argued that humans are so similar to them that we belong in the same group as them as a third chimpanzee. But from which of the two can we draw more accurate inferences about the true nature of behaviour in the human animal?
The bonobo is a creature of peace, the chimpanzee is a creature of war. This is evident from observing the two species in their natural habitat. The chimpanzee is violent, cruel, loves fighting and tends to cure anxiety by bashing a weaker chimp. The bonobo is hypersexual, loves bonding and grooming and tends to cure anxiety by having sex.
If a person believes that humans are more like the bonobo they will tend towards pacifism and polyamory, and will be left-wing. If a person believes that humans are more like the chimp they will tend towards violence and monogamy, and will be right-wing. This is true even if the person in question knows nothing at all about the ethology of the two species.
A third is whether or not people are naturally lazy. This one is especially difficult because attitudes to industriousness are biological to a major extent.
Few appreciate this, but in a cold environment people evolve to be active because physical activity keeps you warm, and this confers a survival advantage by staving off colds and hypothermia-related conditions. In a warm environment people evolve to be inactive because physical activity gives you heatstroke.
This is why pale-skinned people tend to work hard and dark-skinned people don’t – it’s not because of any moral failure on the part of the latter.
Consider this information in the context of whether or not we should bring in a universal basic income. The fear on the conservative side is that a universal basic income would cause certain demographic groups to become lazy and shiftless, and they would all stop working immediately and live the parasitic lifestyle natural to their kind.
If a person’s conception of human nature is not that people are lazy but rather that people are industrious, they will be much more likely to support a universal basic income out of the hope that it will free people from drudgery and therefore enable them to put their energies into creative endeavours of more benefit to human happiness.
In summary, it’s usually possible to surmise a person’s political opinions from their belief in human nature. Political opinions are not formed in a vacuum – they are informed by many factors, one of which is a person’s belief in how other people naturally behave given a certain schedule of reinforcements and punishments.
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