Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Nature of Man

There is a rather prevalent doctrine that views the human species as just another brute, primal animal, driven by “greed”. The implication is that man, left to his own devices, is inherently an anti-social and unethical creature. I wish to contest this view. Mankind is not some big, "greedy" and "evil" thing. Man is not equivalent to the other animals, because man has one thing that other animals do not posses (at least to the same degree) - moral self-determination and self-awareness. To paint man's moral self-determination as inherently "evil" and "greedy" is a huge sociological obfuscation that falsely demonizes man; it simply assumes that all or most of such determinations will be negative.

To treat man as equivalent to all other animal species is a sociological error that refuses to recognize what distinguishes the human species from the others. What distinguishes humans, in particular, is their (concededly finite) ability to overcome primal urges and instinct. And this is because of man's peculiar rationality as a species. Man is not totally "irrational" like other species. The proper meaning of “rational” with regard to man is the capability of free choice, of acting beyond mere instinct. What makes the other species “irrational” is the lack of this ability. They are incapable of moral self-determination and full self-awareness. They may possess a diverse array of interesting and amazing physical capabilities, but they do not approach the capability of rationality that humans possess.

Further, to demonize all of our fundamental urges as bad is also an error. A primary example would be the impulse to protect oneself and one's property from invasion. How can the value of protecting your household and family from invasion/intruders be "evil"? This is in fact a necessity and a "good" that comes out of a very "primal" urge. Without it, survival would be much harder, and life would be much more brutish and short. So on the one hand, our "primitive" urges are not all 100% evil, and on the other hand, man is precisely defined by their ability to suppress primal urges when they get in the way of rationality and ethics. This is what is totally overlooked by the pessimistic view of man. Man, unlike other species, has the rationality to choose between "good" and "evil", to suppress the desire for "evil".

It's free will in a hand basket. Man is not predestined to one or the other - it is all up to each individual's choice. Without such capability of rational calculation and free moral choice, we would cease to be human, and indeed without such free will there is no such thing as moral choice. Indeed, to deny man’s free will is simultaneously to deny the existence of moral choice. The two are inseparable; one stems from the other, even mutually. If one is not capable of freely choosing, then all genuine capability for morality has been lost. Simultaneously, if one is not capable of accessing ethical questions, then the rationality involved in making a free choice has been lost. To claim “man has no nature” is absurd; everything has a nature of its own. Everything has laws that govern it; a nature.

There are some who, while acknowledging man’s free will, deny that we can develop an objective process of accessing ethics when making a free choice. They maintain that the rational assessment of ethics is entirely subjective. The problem with this position is that it is completely morally ambiguous. In practice, it turns free will into a mandate for whatever action is freely chosen by the individual; hedonism. This is truly the formula for complete lawlessness, for one can simply point to free will or subjectivity to “justify” whatever they choose to do.

The subjectivist/relativist is more often than not stuck doing one of two things: assuming that all choices are naturally “good” or “correct”, or being 100% indifferent to the means of an action (or at least putting on the façade of being such a tabula-rasa). An objective ethics is necessary to correct this fallacy. Free will means you have the capability of free choice, but it does not mean that whatever you choose is justified on the basis of free will. In order to solve this problem, one must develop an objective criterion by which to judge whether or not an action is correct or incorrect, and this criterion can be formed on the basis of man’s nature and survival.

In looking at man’s nature, we soon discover a very fundamental axiom: self-ownership. Each individual owns their own person by their nature. If the individual did not own their person, then they would not be capable of controlling it. And if an individual does not control himself or herself, then they cannot take any thought or action at all. But obviously, human beings do think thoughts and take actions, as an expression of their control over their own persons, which they therefore own. We simply would not exist as thinking and acting beings without self-ownership. Without self-ownership, we literally would be incapable of survival, for we would lack the means by which to act.

The existence of self-ownership is self-reinforcing – to deny its existence is to prove its existence by the mere act of using one’s own person to express the opinion that it does not exist. Self-ownership is in every sense objectively “self-evident”. The conclusion with regard to our ethical criterion is that since each individual naturally owns his or her own person, action that violates this ownership is incorrect action. An obvious implication from this is that you cannot murder, rape or assault someone, for this would invade his or her self-ownership; such action literally invades the victim’s control over their own person, where one individual unjustly controls the person of another. Obviously, slavery is the most blatant violation of self-ownership.

Free will in itself, while an important factor to keep in mind, is not the criterion by which we properly judge action, but the question of just and unjust ownership ultimately decides such questions. Indeed, every single “human right” that one can list derives in some way from self-ownership. One’s self-ownership, as derived from human nature, is where all rights come from (and thus if we do not properly access man’s nature or deny its existence, we negate human rights). Things such as “freedom of speech”, “freedom of religion”, “freedom of self-defense” and “freedom of exchange” are all merely individual implications and applications of one’s self-ownership. And all of it derives from man’s nature, as pre-existing and self-evident.

The principle of self-defense is a very basic consequence of self-ownership. As we have established, attacking or raping the person of another violates their self-ownership. The person who's self-ownership is in violation has a right of self-defense, to negate their violation. We therefore have a distinction between the just and unjust use of force: the unjust use of force is against the person or property of others, and the just use of force is in defense of that person and property against such unjust force. And, as we have established above, self-defense is a very basic, primal and necessary "instrinct" that derives from our nature. Without self-defense, survival is harder to achieve. To denounce self-defense as "evil" or "brutish" is to, in essence, oppose a basic necessity for human survival. It would be absurd to deny the right of someone to employ force to stop someone from raping or murdering them; thus, the pure pacifist view must be rejected on ethical grounds. The lack of self-preservation is a blatant departure from man's nature, and to take away one's right of self-defense is a blatant violation of self-ownership.

A further methodology is required in the instance of an individual citezen, or a police officer, witnessing a scene of two individuals attacking eachother, fighting. Approaching such a situation without previous knowledge presents us with the problem that we do not know who is using just or unjust force. One of the people could be defending themself from the initial invasion of the other. A brave individual citezen may be inclined to "take the law into their own hands", or a police officer may be inclided to employ overt force, in response to such a scenario. But if they do not objectively know who is the aggressor and who is the defender, this action would be uninformed and therefore likely to be flawed. If it can adequately be accessed as to who is the aggressor and defender, then such action can legitimately be taken. If not, then such action becomes prejudicial and prone to error.

It must be emphasized that self-ownership does not imply that the individual can do anything they want. Self-ownership inevitably applies to every individual, and therefore actions that violate the self-ownership of others are a reducto ad absurdum. Self-ownership, by the mere nature of the term, applies to all actions of the self, control over yourself. It does not imply that you can do anything you want with regaurd to others, to control others. Self-ownership is therefore negative in character - it is the freedom to not have your person aggressed against, not a positive power to do whatever you want with regard to other people. The only power it grants is that over your own self, and the only right it grants is the right to not have that power over yourself aggressed or coerced against. It is nonsensical to point to one's own self-ownership to "justify" you violating the self-ownership of someone else.

Another axiom that arises as an inevitable consequence of self-ownership is free contract and homesteading; the free market economy. Property rights are an extension of self-ownership. For example, someone who initially homesteads of piece of land and makes use of it has expressed his or her self-ownership over that land. They have literally transformed the land into something new by mixing their persons and labor with it. If that person cultivates that land to produce crops, the crops are his or her property as a result of the homesteader mixing their person with the land. In relation to survival, once again, if individuals did not possess the ability to acquire property then survival would be virtually impossible. Man inherently requires the resources of the earth to survive, to produce food, shelter and clothing. And land ownership is the first and foremost requirement to earn such necessities, for the land is what spawns all of the initial tools and materials necessary to produce.

We thus come to a glaring truth: man requires production to survive, and the capability to produce is an intrinsic part of human nature. Man makes tools (capital goods) by which to produce goods and services (consumer goods). Though while this ability exists in every individual, it is not equal with respect to every individual. We thus discover that human nature is one of diversity; individuality. Individuals vary in their mental and physical attributes; everyone is not equal in this respect. They are only equal in possessing the capability to produce; they are unequal with respect to how efficiently and how much they are capable of producing as an individual, and how willing they are to use their abilities; to what extent they are willing to apply themselves.

People are good at different things then one another, and some are better or worse than others at particular things. Someone who possesses the trait of strength will tend to succeed in areas that involve physical labor and exercise; someone who possesses high mental abilities will tend to succeed in areas that involve intellectual labor and ideas. This is the natural basis for specialization; each individual tends to, or at least ideally should, specialize in the area(s) in which they are best at. The “optimal” results that can be achieved out of total self-reliance would be one in which each individual fits into their own specialization niche in this way (thus optimally providing for their own survival as best as reality can allow); any demand for something beyond this is utopian and silly. In other words, self-reliance can only yield so much; there comes a point where it cannot yield any more.

The conclusion with regard to our ethical criterion is that since each individual naturally owns his or her own property, action that violates this ownership is incorrect action. An obvious implication from this is that you cannot steal from someone, vandalize their property or break into their home, for this would invade their private property rights; such action literally invades the victim’s control over their own property, where one individual unjustly controls the property of another. Each individual must be left free to acquire property (within the bounds of a criterion of just and unjust ownership) and when that property is required his or her ownership of that property should be free from invasion. Property is in a state of non-ownership until an individual uses or stewards it. Once this is done, it is their property. Supposing that another individual wishes to acquire the property of another individual, each of them are free to voluntarily agree to an exchange.

We thus come to another glaring truth: man requires exchange to survive. The advent of consensual exchange, free contract, greatly increases man’s ability to survive and increase the standard of living for everyone. In short, if everyone were confined to complete self-reliance, to only living off of the land that they steward and the property they acquire through homesteading, mere subsistence would be a lot harder to achieve. A population could never be sustained in such a way; in fact, the vast majority of the people would die if they solely depended on self-reliance. The introduction of free exchange, a market economy, allows for people to acquire property and wealth much more easily. For example, if you are a farmer, and you desire corn, but your farm and general land area doesn’t produce corn (suppose you produce berries), you have no means of achieving your desire if there is no means of exchange with others. However, if there is a means by which you can voluntarily exchange the berries produced on your farm for corn from another farmer, then you are capable of achieving your desire. This type of exchange is direct exchange, and the conclusion with regard to our ethical criterion is that action that violates such voluntary direct exchange is incorrect action.

Yet even direct exchange has its limitations. Suppose that the person who is willing to trade corn to our farmer desires something that the farmer does not have; say, wheat. If the farmer does not have any wheat, then they are out of luck. However, if the farmer can trade his berries to another farmer for wheat, then they can then turn around and trade the wheat for the corn. This type of exchange is indirect exchange, and it greatly increases the abilities of individuals to acquire the property necessary to survive and produce for the survival of others. This is how money came about – whatever medium of exchange people were using for indirect exchange became the monetary unit. Traditionally, gold and silver have been the most popular mediums of exchange.

The monetary unit, in its proper form, is therefore merely a tangible good like any other; but what distinguishes this good is that its sole value is in its use for indirect exchange. The true “value” or “price” of money is the cumulative result of all of the exchanges on the market. The money is only “worth” its value in exchange relative to goods and services it is being exchanged to acquire. An increase in the supply of money will only lower the value of each unit. On the other side of the coin, an increase in production on the market will tend to increase the value of each unit. The conclusion with regard to our ethical criterion is that an ethical monetary system is one based on free indirect exchange, which requires that the money arise naturally as a tangible commodity on the market.

Once a monetary system is in place, the grounds for modern employment, and therefore wages, is set into place. On the grounds of free contract, each individual is free to offer or accept a job. The employer and the employee are free to come to a voluntary agreement and contract, setting their hours, wages and work requirements. The employee or potential employee is free to end and refuse the contractual obligations at any time, by simply quiting or not consenting to taking the job in the first place. On the other hand, the employer is free to fire the employee. so long as the remainder of the contractual obligations are met (pay for the employee for the days they worked out of that week, for example), the employer is also free to terminate the contract. Our ethical conclusion is that a sound system of employment is one of free contract. To violate such free contract on the part of an employee would constitute slavery, by forcing them to labor against their will. To violate such free contract on the part of an employer would constitute a violation of rights as well, by forcing them to hire an individual or pay them a certain wage against their will.

And, once again, a system of free contract in employment increases man's ability to survive by their nature, especially in our modern industrial economy. The alternatives are dire: conscription, syndicalism and centrally planned jobs. An important point to keep in mind is that the existance of a freely contracted job actually considerably contributes to the well-being of many people. The wages benefit the employee, the goods or services they produce benefit the various customers who buy and consume them and in turn the employers and buisiness itself (which then can spend that money to improve capital goods, which will increase production and therefore wages). The buisiness itself is in turn beneficial to the community at large, in that it brings jobs, goods and services into the economy. The wealth and well-being it produces extends far beyond itself; the accumulation of this process creates a "standard of living". All of this results from simply adhering to voluntary cooperation under human nature. Optimal human survival and well-being depends on how well we adhere to such an order.

The pessemist about human nature, even if they generally agree with some of the principles espoused above, may be inclined to claim that our analysis suffers from blind "optimism" about human nature, that it assumes that man will always act in an ethical way. But this is a straw man; the claim is nothing of the sort. All that is being done is the pointing out of what the ethical way is, and that it is simultanously most optimal with regard to human survival and well-being. To point to the violation of the ethical method of dealing with such things does not "disprove" the theory, it reinforces it. It demonstrates that the ethical route is not being taken, but does not disprove that it can be taken. It demonstrates that man is flawed, and therefore man does not always choose the right over the wrong. Human nature does not inescapably doom us to be unethical. What is being perscribed is a way to objectively determine what is ethical and how to deal with things that are unethical. When the pessemist points to instances of man violating such ethics, the proper response is to point out that this is why such action should be "illegal", and thus a society which has laws that adequately reflect such ethics will therefore minimize such violations. The existance of such violations is the enivitable result of a society which has laws that do not adequately reflect such ethics; the pessemist is invariably making the case for us in pointing out such social distress.

An entire system of philosophy, ethics and politics can be built upon the basis of human nature and the requirements for survival. We find that actions and ideas that are out of accordance with man’s nature leads to a retrogression to barbarism and primitivism, and actions and ideas that are in accordance with man’s nature lead to progression; an increase in voluntary cooperation and well-being. We find people, on one hand, who demonize man as doomed to the very primitivism that we are expressly capable of overcoming by our nature as humans. On the other hand, we find people who, instead of demonizing man as inherently primitive, refuse to acknowledge the non-primitive attributes of man, and end up actually glorifying the notion of returning to a primitive, tribal state of living – they literally endorse the idea of living in a primitivist way. Both of these groups are in grave error because they do not properly access man’s nature to begin with – they make the mistake of assuming man to be naturally brutish and tribal (one glorifying this, the other demonizing it), failing to see that man’s hallmark is the ability to suppress and overcome such behavior. In basing one’s sociological and economic views upon the basis of a false picture of human nature, or by viewing ethics as completely subjective, the effect is to violate human nature and therefore human rights.

The ethical solution to such questions does not promise complete perfection in results or total goodness in man, it does not promise a whig-inspired theory that history is on an endless evolutionary social progression towards post-humanism, nor does it cave in to pessemistic fear of primitive urges. It merely claims that the optimal (not perfect, but optimal) state of mankind can only be created or approached through adhering to (properly accessed) human nature and the fundamental axoims of action that it implies, such as self-ownership and the market economy. It does not claim that man is inherently good or evil (either of these two arguements is fallacious), but that man is inherently free to and thus capable to choose between good and evil, and that adherance to the axioms of human nature and survival, coupled with non-aggression to others, will lead towards the good.

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