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September 22, 2016

Hope for us all

One of the biggest philosophical issues, which divides most forms of political ideology, is the way we view human nature. Human nature is more fundamental to all areas of life than we might realize at first glance. By reassessing our views on this subject, we will begin to get a better picture of some of the assumptions we have been making thus far.

I believe that there are three essential positions to take on human nature. The first two are quite common and the first is probably the predominant view.

The first is that human nature is something that can be modified with the right environment and the proper education. This view believes that people can be taught that certain behavior is the preferred way of acting and then continue to live in this state. Most people active in politics probably view things this way. Activists are trying to change things and tend to be quite optimistic. The view that human nature can be changed inspires people to create laws to suit the ideal way of life that a particular person envisions.

The second view is that human nature is at its core unchangeable. This view asserts that human beings throughout all time and all places act essentially the same. Rather than even attempting to change the way people live, we should analyze human behavior and make laws that know human beings for what we are. The view that human nature is immutable will inspire the creation of laws to restrain these human impulses in order that they may be channeled into something productive for the common good.

The first view will be found among many across the political spectrum, but perhaps will be more concentrated on the leftward end. The second view will tend to be focused more on the rightward end of the political spectrum.

It does seem that the second view is more negative than the first view and that we really ought to be more idealistic. Are human beings really so selfish we cannot aspire to something higher? Why do we want to create laws simply to restrain our evil nature when we can work to create a society based on our good nature? The first view is more positive by suggesting that people have both good and evil inclinations. We can then ask ourselves how we can tap into the good inclination of each and every person.

Those holding the second view will look upon this and believe that it has the potential to lead towards tyranny. Inevitability the people will not respond with their good inclination, and the government will have to become increasingly intrusive in order to create the veneer of such a “Great Society.” People holding the second view might look to the example of the “New Soviet Man,” an early project of the former USSR, in order to ridicule the advocates of the first view.

Those holding the first view will look upon the second view and strongly argue that the second view can lead towards tyranny because it is an archaic view that assumes the worst of humanity. They will argue that the government will have to restrict all of the undesirable traits of man, thus resulting in a loss of our liberty and freedom. Can it really be true that man only has an evil inclination? Is the pursuit of self-interest really the end of humanity?

This is where there is some room for a third view of human nature. In this view we recognize that humans are self-interested, but that with some sort of faith that leads to a pursuit of virtue there can be some rectification to this nature.

What kind of faith is needed to lead to a genuine pursuit of virtue? Most religious systems try to address this through a process of enlightenment, but these religious systems, like the political systems discussed earlier, revert back to the first view, that man can transformed through environment and education.

A genuine third view might assert that faith has to come from some other source. If we cannot change ourselves, can another party change us? I think this may just be the idea of having a redeemer. When all of our chips are down and we have no other hope, and someone steps in and saves us from our plight, is that not redemption? Even more than love, redemption is the most powerful force to which we are attracted. It means that there is a chance for each one of us to start all over again with the slate wiped clean. It means a lot to know that there will always be someone there to answer us on the day we call.

Perhaps this is a very American idea that started many years ago with the first pilgrims. If we really want to change the way things operate in our social and political systems, maybe, just maybe, we ought to be looking to find ourselves a redeemer.

Eric Magazu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at emagazu@student.umass.edu.

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