What is the Nature of Man?

I don’t talk about politics. Part of this is because I hate conflict, and my anxiety levels shoot through the roof.  Mostly, it’s because I don’t see any point in it. I don’t think my rhetoric skills are so great to sway anyone, and I know I won’t be swayed.

I don’t talk about politics because I have very strong opinions about them. I take politics so seriously that they aren’t a safe subject of discussion with me. Stick with the weather, pal.

My major in college was International Affairs. I had serious conversations with women working in the State Department and the United Nations about my job prospects there. I applied for (and didn’t get) an internship with the CIA.  My classes were comparative governmental systems, economics, and international law.  My BA was sufficient to be a pre-law degree. This is not a subject area where I feel uninformed.

Political Philosophy

One of the classes that changed my life was Political Philosophy. I say that it changed my life because it is the class that made me decide I couldn’t go into a career in politics. But that’s another story.

Political philosophy was an effort of breaking down political theories into their component parts. It was a philosophy class, not a politics one, so it dug pretty deep.

The main two questions you had to answer about each philosophical stance were:

  1. What is the Nature of Man?
  2. What is the role of the State?

If you knew those answers, you could follow logical conclusions from there. You can do this same exercise with political parties or movements.

If a person believed that human beings are fundamentally good, that would take on a particular timbre. If people are good, and if their basic needs are met they would behave in a moral way that benefited society, then society should be shaped in a way that guaranteed those needs. Then everything else tumbles out logically from there.  This is an oversimplification of the the basic Liberal stance in the US. It is often seen as naive, or too giving.

If a person believed that human beings are fundamentally amoral or immoral, and that they will do whatever they have to in order to get what they want, then this also takes on a particular tone.  This means that everyone is and should be out for themselves, and that the role of the state is to defend the sovereignty of the borders, and that’s pretty much about it.  Though it is unstated, and masked with additional moral rhetoric to capture the religious right, this is the philosophical root of Conservatives in America. (One could argue that in some forms of Christianity, there is also an inherent belief that the nature of mankind is one of evil.)

What is the Nature of Man?

Man, I don’t know.

It bothers me that someone who is so clearly criminal was elected. But if you believe that the nature of humanity is evil, then why not just make the evil blatant and obvious where it’s yanked out into the light?

This is some serious cultural shadow work, and we’ve got to drag a lot of ugliness out of the dark corners of our social basement.

Am I afraid? Yes. I am terrified. Am I hopeful?  Well, actually, I am. But I’ve been on the road to hell, and I happen to know there’s a way back. We’re about to see a national ego-death. It’s not going to be pretty. But it will probably come out okay.

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11 thoughts on “What is the Nature of Man?

  1. Pingback: Cultural Shadow Work | A.K. Anderson

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Alicia, and for articulating so many things so succinctly and well. It does my heart good to know that you are out there, writing and thinking and fighting your battles. I especially appreciate your mythological framing of this–it helps me to see the situation in a new and more productive way. ❤

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  5. AK, this is thoughtful; I appreciate your perspective. Although I don’t mind talking about politics at all, that is not necessarily to my credit. In my adult life I have been as involved or more involved that the average person in politics and elections. I would also usually be classified as conservative and Republican. But this season, to a certain extent, I have dwelt in a political no-mans land, as I could abide neither Donald nor Hillary. I could talk at length about that. I have much sympathy for those who are grieved over Hillary’s loss, although many of my friends are at least relieved (if not jubilant). I firmly believe that any jubilation over Trump’s victory is inappropriate. We should all be grieving, I think…when we see reflected in the media what we have become. I was surprised that the questions you pose here are more philosophical than political, and I was moved to respond because I think you are asking the more important ones (and because you gave the invitation). A bad foundation makes a bad building no matter how pretty the bricks are. I also respond because I personally need to look seriously at those who fear for themselves in this political climate, not because I have not felt that, for I also have, but for different reasons. It would be a pleasure and a benefit to me if I could learn more about what you valued in Hillary, your perspective and concerns. If I were given to prognosticating (it’s a bad habit) I would comfort you that things will not be as bad as you fear at all. I hope we can explore the nature of man and role of the state as well.

    • “A bad foundation makes a bad building no matter how pretty the bricks are.” It’s the ingrained, assumed, and largely unexamined foundations that we need to collectively unearth. As I mentioned in today’s post, I don’t think any of us completely, 100% agreed with either candidate or platform. I have heard far more people speak of a sense of alienation like yours.

      I believe people are complex, and both good and evil in equal measures. And that denying that means having it sneak up on us and bite us later on. What is the simple left or right, polarized political party that allows such complexity?

      I believe that the most important, primary role of the President, and indeed the government, is to stand as our representative in International concerns. If I were a single-issue voter, that would be it. In my opinion, Hillary’s experience and even temper were far preferred over Donald’s volatility and rage.

      This stage of growth and change is painful and necessary. If we do it right, it really can make an already great America even greater. I’m far more hopeful than I am anything else. And, as a professional prognosticator (both as a SEO expert and as a science fiction writer), it’s not going to be an easy ride.

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  7. I come back to this because of your title, “What is the nature of man?” It’s seems to me that no one asks that question anymore, but it is a great one. I encountered that question more than usual this past fall, what with the election and also because I am teaching an American Literature class. The Puritans have a lot to say on that topic. While we may not like the Puritans’ answer, they at least understood the question rightly…the question is not “Is man able to do good?” Because the answer is obvious…”yes, of course.” Man is able to do good things. The question is, then, why doesn’t man ALWAYS do the good he is able to do?” How do we even know what “good” is? Or, put another way, can we fix our own problems and create our own perfection in our personal lives or (more importantly, I think) in society? Further, can we reach “God”, or can we be “God” in some sort of ultimate self-realization (again, personally or corporately)?

    I’ve just finished teaching a unit on the transcendentalists, and (at the risk of tipping my hand) I don’t think Emerson could be farther from the mark, although I confess I was attracted to his writings when first I read them at sixteen. There are a few things that have changed my view: life experience points from more years of living, increased knowledge of my own heart, and personal acquaintance with people who, unknowingly, I’m sure, admit to believing and acting out his philosophy (particularly the idea that they are their own god, and they create their own reality). I haven’t seen this go well; no positive fruit whatsoever: the Greek gods in real life with their petty selfishness and power plays. Seems the better we believe ourselves to be the more poorly we behave.

    Anyway, I have stumbled this season upon a book which addresses the question beautifully, and articulates an answer I have found very compelling. Its philosophy pinpoints the bad in the human heart and the source of good. We are all busy, but if you find the time for to read “Hidden Christmas” by Tim Keller, I think you will not be disappointed, and you will have a good deal more to add to your thinking about the nature of man.

    I hope that you and yours have a delightful and restful holiday break.

    • Thank you for this reply. I am still reading and rereading the line in your response “Seems the better we believe ourselves to be the more poorly we behave.” Because I do a lot of Jungian reading, and because that’s where my focus is in a lot of my work spiritually and creatively, I find that there are a LOT of people right now who don’t recognize the shadow aspects of self. I went to a Unity church once and ranted for 90 minutes after the sermon because I find it irresponsible as a belief system. As Marianne Williamson so beautifully put it “The back is as big as the front” to deny the shadow of human nature is to have that come back and bite us as fate. That’s exactly what I’m talking about in terms of shadow work. We have to acknowledge the human capacity for good as much as we have to acknowledge the capacity within ourselves and others for evil. will look up the book. Thank you

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