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TRUST HUMAN NATURE?

(c) Copyright 1988, Robert J. Hustwit
Just what is this thing we refer to as Human Nature, anyway? Is it basically good? Is it basically evil? Does it depend on the circumstances in which we find ourselves? Is it none of the above? I believe you will find the correct if somewhat surprising answer in this paper. The position of many (not necessarily all) philosophies, religions, and moral codes is that human nature is inherently bad; that left to our own devices, we will do wrong instead of right, evil instead of good. We are told that without controls (as a matter of fact, the very controls provided by the particular philosophy, religion, or moral code in question) we would not be able to trust one another to act in a right manner often enough for us to survive. As evidence of this, we are directed to study the record, to look at how man has treated his fellow man throughout history. OK, let's look at history . . . History is the story of men and women trying with all their power to do the right thing, as they see it. Hmmm . . . let's think about that one, shall we? Hitler undoubtedly thought he was doing the right thing, so did Stalin, so did Churchill, so did Roosevelt, so does Reagan, so does Gorbachev, so does the Pope, so does the ayatollah, and generally so do you, so do I. While most of us do things we believe to be wrong from time to time, almost without exception it is because we perceive that some greater right thing will result. We may also be very good at rationalizing that a given thing we do is right, even when it is patently obvious to others that it is wrong. Prehistoric man probably had no concept of right and wrong; only survival and death. He did whatever he had to do to survive, and that was right. The problem is that when survival ceased to be a full-time operation, the resulting free time was spent on other pursuits. It is only when there is this free time that moral and ethical considerations separate from survival can arise. It is here that our problems begin. As long as survival is a full-time pursuit, as long as there is little time for anything else, there is no need for morality separate from survival, they are the same thing; being right means that you live another day, being wrong almost immediately causes death. As we develop better and better methods of surviving, however, we have more and more time to ourselves, time that we do not have to spend on survival. If we are wrong here, death does not always follow immediately. The cause and effect relationship between right action and survival begins to blur. Today as always, most people never think about right or wrong. We go through most of our daily lives using the "customary" definitions, the implicit, societal definitions. And these work most of the time. But when we do need to make a decision regarding right and wrong--then what? Most people simply follow someone else or someone else's creed; but implicit even in following, is their belief that following this or that person or creed is the right thing to do. People, when convinced of a right course of action, have fought and died for it. They have fought and died battling that which they believed was wrong. It is observable that people tend to try very hard to do that which they believe to be right, if they can clearly identify it, or if it can be clearly identified for them. How do we know this? Look at the record. Try to find someone who consistently did what he or she honestly believed or knew was wrong, without postulating some greater right that would result. Please note that we are most definitely not talking here about illegal, but what is wrong; and not what we may think is wrong, but what the person in question believes is wrong. We tend to take purposeful action, action which has a greater chance of success, when we believe we are right. We tend to feel a greater self-esteem, a sense of well-being, when we believe that what we are doing, have done, or will do is right. I believe that this positive feeling we get from doing right, and the corresponding negative feeling we get from doing wrong (as we see it) is a vestigial part of what it took for our early ancestors to survive. As a matter of fact, I believe that the reason we tend to feel good when we think we are doing the right thing is because in one way or another doing right satisfies our subconscious imperative for survival. Here then is our conclusion regarding human nature: Human nature is such that people will tend to try to do the right thing, as they see it. Let's assume for a moment that the above statement is true. What if everyone had the same rational standard for right and wrong, or followed people who all shared the same standard? We can safely assume that as they have done in the past, everyone would continue to try to do the right thing, and most of our personal problems and most of the problems of the world would be solved. "True," you might be saying, "but that little 'what if' is a major obstacle. Everyone can never share the same concept of right and wrong . . . that's Utopian!" Not really. Does everyone, for all practical purposes and color blindness notwithstanding, agree on what the color red is? At least as distinguished from green? Let's put it this way; if everyone could be in the same kind of agreement on what constitutes right versus wrong as they are on red versus green, would we be on our way to solving our problems? Remember, we can count on people doing what they believe to be right, if they can clearly identify it as being right. Please note that while there may be a debate over different shades of red or green, and in fact there may be room for many different hues, nevertheless, people will not confuse red with green on any consistent basis. This is true whether or not they happen to know the range of electromagnetic wavelengths which produce red or green. I think the analogy applies here very well. The Ultimate Criterion provides the same kind of definite answer regarding right and wrong, as observation and measurement do regarding red and green; over time it can be used in the same way by people who have never heard of the Ultimate Criterion and who seldom consider what's right and what's wrong, just as most people don't consider the wavelengths of red and green. These people will be using the Ultimate Criterion in the same way and for the same reason they use electricity: because unlike political any political system, it works. In general, we are happier, we are more content, we feel better, when we believe that what we are doing is right. The question is, if doing the right thing is something we all tend to do, if we tend to feel better when we are doing it, if we can count on most people doing what they think is right without being pushed, threatened, fooled, or coerced, then why not concentrate on redefining right in such a way that it can and will be used universally? Doesn't it make more sense to spend our energy trying to pass on to others a rational, workable concept of right than to spend it on murder and mayhem? Here is the System Of Life Institute definition of right: Right is that which if done by or to everyone on earth under similar circumstances, would over time tend to result in the survival of the species.* This simple concept, along with human nature, can change the world. Over time, the spread of the Ultimate Criterion, from which I derive the above definition, will tend to make human interaction more and more harmonious; political systems will gradually fade away: the better idea of the Ultimate Criterion will take hold. Human nature coupled with the Ultimate Criterion needs very little in the way of social technology in order to prevail. I think that what I call The State Of Emergency Syndrome may be one of the nuclei of the new technology . . . one of those things that can help to answer all of the "What if" type questions. More on this in upcoming lectures and papers. * See The Ultimate Criterion, published by System Of Life Institute, for more on this subject.
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