I’ve discussed some aspects of human nature. Does our nature, in its most fundamental aspect, a bad one? Are we all sinners and have to work hard to overcome our most primal instincts? Given a rules-free situation, will we eat each other alive, as Hobbes and many other filmmakers claim? Or will human can also show altruism, and good qualities even in the direst situations?
Some people, most of them are economists, believe that for the most part, we are evil. We are not evil in the sense that we will kill each other, but we are evil in the sense that we are selfish. To be more specific, we care most about our material situation.
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages”
. We are, they say, a selfish materialistic animal, that will go great lengths to make sure that we take care of these selfish desires and needs.
Capitalists think that it is a good thing. If everyone fulfilled their selfish desires, we would be all better off. We will work hard to fulfill our selfish needs. The baker is greedy, that is why he opens his bakery. He might want people to eat good bread, but the idea in its roots is selfish. If his bread isn’t good nobody will want to buy it. Thus, the desire to make good quality goods might also be born out of selfishness. Capitalists think that it is so fundamental in our psyche, that people used barter economy until money was invented. I’ll give you four oranges for your one potato.
Though, they usually conducted what is called a “gift economy.”. People helped each other out of a straightforward and implicit code. If I help you today; you will help me tomorrow. When someone’s house fell down, the village people came to help him. By that people knew that if something would happen to their homes, they will get help also.
Money has such great powers, that it can ignore national borders, language, cultures and a matter of fact anything. If you had spices or precious metals, you didn’t need to understand different languages or cultures, or political realities, you could just trade with them. Muslims and Christians fought for hundreds of years, but money and trade took place between them for example.
Even states that don’t have official relations can trade. Usually, the “small guy” or trader, doesn’t care with who he conducts business, money is the same no matter its origins. That is why the U.S have some trouble to crack down all the companies that still trade with Iran.
In many cases, the possibility of profits from trade push countries to establish good relationships or to keep them peaceful. Many International Relation theories stress the importance of economic variables in world politics. They identify economy as a significant factor on peace and wars. They argue that if country A and B benefit more from peace rather than war, they won’t fight. If the economic relations are too good, war will become too costly to think of. If in the political sphere things get tense, many financial players (let’s say big corporations) will put pressure on their governments to ease down the tension because it is bad for business. If the trade volume is significant, the politician will cool down as soon as their economies suffer greatly and the public will feel that in their pockets.
So, selfishness might be seen as part of the core values of human nature, and the question is, how do we harness this for the better of humanity. Capitalists say that they have successfully harnessed it for the better good of us all. But, what about wars over scarce material goods? Like water, oil and so on? What if there is no way that everybody will get enough because there is not enough to go around? Then, this selfishness is deadly, and we might get a Hobbesian situation, a war over these resources.
There is a famous saying that goes like this: “it is easier to visualize the end of the world, rather than the end of capitalism.” After the USSR fell, nobody can even think of an alternative social system to capitalism, meaning a society without money or something similar. Try to think about a world that has no money. I can’t. We all come up with communism, and we all know that it failed.
People are so convinced that money is here to stay, and that it will ever be one of the core social regimes of powers in society. “Money makes the world go around”, and if we don’t have money at all, the world will stop. Jaron Lanier in his book “You are not a Gadget” talks about “Lock ins”. Meaning, a situation that was locked in and has become one of the building blocks of everything that comes afterward. Let’s say, the idea that we have files on a computer. It is a ‘locked in’ design, that now no other computer or program can work without this concept taken into consideration. Money might have been ‘locked in’ so hard, that we cannot even think about an alternative system that will work without it. So it might be natural to think that if this is the only available system to arrange society, this might be a natural concept for human beings.
The idea is that, it is not as Hobbes describe. People can overcome hostility if they can profit and be better off from cooperation. Thus, human nature has an aspect of evilness, but also of cooperation (out of selfishness), and if this aspect is dealt with appropriately, we will be able to limit the “natural state” that leads to war and violence and bring our dark place under some degree of control.