Politics

Politics and human nature

Does human nature determine politics and economics? Or do existing social arrangements distort our understanding human nature?

Human nature determines politics and economics

Nothing here yet

Existing social arrangements distort our understanding of human nature

But while the case for Homo Economicus—or the centrality of greed and insatiable acquisitiveness in the human personality—appears incontestable, it may hold true mostly for our own society. It may be, in other words, that such strongly acquisitive behaviour isn't really rooted in our nature, but rather is an acquired habit based on the institutions, attitudes and incentives that shape our society. Polanyi noted that in primitive and traditional societies, the satisfaction of human material needs was an integral part of the overall life of the community. In other words, the quest for food and material goods was simply part of the overall process and organization of society. The function of meeting material needs was thus"embedded" in one's broader social relations, part of one's role as a member of family, clan and the larger community. Capitalism changed this, by redesigning society in a way that separated out human material desires, stimulated them and pushed them to the forefront, greatly expanding their importance. The quest for material goods became a world of its own—a world that was given precedence over all other aspects of society. Thus, under capitalism, the material motive was "dis-embedded" from society and from social control, with far- reaching implications for humans and their surroundings. So the Homo Economicus model isn't really a model of human behaviour but rather a model of human behaviour as capitalism has attempted to reshape it.The intense focus on material acquisitiveness is something that capitalism has cultivated in us. The point is not to suggest that humans are nicer than the Homo Economicus model implies, simply different. By highlighting the individualistic, materialistic motive, capitalism has moved the focus away from what Polanyi insists is the most basic aspect of our nature—that we are social animals.

- Linda McQuaig, All You Can Eat

…in non-industrialized societies today, [Robert] Heilbroner notes, it is often difficult to transform the local peasant population into a factory workforce. Not only do peasants lack an orientation to factory life and the wage system, but they lack the motivation—a motivation that seems utterly natural to us—to work ever harder in order to better their material standard of living. Peasants just don't seem to get it. Comments Heilbroner: "[UJnschooled in the idea of an ever-rising standard of living, [they] will not work harder if wages rise; [they] will simply take more time off." And why wouldn't they? In a culture that doesn't particularly value material possessions, where earning a bigger income will bring no added prestige, they have better things to do with their time than stay late at the factory. What this suggests is that the practice of devoting a huge part of one's life and energy to improving one's material standard—a practice that almost defines our culture—may be rooted more in capitalist traditions than in human nature.

- Linda McQuaig, All You Can Eat

Clean this up

The kind ofmoral order envi
sioned by Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and the food rioters of later
centuries might have been based on a kind of"natural" urge in human
beings to build a functional, workable social order—a social order
where humans feel their needs are met and they are adequately
secure.
This is not to deny that there are also "natural" human urges to be
greedy and acquisitive, as well as aggressive and even hostile (and
certainly members of a community are often aggressive and hostile
towards others outside the community). But the human propensity
for greed and aggressiveness is not indoubt; we live ina society that
seems to have concluded that greedy, acquisitive, aggressive, even
hostile urges areprettywell the only ones thatare natural.What is in
question—or rather, what is often overlooked in our age—is the
"naturalness" of the social aspects ofhuman behaviour, including the
tendency to resist the market, with its encouragement ofself-serving
and anti-social behaviour.
What could be more natural, for instance, than for eighteenth-
century English villagers to feel angry and offer resistance as they see
grainfromnearby fields carted off to France when members of their
own community are hungry?To respond as themarket theorists teach
us to—that is, to let thegrain dealer pass by peacefully, confident that
we will all be better off in the long run as a result of his foreign
sales—is an unnatural response that must be learned. Itmay ormay
not turn out to be a sensible response, but it certainly isn't the
response that comes naturally. The natural response appears to be
spontaneous rage—a rage that thegrain dealer's profit isgiven prece
dence over the well-being of the community. It's possible that this
rage reflects amoral sensibility that isdeeply ingrained in ourbeings.
- McQuaig, All You Can Eat

Is politics about values or interests?

[…] public choice theory is simply refuted by the evidence, something that people do not note nearly often enough. Political scientists have known – and empirically confirmed – that voters and politicians mostly act in what they perceive to be the public interest, rather than for selfish gains. This isn’t to say that there is no truth to public choice theory, but evidence suggests it is more appropriate to model politicians and voters as public servants who are buffeted by special interest than as selfish maximisers who occasionally stumble upon a beneficial policy. The result is that democracy is far more effective a tool for translating collective interests into policy than libertarians might suggest.
- http://unlearningeconomics.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/an-faq-for-libertarians/

Subtopics

Sources

These look promising

  • Lakoff, George: The Political Mind (I skimmed, looks fascinating, all about metaphors, frames, and narratives)
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