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Communism and human nature


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While there is another discussion on a similar subject on another topic, I want to dedicate this particular thread to the classical myth about the supposed incompatibility between the altruistic ideals of communism and the selfish/greedy "human nature" (since the other topic has steered away from the classical "selfishness/greed" argument).

First of all, let me make it clear that communism is not against any kind of "human nature", assuming such a thing even exists. We do not expect selfish people to stop being selfish. Communism is a system of communal ownership in which the vast majority of people (including the vast majority of selfish people) enjoy better living standards than they would under capitalism. It is in their own self-interest to put their possessions in common.

Think of a traffic light with no policemen around. You could ignore the red light and drive straight through. But if more people started doing it, you would all be stuck in a traffic jam and none of you would get anywhere. So, in fact, it is in your own self-interest to stop at the red light and let others pass. It might cause you to be late once or twice, but overall it will help you get home faster. Communism works like that.

But let's also talk about the concept of "human nature" a little. If there is one thing history teaches us, it's that there is no such thing as "human nature". Human beings have lived under a huge variety of social structures. In the course of 5000 years of civilization, we have built and sustained societies of almost every imaginable kind. Humans are the most adaptable creatures on Earth. We have been able to survive in all situations and all environments precisely because we don't have a fixed genetic programming. If there was such a thing as "human nature", then civilization would not exist.. If we were slaves to our instincts, none of the things you see around you would be possible.

In all ages, the ruling class tried to appeal to some sort of "natural order" to defend the established system. Feudalism proclaimed the Divine Right of Kings - the notion that the established system was God's will, and that God had made the human race so that it would always need kings and aristocrats to rule over the commoners. Nowadays, capitalism proclaims Human Nature - the notion that the established system is Nature's will, and that the human race has been shaped by some higher power (either God or Evolution, depending on which capitalists you ask) to always be inherently selfish, and to always have the rich rule over the poor.

Same old lies, different packaging.

So, in conclusion, the capitalist "human nature" argument is actually wrong on four different levels:

1. The most distinctive feature of Mankind is adaptability. Looking at history, you will not see evidence of any rigid "human nature" - quite the contrary. Human beings have shown that they can live in just about every imaginable kind of society, including a communist one. Communes have existed for over 2000 years, starting with the earliest recorded Christian and Buddhist communities, continuing with various independent medieval villages, and then with workers' communes in the 19th and 20th century. Even today, such communes are flourishing in Argentina, and the tradition of the Jewish kibbutz continues.

2. Even assuming that "human nature" exists, the evidence points to the fact that it is not inherently selfish. There is no gene for selfishness in the human genome. Also, you have to look at the way our ancestors lived. We are social animals, not solitary hunters. In the natural, tribal state of Mankind, excessive selfishness on the part of individuals would have caused their tribe to lose cohesion and die, while more altruistic tribes prospered. Therefore, natural selection eliminated excessive selfishness and encouraged altruism and co-operation between individuals.

3. There remains the indisputable fact that thousands of acts of altruism happen each day. If human nature is inherently selfish, then how do you explain the fact that millions of people risk their lives for others? This "human nature" must be very weak and easily overridden, if it exists at all.

4. This whole argument about "human nature" is completely irrelevant in the end, since (as I already explained above) communism does not require people to be altruistic. Communism is not built on the premise of altruism - on the contrary, it is built on the premise that most people act according to their own interests most of the time. Of course, altruism helps a lot and we strongly encourage it, but communism does not require it. The only thing that communism requires is for people to be intelligent enough to realize that a communal system is in their own interest.

Communism does NOT rely on people sharing their possessions out of the kindness of their hearts. It relies on people sharing their possessions because they know that they will all benefit from it.

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  • 2 months later...

I think that, in order for communism to work, people must be willing for it to work. Now, as Edric has pointed out, not everyone has to feel this way; people not willing to participate in the communist society may leave. However, until the people willing to participate in communism reach a relatively large number, perhaps even a majority in the nation they are in, I sincerely doubt that they will have the ability to attract more members, or to present a standard of living great enough to convince people that communism was right all along.

But, that's for the present day.

I think that, in order for communism to be achieved, we need to think in the long-term. In many ways, the modern world is, indeed, socialist. Even the United States, to a large degree, is what is essentially a socialist country. 60 years, this was unthinkable. Now, it is the case. Perhaps, as time goes on, human nature, which actually supports a communist culture, quite the opposite of what we mainly beleive now, as Edric has pointed out, will begin to motivate individuals to pursue communism. If you want to achieve communism, I think the gradual shift is the best way to achieve that. It is relatively bloodless, and once achieved, it will be long-lasting.

Further, the American psychologist Seligman wrote a book called "Authentic Happiness". In this book, he points out that modern society has come to beleive in a "rotten-to-the-core dogma", where altruism is nonexistant, all acts are motivated by self-interest, and that good deeds are often rarer than wicked ones. He points out the foolishness of this dogma, much in the way Edric has done above, by dedicated his work to how human beings might find authentic happiness, and by showing how a rotten-to-the-core dogma actually promotes itself; the more we believe in it, the more we will, regardless of its truth.

Human nature, then, is actually quite neutral, and can often shift from good to rotten-to-the-core. I think that Edric's last words about communism there work with this view more than any other, because it -- Communism does NOT rely on people sharing their possessions out of the kindness of their hearts. It relies on people sharing their possessions because they know that they will all benefit from it. -- states that communism works because it is an enlightened form of self-interest. I agree with this, but, I, personally, would rather believe in communism because it was altruistic and devoid of self-interest. Oh well, we rarely can have our cakes and eat them, too.

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Do you honestly believe that the majority of the world's population would embrace communism?

Right now? Of course not. But in the future, who knows?

The majority of the world's population was certainly not willing to embrace capitalism in the year 1800. But look at the world now! Popular opinion can change.

In fact, every new system begins by getting established in just one country or region, and spreads to the rest of the world afterwards. So, to begin with, communism needs to be embraced by the majority of the population of at least one country, and grow from there.

But that won't happen for a long time yet. Don't forget that we need to go through socialism before we can move into communism - and it is likely that popular opinion will change a lot during the socialist period (which will probably last a good few centuries).

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I agree with most of Wolfwiz's observations. However, he makes one absurd claim that I must correct. I really don't know what on Earth made him say something as blatantly inaccurate as this:

In many ways, the modern world is, indeed, socialist. Even the United States, to a large degree, is what is essentially a socialist country.

Wolfwiz, a drop of socialism in a capitalist ocean won't make the ocean socialist. Of course, the US is closer to socialism now than it was in the 19th century, but not by much. In fact, the US was certainly closer to socialism after the New Deal than at any time during the past 20 years (since Reagan rolled back many of Roosevelt's reforms).

Sure, most countries today are mixed economies, which means they have some elements of socialism, but they are still more than 80% capitalist. In the case of the USA, that percentage is even higher. The USA is one of the most capitalist countries in the world.

For example, the mere existence of corporations is enough to make a country non-socialist. When corporations are as powerful as they are in the USA, the country is very, VERY far from socialism. If not even Sweden or Denmark are socialist, the USA obviously isn't. (read my old topic in which I defined socialism)

Also, there's something else I need to clarify:

Human nature, then, is actually quite neutral, and can often shift from good to rotten-to-the-core. I think that Edric's last words about communism there work with this view more than any other, because it -- Communism does NOT rely on people sharing their possessions out of the kindness of their hearts. It relies on people sharing their possessions because they know that they will all benefit from it. -- states that communism works because it is an enlightened form of self-interest. I agree with this, but, I, personally, would rather believe in communism because it was altruistic and devoid of self-interest. Oh well, we rarely can have our cakes and eat them, too.

Communism does not rely on altruism (so it can work regardless of "human nature", or the general mindset of the population) but it does encourage it. If people are altruistic, then communism works all the better. If people are selfish, then they still have more to gain from communism than from any other system, so the enlightened self-interest kicks in and communism still works just fine.

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Yeah, sorry about that, Edric, I see that you are correct. I'm not sure what I was getting at; I think I wanted to make a point about how things today are a lot better than they have been in the past -- with the exception of the New Deal -- but I probably exaggerated what I wanted to say so that it would seem more impressive. Its a bad habit I have; I suppose the feeling of what I wanted to say mattered more than the fact. Thank you for your corrections, though.

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The majority of the world's population was certainly not willing to embrace capitalism in the year 1800. But look at the world now! Popular opinion can change.

Huh? What makes you think that the majority of the world embraces capitalism now? It's still embraced by those who are favored by it, and they are but a small percentage of mankind.

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Ok, maybe "embracing" wasn't the right word. But the majority of people at least accept and tolerate capitalism today, whereas the majority of people who lived 200 years ago viewed capitalism with the same kind of suspicion that communism is viewed with today.

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Well i don't think it will work properly due to Human Nature, greed to be precise.

If you took all the people in the world, and in communism you would divide the wealth equally between them, some people would be a lot worse off as their initial wealth was greater than the average wealth therefore they stand to lose money.  Some of these people, not all of course, would then refuse to take part in the communist idea, and with their capital out of the total sum of wealth, the average goes down.  Again the same thing would happen with people whose initial wealth is above the average wealth, so more people would pull out and the average would go down again, and this would carry on, not infinitely, but for a while.

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That's why IMO those wealthy people should not be given the option of refusing the communist idea. Who are they to live such lives while others are struggling to survive? That's why I believe it's impossible to establish communism throughout the centuries. If there is any chance of succeeding, that is a revolution that imposes it.

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You believe it's going to be that simple? With good preparation those million men could also get access to decent weaponry. Has it crossed your mind that communist countries, Russia for instance, could aid too? Then again, there is public opinion to consider. Would all of the Americans and Europeans let their governments slay over half the planet's people?

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