Letters to the Editors from the February 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard
More about “human nature”
I was very interested to read in the December 1987 Standard, Richard Headicar's letter containing his criticism of an article appearing in the September issue of the Standard, with the title "Society Without Exchange", which I regard as being very fair comment. However. I must say that I find your reply to his criticism most unsatisfactory with regard to the question of the human nature-human behaviour syndrome.
It is, I think, as important for us to make separation, for the purpose of analysis, between these two terms, and to define exactly what we mean by both, as it is in the field of political economy to make a separation and a clear definition, between the terms labour and labour power. The terms human nature and human behaviour are not interchangeable terms because they mean and connote different things.
They are not, however, mutually exclusive. The one (human nature), cannot exist without the existence of the other (the phenomenon of human behaviour) and vice versa. They are complementary. In complete contrast are the terms socialism and capitalism which not only mean different things but the phenomenon which each term connotes is mutually exclusive. The one can only exist in the complete absence of the other.
In the short paragraph at the end of your reply you say: "This leaves us with very little which can be properly called human nature As far as the case for socialism goes, it is so insignificant as to justify the phrase that it does not exist”. May I point out what can only properly be called human nature (in contrast to human behaviour) is the sum total of the biological attributes common to all members of the human species. Far from being insignificant this unique combination of biological attributes is not only not insignificant, it is the most amazing and important biological event (apart from the emergence of organic matter itself) that has ever taken place.
After three thousand million years of biological evolution by natural selection a species has emerged which has the biological potentiality of determining the future course of the evolutionary process, conceptually thinking matter had arrived, making it possible for all kinds of human behaviour the prerogative of the human species, instead of being the prisoner of natural selection for the first and only time in the history of the solar system. It is quite true that "human behaviour is what our opponents are really referring to when they say that 'human nature" would make socialism unworkable". But that is because they are in a state of confusion about the whole question of the human nature-human behaviour syndrome.
May I add that I use the term human nature as I have defined it on the basis that there is only one human nature applicable to all members of the human species. And this I claim is a concrete fact verifiable from all the evidence from all branches of natural and related sciences. On the other hand there is no such thing as one simple human behaviour which is applicable to all members of humanity. Animals, including homo sapiens, do not and in fact cannot inherit behaviour genetically. Behaviour is learned and developed by the organism as it grows and inter-relates with its environment. Therefore it is much nearer the truth to say, that whilst there is only one human nature, there are many human behaviours.
H D Walters
In our otherwise excellent journal, occasional lapses are the more remarkable. Why do we attack "insecure, immature males" for attempting to take advantage of female colleagues at office parties (Season of Goodwill, December 1987) and not passive, compliant females who are far greater in number?
Nailing the working class on their acceptance of capitalism is our priority, the destructive behaviour of individuals within it is effectively dealt with by Ben Elton.
Yours for socialism,