Individualism & Human Nature's Software

Despite our ambient assumptions about "human nature," the history of individualism shows how highly configurable our software is. And our current software needs a security upgrade.


Why do ideas about “human nature” keep changing? The history of individualism illustrates one reason: Our software is highly configurable (and it needs a security upgrade).

1. Lionel Trilling notes ~ 400 years ago “something like a mutation in human nature” occurred and “men became individuals." Before that, people primarily saw themselves socio-centrically (through roles and relationships) and focussed little on their “inner lives.”

2. Harold Bloom confirms Trilling: Shakespeare’s characters narrated their inner lives in unheard of ways. Bloom dramatically says “Shakespeare… invented the human,” calling him “the original psychologist,” (per Oscar Wilde’s “Nature imitates Shakespeare as best she can”).

3. By the 1800s, this spreading selfward turn (in our software), made Tocqueville note that Americans needed to “combat individualism by the principle of interest rightly understood,” (reducing the tendency of individualists “to sever” themselves from their communities).

4. Greece saw a similar selfward turn 22 centuries earlier. Isaiah Berlin finds “no trace of genuine individualism” in classical Greek thinkers. Like Aristotle they believed humans were “zoon politikon,” animals by nature adapted for community (“polis”=city). No respectable life could be lived privately, ignoring the needs of your polis (see etymology of idiot).

5. But within 30 year of Aristotle’s death “Greek individualism” was born. New ideas (from Epicurus and Zeno) spread making it respectable to live privately (comfortably walled-off from community’s ills, like today’s elites).

6. History undercuts our ambient assumptions about hardware level human individualism (promoted by field-shapers including Hobbes, Dawkins, Hayek and others). Infact most cultures remain sociocentric. And psychologists are realizing that Western European “traits” aren’t definitive of “human nature” (=“WEIRD” sampling error).

7. Despite the testimony of history (and today’s empirical people-sciences) a hardcore individualist view of “human nature” dominates economics (the world’s operating system). Its promotion of self-maximizing individualism (and delegating our ethics to markets) now poses systemic risks.

8. Before the Greek selfward turn, Pericles (in a much praised speech) pinpointed what modern self-maximizing individualists often ignore: “it does not matter if a man prospers: if his country is destroyed he is lost along with it.” (More generally see “evolutionary vehicular viability”).

9. Pericles understood the logic of “needism”: Know your needs. Don’t damage them, or what supplies them. Don’t let others, either. Or you’re doomed.

No system is secure without needism’s logic. We’d better upgrade our intracranial and cultural and economic software accordingly. Or a nasty systems crash awaits.

 Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions   

Orangutans exhibit awareness of the past

Orangutans join humans and bees in a very exclusive club

(Eugene Sim/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • Orangutan mothers wait to sound a danger alarm to avoid tipping off predators to their location
  • It took a couple of researchers crawling around the Sumatran jungle to discover the phenomenon
  • This ability may come from a common ancestor
Keep reading Show less

China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
Surprising Science
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
Keep reading Show less

Understand your own mind and goals via bullet journaling

Journaling can help you materialize your ambitions.

Videos
  • Organizing your thoughts can help you plan and achieve goals that might otherwise seen unobtainable.
  • The Bullet Journal method, in particular, can reduce clutter in your life by helping you visualize your future.
  • One way to view your journal might be less of a narrative and more of a timeline of decisions.
Keep reading Show less