How Malleable Is Human Nature?

The purpose of this piece is to unapologetically present yet another dualistic abstraction that comes with guaranteed explanatory power for all of the arcane machinations of this crazy modern world that we find ourselves in. Just trust me.

Succinctly put: modern people can be divided into those who act and believe as if humans beings and our accompanying nature can be conquered and molded just as the physical world has been conquered and molded, and those who act and believe as if human nature is static and objective and must be accounted for accordingly. The former currently possess the bulk of institutional power. For an explanation of the former, I defer to a long, but essential, quote from the excellent C.S. Lewis:

“[speaking from the perspective of a modernist ‘innovator’] This Tao [natural law] which, it seems, we must treat as an absolute is simply a phenomenon like any other—the reflection upon the minds of our ancestors of the agricultural rhythm in which they lived or even of their physiology. We know already in principle how such things are produced: soon we shall know in detail: eventually we shall be able to produce them at will. Of course, while we did not know how minds were made, we accepted this mental furniture as a datum, even as a master. But many things in nature which were once our masters have become our servants. Why not this? Why must our conquest of nature stop short, in stupid reverence, before this this final and toughest bit of ‘nature’ which has hitherto been called the conscience of man? You threaten us with some obscure disaster if we step outside it: but we have been threatened in that way by obscurantists at every step in our advance, and each time the threat has proved false. You say we shall have no values at all if we step outside the Tao [natural law]. Very well: we shall probably find that we can can get on quite comfortably without them… Let us decide for ourselves what man is to be and make him into that: not on any ground of imagined value, but because we want him to be such.” – The Abolition of Man.

Here Lewis brilliantly highlights the idea on which the hivemind of true progressivism (adherence to the cult of progress; by this definition many ‘conservatives’ are progressives, as well) centers. Human progress has been occurring steadily for millennia and has rapidly accelerated during the past few hundred years. We now find ourselves with a degree of mastery over our physical surroundings that would paralyze our simple agrarian ancestors. This is the truth from which the smug modern bugman derives ultimate validation.

The next logical destination is the social experiment: the molding of man into whatever we decide he should be.

This belief is ubiquitously, albeit implicitly, held throughout progressive orthodoxy. From Jacobin:

“So that’s what it means to me to be on “the left.” To imagine and anticipate and fight for a world without bosses, and beyond class, race, and gender as we understand them today. That, to me, is what it means to fight for individualism, and for freedom.”

In this short manifesto statement, our dear author has ticked the boxes on three (hierarchy, gender, and race) objective and static aspects of human existence and professed his genuine desire to do away with them, if not entirely then at least “as we understand them today”. These desires can only be rendered sensible if we accept the premise that human nature is as malleable as the physical world, which we have conveniently already mastered with great success. Why shouldn’t we be able to skirt around massive disparities in ability between people, and their instinctual desire to defend their hard-earned property? There are stark neuropsychological differences between the two genders that start at the chromosomal level? So what?

Without having to psychoanalyze any more quotes, we would do well to remember that over thirteen million Americans voted for Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic primaries. Many more would have surely turned out had the process not been essentially rigged against him (not to mention that his opponent stood for little more than his ideas, taken and deflated with a milquetoast sop to deep state centrism, much akin to liberal democracy’s relationship to communism). This was a generational populist phenomenon precipitated and educated by all too many Marxist professors, brought up with an unprecedented level of material comforts, and for whom the horrible failures of communist regimes are safely outside the range of memory. In their idyllic worldview, private property, gender, and traditional marriage/family structures are nothing but inconsequential social constructs to be tinkered with at will.

We would also do well to recall the many teary-eyed reviewers who were inspired and empowered by the premier of Wonder Woman this summer. This was a truly mainstream phenomenon, with their numbers including even apparently conservative pundits. These were women (and also men), who were moved to tears by the sheer beauty of a woman portrayed on screen soundly defeating hordes of men in physical combat.

The response transcended mere status egalitarianism. The ‘empowering’ message was clear: women are capable of absolutely anything men are capable of and should eschew any force that tells them otherwise (i.e. every traditional social structure that has ever existed with any success). This film was post-humanist pornography for a cult of progress that sees no good reason for the realities of human nature to bound or contain its mechanized deity.

I could continue to rattle off examples for far longer: there is sadly no shortage of them. Most of my readership, though, will already be quite familiar with this line of argumentation.

I hardly even need to say it, but nature disagrees with these people. The house always wins when people start to bet against their own nature.

It is because of this reality that a principled, memetically optimized, easily transmittable defense of the realist stance on human nature must be an integral tool in the reactionary arsenal. It is not enough to simply bandy about ad hominems about how progressivism is out of tune with human nature; this can only perpetuate the meaninglessness of modern dialogue (note: this is not because we value some sort of democratic majority support base, it is simply strategically preferable for formalized ideas to be as well-crafted and persuasive as possible, so long as they uphold the truth).

So, in the interest of formalizing this stance, we would do well to begin with the evolutionary status and history of homo sapiens. We will stick with a lukewarm, Wikipedia-level excavation out of respect for the evolutionists in this corner of the internet who know their stuff to a far greater degree than I do.

Research generally places the advent of ‘behavioral modernity’ at roughly 50,000 years ago, with anatomically modern humans hitting the scene at somewhere around 150-200,000 years ago. There are some who claim that there is no reason to suppose that the first humans of up to two hundred thousand years ago wouldn’t have been capable of behavioral modernity themselves, but even if we take the more universally accepted figure of fifty thousand years, it is a sobering figure.

People have been using all manner of tools, living together in communities, communicating with complex language, creating art, and understanding the world through myth for tens of thousands of years. On an evolutionary scale, this is a tiny window.

On a historical scale, however, it is of massive proportion. Just about everything that we can properly think of as history fits neatly into a 3-4,000 year window. This is far too small a window for any evolutionary changes of major consequence to have occurred. Even the comparatively larger window of behavioral modernity precludes any seriously consequential evolutionary changes. We simply haven’t changed that much. This has nothing to comment on human biodiversity and the like, which has more nuanced trends in mind; it simply means that the core realities of human nature have been reasonably static for as long as people have been on some level civilized.

These core realities were molded over hundreds of thousands and even millions of years by the cold, impartial god of evolution. This god does not care what we think of the traits it has crafted, or how we would like them to look. It cares only about which traits are most effectively spread through reproduction over hundreds and thousands of generations.

Even if they were cold eugenicists seeking to wire their preferred traits into the human psyche, progressives would have a bit of a wait before true progress could be observed. If they are instead relying on future technological advances that might allow them to rewrite the human genome and program human beings in their preferred image, that is perhaps a different discussion. Even if/when that should come about, though, I think that the progressives will struggle, in the nihilistic climate which they have created, to justify the selection of their values over any other values.

Regardless, I see no reason to think that the average progressive is this manner of a post-humanist. Indeed, seeing that progressive inventions such as the welfare state and foreign aid have created distinctly dysgenic population trends, it seems unlikely that they are cold eugenicists either. No, what seems be clear is that the average progressive is in fact the sort of post-humanist who labels the aspects of human nature that they would like to do away with as ‘social constructs’ as a sop to their fanciful conception that they can influence and rewrite them at will, just as easily as one might influence fashion trends or popular music tastes.

Fortunately, pretty as it may be, this is an easy lie to see through. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if every successful traditional socio-political structure has done something, they probably did it for good reason. We can expect that these traditional structures have been memetically refined and selected for based on groundedness and stability, which in turn lead to continuity and longevity. We could not reasonably expect any of these things from a structure which continually subjects human beings to things which are completely at odds with their nature. This given, we should expect that traditional social structures are reasonably well-coordinated to account for the realities of human nature.

This does not preclude natural and organic change from occurring within these structures, it simply means that we should focus on the continuities over time rather than the cosmetic changes. Tinkering with the deeper fabric of these structures out of irreverent disdain for ‘social constructs’ is profoundly dangerous.

This understood, a good place to begin tackling the progressive mythos is the evolutionarily established structure of natural law. People tend to be fond of maintaining the fruits of their labor through private property, and theft and unprovoked violence are well established taboos. To the extent that there have been socio-political structures that have shared property and labor communally, they have been tribes and/or small communities more analogous to a nuclear family than to the large, sprawling republics of today.

Also crucial to this discussion is the distinction between empathic and non-empathic altruism. People experience an innate and morally pressing sense of empathy for those who are connected to them in some tangible way. They have not, however, developed the ability to empathize with those outside of their realm of experience. It follows that intrapersonal charity is a desirable and non-trivial moral good, while faceless ‘altruism’ enforced on others is probably vain self indulgence masquerading as something else. Moldbug: “Once you learn to recognize the distinction between empathic and nonempathic altruism, you’ll see it everywhere.  Empathic altruism – charity – is simply good.  Nonempathic altruism – communism – is simply evil.”

Charity is a natural good mandated by natural law, and greed has been rightfully stigmatized throughout human history. Socialism, irresponsible amounts of foreign aid, open door immigration policies, and other aspects of the progressive worldview do not logically follow from this. In fact, these things are unsustainable because they ignore and contradict the nature of our empathic experience. Those with tact know to encourage charity on the intrapersonal level where it belongs, and to practice statecraft alone on the macro-societal level.

Continuing on the thread of encouraging charity, religion is another thing that all traditional social structures have rightfully come to grips with. This observation does not require a foray into the murky waters of ‘which religion’ type discussions. Simply put, all traditional social structures with any degree of success have practiced religious thinking of some kind. It goes without saying that a society with no religious ideas has likely found itself in a bad place. When people can no longer seek recourse within the common religion for whatever ills they perceive as having befallen them, they will instead turn to the state and/or other charlatanistic bodies such as cults or gangs or book clubs. A common religion provides a safe and stable outlet for whatever label you want to give to our ‘spiritual’ nature. Without religious ideas, people will continue to seek and find these outlets. They are simply far more likely to be degenerate and harmful.

As for the question of sex, quite simply, two sexes exist objectively and scientifically, and the presence of a few mentally ill individuals who are confused about their sex, while unfortunate for those individuals, does not change this. Needless to say, all traditional societies have understood this. Additionally, while homosexuality may have experienced some minor days in the sun, it too is a generally observable taboo. One can see why, considering that two men kissing triggers the same physiological stress response in straight men as does seeing maggots. We can assume that this response exists for a reason.

We can conclude our analysis with family structures and gender roles. Monogamy and patriarchy have been selected for because they optimize the environment that children are raised in by allowing each respective sex to thrive in a role that they are psychologically primed for. This does not mean that women should be forced to wear the burqa or barred entirely from civil society, it simply means that they should be incentivized and guided towards the familial role of caretaker and homemaker that they are made for. A healthy society requires virtuous and well-rounded individuals and mannerbunds, which healthy nuclear families are demonstrably the most effective at producing.

Let there be no mistake: progressives are at war with human nature. This is a war that they will lose. What we can do is communicate the nature of this folly effectively, in order that the new statesmen of the reaction will have seen it in the full light of day. A simple cliche will suffice for a conclusion: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Realist, reactionary statecraft must avoid this trap. In the realm of statecraft, we must know that the only morality is civilization.

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  1. While I do agree with your (or rather Lewis’s) critic of the progressive mindset, you do not give a case for why fundamentally human nature is static. Your evolutionary approach at best affirms that the human nature was refined by environmental pressures and is now deeply entrenched. I think that many “cold eugenicists” would agree with this (think of the articles about “how babies are racist and how we should change that” and that sort of stuff). They know it’s rooted deeply in our nature, and they don’t care.

    It does not follow from this, however, that is cannot or should not be changed. If one can manipulate human bodies through technology to such a degree that any change is possible (which we cannot right now, but might theoretically in the future), evolution is not going to matter and, by itself, is not going to stop it. For that you’d have to have some law or will outside and above the nature. Something like Lewis’s Tao.

    And regarding C.S.Lewis – he also believed that “natural” (fallen) man should be transformed. It is on “how”, “by whom” and “into what” that he disagreed with the people he called “conditioners”.

    1. Randy Randleman August 3, 2017 at 12:18 pm

      Thanks for the critique. As I alluded to briefly, human nature indeed ceases to be necessarily static when hypothetical post-humanist technology comes into play. In fact, one of the more interesting claims that Lewis makes is that, since the abandonment of the Tao evokes nihilism, post-humanist engineers will find themselves without the very thing that enabled them to make normative judgements in the first place. Lewis seemed to think that this would leave them liable to simply perpetuate the basest, most physical aspects of our nature. Granted, we don’t have this technology yet by any stretch, but seeing the sort of Freudian progressive infatuation with our basest desires, I think Lewis was wise in this regard.

      I happen to agree with Lewis that fallen man should be transformed, but the proper reactionary insight (which Lewis would have agreed with) is that this is the job of the church alone and not the state.

      1. Thanks for the reply.

        Hopefully, we don’t get to find out how well Lewis predicted the last phase of the abolition of man.

        Indeed it does seem that the progressive always goes for dismantling and deconstructing the higher aspects of man, because as a good Freudian, it’s these aspects that he suspects to be artificial, because he cannot phantom (or do not want to acknowledge) their source.

        I agree with most of what you wrote, from a practical stand-point at least. And for the purposes of memetics, that stuff might be enough. Because as the society around us deteriorates, more and more people are looking back ever more favorably towards the time when we had more traditional society, which wasn’t perfect, but worked much better than what we have today.

  2. ConantheContrarian August 3, 2017 at 11:45 am

    The poem “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” comes to mind as I read this.
    Here is the last stanza of the poem:
    “And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
    When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
    As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
    The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!”

    The progressives are indeed at war with human nature, and I hate that they drag the rest of us into that war.

  3. UqbarianOntologist August 3, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    Passing thoughts as I read this: To what extent, then, is progressivism *itself* an expression of some deeply rooted human nature? Is it such– or is progressivism a carefully composed masquerade crafted to serve the evil (or, in a better case, ignorant) tendencies of some small group of powerful men’s *fallen* nature via mass delusion and exploitation? If it is, isn’t progressivism just a reflection of the lust of powerful men and the stupidity and submissiveness of sheep?

    Accordingly, it seems that progressivism’s war on truth (in this case, the truths exhibited *in* man via the “cold god of evolution”) is not so new at all. Genesis comes to mind: men erected the Tower of Babel as a “hubristic act of defiance against God, ordered by the tyrant Nimrod [1].” But the Lord said “no” and construction of the city and tower ceased. With our efforts, and even sometimes without (reality fights back, naturally!) truth will destroy the Tower of Progressivism too.


  4. Peter Whitaker August 3, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    Instincts have purposes which they have evolved to serve, but they function imperfectly because they are hardwired to respond to stimuli that can only approximate the intended purposes. The purpose of sex is reproduction, but the object of desire is genital stimulation, not reproduction itself, which can be circumvented with contraception. The purpose of hunger is sustenance, but the body does not have a calorimeter, so it relies on taste receptors, which can be circumvented with artificial sweeteners. The purpose of empathic altruism is to help people in distress, but the instinct depends upon physical proximity to the person in distress in order to receive visual and auditory cues, facial expressions especially. Empathic altruism can be exploited with photographs of crying children, or it can be circumvented by keeping the suffering people out of sight.

    These imperfections are what are bugging the Progressives. They want to create human being that desire reproduction, sustenance and the attenuation of suffering in a more direct way that does not rely upon physical stimuli. Right now we know absolutely nothing about how these instincts work. It seems likely, however, that instincts that are directly stimulated by abstract ideas like “reproduction” will be more complex and use more brain cells than instincts which use physical stimuli. Hence why we don’t have them already.

  5. Excellent essay. Should be widely read.

  6. OP’s conclusion:

    “Let there be no mistake: progressives are at war with human nature.”

    Correct. One of the best books on this subject is Thomas Sowell’s Conflict of Political Visions and Pinker’s the Blank Slate.

    “This is a war that they will lose.”

    There is one problem, however, and you have already alluded to it in your first reply. The problem of technology. That is, we will soon – we already can – be able to transform human life from a “natural” state to one that is “synthetic”.

    Then, we are in undiscovered territory.

    “What we can do is communicate the nature of this folly effectively, in order that the new statesmen of the reaction will have seen it in the full light of day. ”

    We are going to have to take on the toughest competition: Transhumanists.

    “A simple cliche will suffice for a conclusion: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Realist, reactionary statecraft must avoid this trap. In the realm of statecraft, we must know that the only morality is civilization.”

    In the realm of statecraft, on the contrary, the only *thing* is power and the production of power.

    Consider for instance that this century China will likely embark (it already has) on a massive, invasive, eugenic process that will seek to genetically engineer humans.

    Consider that this country was able to impose on over a billion people a one child policy and the population more or less accepted it.

    Despite the fact that cheating is common, the Chinese who do have more than one child are usually rich and successful people: the eugenic implications are obvious.

    The Chinese, more than any other people on Earth, prize money and family above all else; indeed, in Guangdong they even have a “money God.”

    This is not a criticism, it is simply stating the facts of the situation.

    The trouble is is that if a country or a people binds themselves to a principle (such as not using technology) then they will, history suggests, be out-competed by a people that do.

    What are the practical recommendations?

    At this point, the important thing is to really drill down with goals, problems and possibilities: more thinking, more reading.

    The future is coming.

  7. I agree that progressives are at war with the human nature but the human nature is not something inherently good. It is more like a raw power; which should be tamed for good purposes, just like those Norman raiders who became Christian knights. The main distinction is between shaping and changing.

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