Changing Human Nature

Shrinkwrapped has an excellent post on the temptation to try to make people better, and the misery it inevitably entails. I trace the tendency to Rousseau’s second Discourse, which argues that private property makes people artificial, making them try to seem to be what they are not. This leads to Marx’s concepts of alienation and false consciousness, Sartre’s notion of bad faith, and massive, disastrous attempts in the twentieth century to remake human nature. I see a similar motive behind much of contemporary leftist thought, which seems to assume that, if only we make certain political reforms, people will no longer be selfish; they will no longer coalesce into factions; civil society will yield to a “socialized humanity”; and we will have a new politics where people are filled with hope and their lives are filled with meaning. It stands in stark contrast to my own Calvinist belief in the total depravity of man, which sees no redemption for our fallen state within the confines of this world.

The post begins with a quote from one of my favorite movies, which critiques the same idea:

Y’all got on this boat for different reasons, but y’all come to the same place. So now I’m asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything, I know this – they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people… better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin’. I aim to misbehave.

Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) Serenity

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