It is common for humans to be presented as being separate from and even antagonistic with nature. In particular, some radical environmentalists portray human beings as inherently waging war on mother nature, that our existence is intrinsically destructive to nature. But this is erroneous. Humans are a product of and part of nature themselves. There is no separation between humans and nature in this sense. The ecosystem ultimately absorbs us back into it. It is a dynamic system. Whatever effects modern civilisation has on the ecosystem are ultimately trivial. It will adapt to us and we will adapt to it. If anything, the relationship is symbiotic, not a one-way street.
A common idea, derived in part from Hobbes, is the notion that humans are inherently in a conflicting state of nature, and that we have developed the capacity to form “society” as to leave this state of nature and enter a state of civilisation in which we interact for our mutual benefit. But in reality humans never leave a “state of nature”. We are always in one. The real question is “what will we make of this state of nature?”. Civilisation is still a product of and a part of a state of nature. The notion that we have the power to overcome nature in this way is utopian in that it assumes that we can “plan” a change in our own basic natures. But no matter what form of social organisation we opt for, human nature remains the same.
The question as to wether humans are inherently good or inherently bad is a false dichotomy. Humans are inherently neither. What they are is inherently free, capable of choice. Wether or not they are good or bad can only be determined as a result of the choices that they voluntarily make. Humans are capable choosing both good and bad. Without choice, good and bad are meaningless as concepts, for we would be no more responsible for our actions than a rock falling down a cliff. Morality ceases to exist in the absence of choice. So both Hobbes and the uber-optimists are wrong. Humans are not naturally “war of all against all”, and neither are they naturally virtuous. They can only be virtuous as a result of their free choices. Man is a rational animal, meaning that we possess the capacity to choose either path.
Determinists, particularly biological determinists, seem to make the error of thinking that nature dominates humans in the absolute. Radical subjectivists seem to make the opposite mistake of thinking that humans determine and dominate nature in the absolute. The truth lies somewhere in between these two extremes. On one hand, humans cannot act in any way that violates the laws of nature. We are bound by the confines of physics and biology. We have freedom to act, but freedom does not equate to power over nature. For a human being relying solely on their natural faculties, there is no such thing as the “freedom” to leap a kilometre or fly into the sky. Humans cannot simply wish whatever reality they want into existence.
Of course, none of this validates the premises of the determinists. The fact that we must function within the confines of nature does not mean that our actions are causally predetermined in the absolute. Nor does it mean that we are entirely bound by our instincts. We possess a capacity to defy our instincts. If this were not so, men would mount every woman they see, no one would go on fasts and no one would commit suicide. Humans possess volition; the capacity of self-awareness. While the individual’s faculties are determined by biology, their use of those faculties is up to them. They must be exercised through an act of will, and if they are not exercised then they will atrophy over time. A strong man can choose to not use their strength, and an intelligent man can lay their intellect to waste. On the other hand, a weak man and an intellectually hampered man may push their abilities to their limit.
While a human being is born into a particular environment that they did not choose, they are presented with a multiple of possibilities as to what to make of that environment. Praxeologically speaking, they may choose among multiple possible means to desired ends. We act in order to remove a source of dissatisfaction, otherwise we would not act. And to choose to do nothing is still an action. Acting consists of ranking our desired ends in a particular order and perusing means towards those ends, in a process of trial and error. Over time, we may change the ranking of our desires and modify the means that we pursue towards obtaining them. Desires are theoretically infinite, while existing resources and the means towards obtaining them are scarce. Therefore, there is always a compelling reason for acting. Our nature is set up so that we cannot reach a stalemate in which no action is possible, unless of course we are afflicted with a serious mental disability.
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