Friday, January 22, 2010

Human Nature & Civilization in Haiti


Rebecca Solnit proposes a fascinating and radical revision of discourses on so-called "Human Nature". The long-held assumption (especially by elites) is that when civilization break down, humans revert to a Hobbesian state of "all against all". Such discourses play heavily into the "nature vs. nurture" debate. Her research seems to indicate that such debates are moot, that humans in the most extreme of circumstances seem to demonstrate a nature that is just simply very human. And I will argue that the "animal" within us seems to best be brought out in "civilized" contexts, thereby suggesting that it is indeed social configurations and demands that shapes our human subjectivity.

In her book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster Solnit researches a wide range of disasters across the globe and at different time periods, revealing that in times of great disaster humans tend to bond together, demonstrate great altruism, and effectively self-organize. She goes so far as to argue that the real problem is "official" responses to such disasters-- a hysterical even paranoid reaction that assumes there will be violence and looting- leading to civil and military clampdowns as opposed to the distribution of much needed aid and medical care. Tragically, Solnit's thesis has been borne out in Haiti, as aid has been co-opted by forces of fear as the military poises to guard against "mobs" when reports of such seem to be GREATLY exaggerated and inevitably tainted with racist stereotypes.

I can't help but see that times of great desperation demonstrate to us that it is precisely within "civilized" contexts that people very commonly even non-chalantly treat one another atrociously and cruelly; however, when there is a time of great need, it is then that people put aside their petty differences and embrace their common humanity and demonstrate generosity and compassion in their mutual aid and support of one another.

Civilization has long been assumed as being that which can curb the reptilian, animalistic, dog-eat-dog "human nature" lying dormant within us. However, from my perspective, in nearly every domain within "civilized" human societies, this kind of behavior is the norm; whereas, in dire circumstances this supposed "human nature" is not present in the way it is supposed. So, discourses about "human nature" seem to be incredibly deceptive, diverting our allegiances to state power, when in fact, we need not fear ourselves, but in fact the effects of state power in shaping us (which makes it no longer even an issue of "human nature"). I will go so far as to say, that this may in fact be a pathological "projection" of our own "civilized" and deranged ways of living in the world that then get projected onto other humans who actually have to come together to survive.

In the rat race, we act like rats, in life we seem to act like humans.


-The Brain Demon

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