Walking Around Thoughts: Disasters and Human Nature

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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15 Responses

  1. Philip H
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    says:

    One of the best essay’s I’ve read around here in along time. Thanks!Report

  2. Greginak
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    Great piece. I’ve read all those old philosophy dudes and they have a lot to say. But their insights are so constrained to their time and place. They speak to human nature in their little world. I’m sure they have some insights which are universal but somehow I doubt they really see as much as we have spent time talking about them over the centuries.

    Did rural non enlightenment people not long for the same things bougie did? If it’s human nature to dream of a bit of chaos, some 52 pick up, that leaves us in a better place then really everybody does it not just the well to do. My guess is everybody has a bit of it. I’m actually feeling quite a bit of it now and for the past few weeks so there is that.

    There are a lot of reasons people migrate. Leaving aside war, starvation, etc which people often romanticize as adventure a longing for something new or different or just away has to be a driver. It’s not a bougie thing to daydream about something new and beautiful. But we cling to what we have because we know how fragile life is. Most people have, happily, lost a taste for how fragile all the good things we have are. That is a luxury we should treasure since so many rarely feel that safe.Report

    • JIT in reply to Greginak
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      says:

      Once, a long time ago, someone said, “Wouldn’t it be great if there weren’t any more wars?”
      And he set out to make it so. Enter thirty years of The Hypernormal.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Greginak
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      says:

      Thanks! I think the thing I always have to remind myself with those folks is they were writing at a time where it was just taken for granted that kings had a divine right to rule and the social order was mostly the way God had intended the world to be. Even other areas of philosophy really hadn’t advanced much since Aristotle. So, even just asking basic questions about what can we know and what are we like and how did we get this way and under what conditions might we flourish were really rocking the boat. There are Voltaire stories that are funny, but you realize the punchline was that the guy who comes up with the solution to the big problem is a peasant and so nobody listens to him and the joke probal landed differently.

      Yeah, I’d imagine most people yearn for a bit less tedium anyway. One of the issues with the way we’ve organized our economy is nobody’s yet figured out how to do it without condemning a certain segment of the population to a life of drudgery. One of the things I had in mind when writing this was how many times I’ve read posts from friends lately along the lines of: “Let’s all get vaccinated! We all want to return to normal and that’s the quickest way to do it!” And I think are we sure we ALL want that? I mean, I got vaccinated as soon as I could and I’m at best only about 75% wanting to return to the old status quo.Report

      • Greginak in reply to Rufus F.
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        says:

        I’m not sure there has ever been a time when a lot work wasn’t drudgery though that doesn’t make it feel any better. I don’t think Americans have in general adapted to our mobility and media over the last 100 years. Sure social media had changed our world a ton in the last 20. But it has only sped up the changes in how we relate to each other. We move all over and far away from people yet often struggle to build local communities and friends. Many are more isolated and lonely which isn’t just a simple product of the internet. The internet has helped that in many ways. Physical mobility around a giant country is a harsh mistress. Not against harsh mistresses if that is any bodies thing of course but life is hard and modern America doesn’t always make it easy.Report

  3. Pinky
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    says:

    The problem with these theories of human nature is that they attempt to be universal. What would mankind be like in a state of nature? I can’t even tell you what I’d be like if I have to wait more than 5 minutes at the grocery store. Sometimes tragedy brings out decency, sometimes it brings out villainy. It’s like the old line, “in vino veritas”. Some people are nice or angry sober, some are nice or angry drunk. A lot of people sway wildly between nice and angry when they’re drunk. A blanket statement isn’t going to work.

    Solzhenitsyn said that the line between good and evil passes through the human heart. He was closer to the truth than Hobbes or Rousseau.Report

    • Greginak in reply to Pinky
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      says:

      One thing about human state of nature is that we are social animals. You can’t take humans solely as individuals and see our nature. To much of western thought atomized people in a way that is not our “nature”. We are communities and groups. Sure there are ma Y ways and shapes to that, but we’re social.Report

      • Pinky in reply to Greginak
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        says:

        Is that really a fair criticism of Western thought, though?Report

        • Greginak in reply to Pinky
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          says:

          Only in as much as people try to explain humanity based on only one section of it. Every body has biases and assumptions built into how they see the world. Western thought is no diff but some in the west take those assumption s as fact or given when they are artifacts of one place and time. Not wrong just only one bit of the picture.Report

          • Pinky in reply to Greginak
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            says:

            “Only in as much as people try to explain humanity based on only one section of it.”

            But that’s not the Western tradition, at least not before Marx, and hardly ever since (except by Marxists). Yes, economists will explain economic theory with reference to people’s economic behaviour, for the same reason that heart surgeons talk about the heart with reference to cardiology. But it’s not an effort to explain the whole of the human experience. Not in the Greek or Roman traditions, medieval, Enlightenment, or modern. Even the race/sex/class critical theorists talk about society.

            I’m probably digging into this statement excessively, and I’m sorry.Report

            • Greginak in reply to Pinky
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              says:

              This last sentence could be the tag line for this entire blog.

              I seem to notice people saying hobbies describes human nature or whatever kind of stuff a lot. Fwiw I think Marx has some good insights but thinking he could predict how the future would unfold or one unified theory of class/society has always seemed whacked.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Greginak
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        says:

        Well, it was Aristotle who first said man is a social animal. But so it’s there in western thought too.. But the thing you’re getting at here is it’s really all-but-impossible to tell what we’re like on our own and how much is a “social construct.” It’s a problem definitely in Rousseau, although- to be fair- he didn’t *really* think we should go back to, say, hunter-gatherer tribes. A lot of those guys thought we were happiest in early communities and that it gets screwed up after a certain scale.

        The flipside of that is there are a *lot* of behaviors that are not cross cultural. So, even something as basic as “A father is responsible for providing for his children” isn’t the case in places where the Uncle is responsible for providing for his nieces and nephews. It’s hard not to get into a type of cultural relativism. But I’ve heard a history professor once put it as humans tend to have very basic needs in common and societies find very different ways to meet those needs, which kinda makes sense to me.Report

  4. Shane
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    says:

    This is very good. Makes me think what our current equivalents might be to social contractarians using a hypothetical year 0 to critique divine right monarchy.Report

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