Friday, 3 December, 2021

Balancing Human Nature

Dev Raj Dahal

Human nature as a concept is the subject of philosophy. It denotes the common constellation, disposition, temperament and traits derived from biological constitution of human beings that shapes their thinking, feeling and acting. The nurturing is a conscious cultural and educational process of society of taking care of individuals in their entire life-cycle, instilling skills, offering responsible position in the society and the polity and shaping their worldview. The subtle interaction between human nature and nurture shapes the rhythm of human behaviour and makes them feel others’ pain.

Walter Goldschmidt says, “To nurture is to respond to a call to give one’s time, energy and resources to the welfare of another. To be truly nurturant is to take pleasure in giving such attention to the recipient because of a feeling of affection for him or her or for the sheer enjoyment of engaging in nurturant activity.” Primitive instinct, passion and selfish nature of human beings can enable them to enter into cooperation with others if they have an awareness of common interests. Thomas Hobbes preferred to create a powerful Leviathan to discipline evil human nature and protect citizens and rulers from themselves from the state of nature. He says, “Do not do that to another, which you would not have done to yourself.” 

John Locke, however, believed that constitutional tradition of politics, social contract, rule of law and education can nurture human nature to scalability and law-abiding. He, therefore, defended constitutional government to protect the freedom and dignity of citizens and restrain government within its limits. The current manifestation of social movements, social struggles and inter-movement solidarity are the expression of popular sovereignty and free will defended by J. J. Rousseau to improve unfavourable condition of poverty, illiteracy, inequality, joblessness and discrimination. They cause social anxiety disorder. Freedom is the motor of all political movements that enables citizens to map out their destinies.

Cognitive evolution
Popular sovereignty presupposes responsibility to the exercise of political power which is the trust of citizens. It creates law-based freedom for it demands obligations and reciprocity as well, not drift to nihilism and determinism which are the foes of human progress. Homo sapiens are definitely a product of cognitive evolution. But they contain certain animal impulses including selfish genes that sustain their sense of permanence with eternity. By contrast, cultural rules of society and nurturing prevent a life of Darwinian reflex of natural selection. Culture, norms, education, laws and institutions do not remove animal urge and stimuli to blind impulse of competitive virtues but they generate incentives and norms to follow rational social standards and sympathetic virtues. 

Albert Camus says: “Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.” When human beings think for themselves and build their own opinion they decline to surrender to a condition imposed by others and avert the subordination to what Camus says “crime of passion” and “crime of logic” implying undemocratic nature of politics and laws affirming rule by fiat, not the universal public reason of justice, morality and emancipation. They naturally seek to exercise their own sense of judgment, constitutional and human rights and alter the condition they find themselves in consonance with their own consciousness about the conception of higher will and mindfulness. As new generation of citizens find fresh awareness of the meaning of life. It eases them to escape from inherited rut for social, economic and political change.

Democratic society tends to keep a balance between the ideological conformity to its principles, constitution and institutions but also cultivates citizens’ utility-maximising rational will, a will that allows them the power of choice to act without the arbitrary restrictions, undergo nurturing, innovation and creativity and build individual personality. Social learning modifies the genetic determinism of human nature driven by selfishness, lust, love, food, threat, fear and affection and facilitates adaptation to developing condition by evolving tools that eases their life, livelihood and dignity. Civic competence of citizens empowers them to act at their own conscience, prudence and judgment and build their character of caring, empathy and cooperation which are so essential to keep mutual survival at various scales of institutions and craft a democratic order to bind the part to the whole akin to the adaption of social division of labour and statecraft to sanatan dharma, the cosmological order.

Still, these culture transmission units are helpful to fulfil diverse necessities, aspirations and an inspiration of citizens for free will. Their search for stability finds a social lag between the hard institutions and soft intellectual, moral and spiritual capital and between national identity of Nepaliness and widening of technological revolution that is enlarging an imperative to actively participate in many national and transnational spheres. This has made Nepalis face the spiral of disorganization, stretching citizenship identity to wider sphere beyond “selfish gene’ defined by territorial nationalism and express with the power of conviction.
Nepal has yet to mark a development that can shift animal and human labour to technological power and reduce their suffering for a life of new acculturation vital for sovereignty of citizens. This is the reason constitutional rights, human rights and humanitarian laws that offered Nepal universal landscape have not been able to transcend parochial existence of the self and capture its historical tradition of enlightenment that exposed them to rational thought and participate in the new web of context and relationships.

Now progress is defined in terms of adaption to certain new values, institutions and technology and abandoning the outdated old patterns of life governed by irrational forces of fatalism, prejudice and determinism. Nepali disciplinarian scholars need to see life in terms of not reductionist prism which they fail to comprehend, but in terms of wholeness. It helps them to capture the essence of the nation’s ancient wisdom of seeing others like oneself and build a future driven by freedom, justice and peace. Gautam Buddha rightly says changing the environment requires changing onself. 
Nepali citizens can only enjoy freedom if they are unconstrained by fear and wretchedness of condition. The Vedic scripture articulates the aham asmi, (I am absolute reality) presupposing that free will of individuals cannot be reduced to other entities class, caste, gender, ethnicity or region nor does humans have the rights to destroy the capacity of the system to be resilient. Once awakened to the fact that humanity is one species, they struggle for freedom and emancipation within the ecological, educational, cultural and political background they are exposed to, look for survival and development advantage and internalise the social values that favours what early sage and scholars like Gautam Buddha, Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant and Adam Smith call the middle path as an imperative for stability, progress and peace.

They accepted certain cultural differences and knowledge of causation and comparison but affirmed that citizens are obliged to submit to the public good or public interest because they are beneficial to all members of political community — the state. The willingness of Nepalis to accept public good and national interest is the mark of their nationality while their acceptance to universal good represents their humanity.

Nepalis have often thronged into revolts against absurd sterility of elite status quo without any semblance of justice. Classical Hindu treatise Bhagbad Geeta too favours the abolition of unjust order of society and lifts up souls for feeling and freedom. The outbursts of social and political revolts in Nepal are not the wild manifestation of human nature. They find resonance in freedom, democracy, human rights, justice and peace. The unfulfilled human needs, rights and international obligations vault them to negative socialisation for aspirational politics which poses difficulty for political parties, media, civil society, and educational institutions for rational positive nurturing and leveraging the poor up for the levelling of Nepali society to constitutional vision.

The traditional sources of socialisation such as the family, community, religious institutions and culture of the nation are increasingly losing their potential in harmonious nurturing owing to the impact of the diffusion of multiple modern ideas. As a result, poor grooming of Nepali leaders and citizens on the basic constitutional spirit, principles and goals of democracy, human rights, social justice and peace leave its institutions and procedures weakly institutionalised for robust nurturing of citizens vital for the exercise of free will regulated by self-discipline, maturity and  far-seeking vision..

If leaders follow no law, but only passion, desire, instinct of love to their relatives and coteries, it is hard to create legitimate and stable governance capable of protecting freedom, justice and equality of citizens. In this context nurturing value-based tradition of politics in Nepal can open scope for commitment to free will and harness inner landscape which their predecessor had prized profusely to shape self-governing good character. The leaders and scholars then opened free public conversation to vast legion of population in shastrartha to enlighten all and acculturate in the sensitiveness of life, work and getting along.

The trend in Nepal now among the leaders is acting before thinking, applying instinct than reason and seeking to navigate problems through protests than unearthing illuminating insights for informed deliberation and action. The thrill of chase in the past was sovereignty of knowledge, not money, power or status distinctions. The decadence of this tradition in the nation marked the end to adequate nurturing and the rise of partisan discrimination animus to the constitutional ideal of welfare state, social solidarity and a balance between the imperative of public good and operation of market. The national character of Nepalis such as honesty, bravery, patriotism and independent-mindedness that helped to unify this nation is doddering now.

The growing tendency of leadership to indulge in institutional fragmentation, fierce fight for power and corrosion of service delivering agencies  have generated economic insecurity and paralysing self-doubt of citizens. To return to this ancient nation’s true self requires creativity in the steering of national problems, emphasis on education that respects nation’s heritage of cultural richness and tolerance, sound health system, sustainable economic base, open minds of leaders and citizens to broad array of human and natural possibilities and hone relentless social resilience and national consolidation greased by the persistence of soft power and flattening of welfare curve.

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)