False Ideas of Human Nature

Just one topic for today.

Salon, Chauncey DeVega, 12 May 2023: It’s bigger than guns: Why the right does little to stop violence, subtitled “Conservatives have cultivated a negative and hyper-individualistic view of human nature”

We already know that religious conservatives have this notion of a “fallen” human nature — curiously, a notion that matches their idea that there was some magical golden age in the past that has been lost and the purpose of life is to restore it. One wonders what the basis for this notion might be, except to give purpose to the organizations who would offer solutions. (As Prothero said, in a nutshell, what religions do is presume to identify a crucial problem that afflicts humanity, and then offer a cure. And all the religions identify different problems and offer different cures. But it keeps them in business.)

Does this kind of thinking explain the right’s position on things like gun control and mass shootings? Let’s see what this piece says.

It begins by recalling a number of recent school shootings, and the Republican commentary in response, with such suggestions as arming grandparents and teaching third graders about triage. (Is this what the world has come to? Third graders learning medical triage?) And Republicans wearing AR-15 lapel pins.

Cut to the chase? What is there about human nature here?

When Republicans, “conservatives”, and other gun fetishists engage in such behavior after a mass shooting and/or in response to discussions of gun violence as a public health crisis more generally, too many Democrats, liberals, progressives, and others who want a humane society, respond by being shocked and aghast. In all, what is a broken record of disbelief and amazement that the Republicans and the “gun rights lobby” would act in such a way when faced with more dead bodies and maimed people and ruined lives.

Such reactions reflect how too many people (in the political class and news media as well as everyday Americans) who exist outside of the right-wing echo chamber and closed episteme (be it “red state America” or the “MAGAverse” or the “Trumpocene”) have delusionally and naively convinced themselves that the Republican Party and “conservative” movement’s callous indifference towards gun violence is at best a gaffe or mistake, and at worse a character flaw or something that can be corrected through education and correct information.

Ah, but it’s already been well-established that minds cannot be changed through education and correct information. So this implicates those outside the right-wing-o-sphere as being too naively optimistic. What else?

In reality, the right-wing’s (literal) death embrace of guns (and resulting gun violence) represents something far worse and more dangerous for American democracy and normal society: these beliefs and policies are a type of political philosophy and theory of human nature and society where violence is incorrectly believed to be everywhere, unavoidable, and thus we should come to accept it as normal. And moreover, that violence is an unavoidable and “natural” way of resolving political disputes, conflicts, and other questions. This is the beating heart and foundation of fascism and other illiberal politics.

In total, the right views “society” as being a type of Hobbesian state of nature, something Darwinian, “ruled by survival of the fittest” where life is “nasty, brutish and short.” In that world, the Republicans and other “conservatives” and members of the right wing are determined to be the winners no matter what.

So here’s the ironic ‘explanation’: while on the one hand, religious conservatives reject evolution, they are perfectly willing to accept its implications if it supports their social programs. The problem is, this idea that violence is everywhere and life is “nasty, brutish and short” is at best an oversimplification and at worst a perversion of the principles of evolution and the record of human history, in which what has driven human progress forward is cooperation, not violence.

Such a political vision and theory of society and human nature actually gives the Republicans and other “conservatives”, neofascists and assorted malign actors a perverse incentive to create the circumstances where violence and other forms of social disorder and insecurity predominate. Why? A need for “safety and security” pulls people into the orbit of the fascist-authoritarian movement, party, and Great Leader.

As expressed by most rank-and-file members of the American right wing, such a crude belief in the primacy of violence and a negative and hyper-individualistic view of human nature and behavior is not an ideology as most political theorists and philosophers would strictly define it. But as a practical matter such beliefs and behavior, especially as understood and developed by right-wing elites, have a huge impact on not just guns, but politics and society more broadly.


A belief in a “winner takes all” society also means that attempts to lessen social inequality and injustice as part of an attempt to expand democracy are viewed as anathema, the exact opposite of the type of the fully hierarchal society the right-wing and “conservatives” are trying to create.

No. Life is not a zero-sum game. The conservatives who believe these things are wrong.

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