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Shayna S's picture

Yes and No; What is human nature? and A Different Question

Revkin asks, “Can we change human nature?" That depends on what we are defining as "human nature."

If we are referring to human nature as the instincts and biological processes that have evolved and are evolving with us, then a yes or no answer would depend on how much we are willing to change of our own biology through scientific methods.

However, if our definition is closer to that which are the values we use to guide our tendencies (what might be seen as "natural" because it has been established for a long enough period of time to have consequences in our lives), ways of life, and to establish institutions that we rely on, then the answer would be, historically, yes. Values can change over time. Examples range anywhere from slavery to lead usage in household products. On the topic of sustainability, look at the burgeoning awareness and communities for the slowing or stopping of global warming by human fossil fuel consumption, or, more appropriately, the conflicting values that might define a reader’s mindset after reading Dot Earth: I don't want to buy a product that was artificially created, but I don't want hunger to be a growing problem because of an increasing population and a decreasing supply of food. Conflicting values set the basis for change. They allow for a reassessment of what values a person possesses. In a highly generalized overview, this would ideally lead to a reassessment of influential groups’ values, then to new policy, and finally reform (the change we are searching for).

And now, the real question, “Should we?”

Previous posts have answered the main concerns that would lead a person to choose “yes”; a desperate need for more sources and options for the sustainability of the Earth and humanity. On the one hand, Earth is now being viewed as a limited resource for us, and if we do not force this change, we cannot survive. On the other, we may not have to forcibly change “human nature”. Human nature may, as Jess Ausubel points out in the same article, not need humans to actively pursue change. We will have “little choice.” The implications of Revkin’s question that a human force is needed to change humanity have little application to a society that is already aware of a problem and in the process of new policies and reform. The question therefore is not “Should we?” but “When will we?”



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