“Greed is part of human nature!”

You may have heard this line of reasoning used against anarchists from people who are mired into the mainstream capitalist doctrine. Greed will always be with us, so the argument goes, therefore establishing a society that goes against greed is utopian. People will always want to compete and accumulate power. Any attempt at an egalitarian society is doomed to failure.

In fact, this argument is so widespread that it has led the libcoms to reject any concept of human nature outright, preferring to dump the theory of evolution and its powerful ramifications rather than even leave open the possibility that greed is natural.

But rejecting human nature altogether is not a viable answer. It demands that we follow magical thinking: that man’s personality and character somehow magically spring from his upbringing, without any mediation of the brain. Libcoms will counter this by saying that they really do believe in biological needs, instincts, and other evolutionary traits, but that they don’t believe in man’s nature being innate anyway.

This is why it is important to define exactly what we mean by “human nature.” We are not talking about people’s tastes in clothes or their choice of a job. We are talking about nothing less than that which is fundamental to being human, that which is always at the core of everything we do, starting with our basic drives (nourishment, sexuality, security, play, etc), our biological needs and our cognitive biases. While we humans express these drives in all sorts of complex ways, they exist in most social species.

There is nothing that can compel an individual to do anything without the need, drive or bias already being present within himself. This is why human nature is so important and why people seek to understand it. It’s what advertisers, movie editors and politicians’ speech writers use to “press our buttons.” Anyone who rejects the notion makes himself vulnerable to such manipulations, and they are everywhere.

At any rate, the idea of rejecting the concept of human nature itself because of misunderstandings or misrepresentations is as silly as rejecting the concept of atoms because some people (especially Christian presuppositionalists) misrepresent it. It is obviously not true that man is infinitely malleable. All throughout history, we return to the same concepts, the same drives, the same conflicts, no matter how much our societies change. The study of these constants must be part of the education of any serious student of politics.

What about greed? Greed is the desire to have more than one’s equal share, to be more than associates of each other. Greed is ultimately the desire for domination. It is therefore very much related to my previous entry on atomistic individualism, as a greedy person (within his pursuit, anyway) sees others as means to an end, not as fellow human beings.

I think this is the crux of the misconception. Capitalists believe greed is natural because they believe it is individualist. Communists cannot object because they already agree with this premise. But there’s nothing individualist about greed. Greed is the natural result of people seeking security and material possessions in a system which indoctrinates them to do so and makes the competition of all against all the precondition to that security and those material possessions. The current system is full of games conditions. The faster we eliminate them, the faster sanity will be restored to society.

Some libcoms, on the other hand, propose that greed should be seen in its entirety, as the struggle for a richer life, and that the pursuit of material wealth is only one small part of it. In that perspective, greed is not only good, but vitally necessary for the accomplishment of communist aims.

We have no doubt that people are corruptible, but we know for ourselves that there are things more tempting, more seductive, than money, capital, and Power – so much so that no genuinely greedy human being could possibly resist their allure – and it is upon this corruptibility of man that we found our hopes for revolution. Revolution is nothing other than the self-accelerating spread throughout society of this more profound corruption, of this deeper seduction. Currently, greed is always pursued and associated with isolation and privatism simply because everyone under the reign of capital is condemned to pursue greed in this narrow way. Greed doesn’t yet know its own potentiality.
We say once again: the present forms of greed lose out in the end because they turn out to be not greedy enough.

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20 thoughts on ““Greed is part of human nature!”

  1. db0 January 27 2010 at 6:08

    Oi! Not all (or even most) LibComs reject Scientific theories of Evolution or evolutionary psychology and I do not think most reject the concept of human nature altogether. What I say and what I’ve seen others point out is that human nature is not something that requires greed. Rather “human nature” is basically the capacity to be molded and adapt to one’s environment and to be reasonable most of the time.

  2. Francois Tremblay January 27 2010 at 6:11

    *shrugs* That’s not the impression I got from talking to people on blackened.net. As for the fact that human nature does not require greed, we obviously both agree on that.

  3. Db0 January 27 2010 at 15:39

    Well blackenet.net is more of a mutualist haven. Have you tried LibCom.org?

  4. Francois Tremblay January 27 2010 at 16:31

    You must have a strange definition of “haven.” If blackened.net is a haven compared to libcom.org, I’d rather stay away from libcom.org!

  5. Sue Denim February 12 2010 at 23:36

    “the desire to have more than one’s equal share, to be more than associates of each other.”

    I don’t accept your second definition. However I would certainly agree that the the first definition of greed is part of human nature.

    People seek their own advantage and if they have a greater share of wealth they have greater chance for reproductive success and greater ability to fulfill their desires.

    Not to mention that people do respond positively to chances to acquire more than others, in other words to compete..

    • Francois Tremblay February 13 2010 at 4:11

      Sorry to say, your last statement is incorrect from the scientific standpoint. The overwhelming agreement between studies is that people do not respond as well to competition as to other modes of interaction (cooperation, and individual work). So that is plain incorrect. Your argument seems to hinge on this, so it is invalid. As for “reproductive success,” this would of course only apply to people who pursue reproductive success, so I fail to see your point.

  6. Sue Denim February 12 2010 at 23:40

    ““human nature” is basically the capacity to be molded and adapt to one’s environment and to be reasonable most of the time.”

    That’s not what evolutionary psychology says at all. EvoPsych says that, like the border collie puppy who headbuts children in an attempt to herd them, we are born with a set of instincts and desires shaped by natural selection. We seek to mate, we seeks to get the food before the other male. We want other people to think highly of us so we can gain status in the tribe. Men sleep around and women marry supportive men but are more attracted to bold men. etc, etc, etc, etc.

    We ARE animals and thus we have built in behaviors like other animals. Monkeys don’t fight over mates and food because of capitalism or patriarchy, they do it because it’s hard-wired into them.

  7. Zerathiel March 5 2011 at 16:38

    Very interesting read my friend. I throughouly enjoyed it.
    I was wondering where you got all this information from though
    have you any links to theorists or studies?

    • Francois Tremblay March 5 2011 at 16:50

      On what topic? Pretty much everything I wrote in this entry was a generality.

  8. [...] Tremblay, 2010, Greed is part of human nature! Sociology Analyst Blog [Online] Available at: http://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/greed-is-part-of-human-nature/#comment-5360 – [Accessed 5th of March, [...]

  9. aaa June 24 2011 at 4:33

    We are not the standard animal, we are following the same rules however. Because of this we are sad. Greed only exists when we allow ourselves to be covered in lies and ignorance, not understanding our nature, we assume the rules of animals but are saddened by the results. We have a nature and are able to do anything with it, as it exists only in our minds.

  10. David Fountain January 6 2012 at 11:17

    Interesting article. A poem about Greed: http://www.hardwrit.com/greedom

  11. mdjokic September 21 2012 at 1:14

    I liked this one. I think the root of greed may lie in fear. Our ancestors were hungry, they didn’t have food on the table all the time so grabbing for oneself more than one needs seems hardwired into a human. Why the same principles apply today is beyond me. If we are truly reasonable beings then it shouldn’t be that hard to overcome those impulses. The obvious conclusion may be that we’re not that reasonable as we portray ourselves to be.

  12. marcus September 23 2012 at 22:36

    People that are addicted to greed do more damage to society than any drug addict, yet we erect statues of them and raise our children to believe these people are successful and to emulate them if they want a happy life!

  13. [...] have discussed these attacks in various entries, such as “Hierarchies are natural!”, “Greed is part of human nature!”, Against Psychological Egoism and The trouble with time preference (I may have written other [...]

    • Francois Tremblay December 6 2012 at 21:45

      This just seems to me like some post-modern, pseudo-scientific twaddle…

  14. SFF Madman June 14 2013 at 19:58

    Another very interesting article. And here is another way that I get get people annoyed with me:

    I do not mean to say I have no greed or, at least, no desire for things, because I do. As you said, it’s human nature. However, I really don’t want much. A fairly decent home for me and my family, basic needs covered, modest transportation, health care, education. Some people might say that’s quite a bit, but what I mean is, I don’t need more than one house, one car, etc. I don’t want to own sixteen cars and live in a mansion. I do not want to be rich. I certainly do not want to be super-rich, because I do not believe anyone deserves to have that kind of money and power, so I’m not looking for it. Being a little “well-off” wouldn’t hurt, though.

    But many people I know think I’m crazy because of this. I used to get of my ex-girlfriend talking about her dream house because she wanted so *much*. The way she described it, it might as well have been a mansion–with half of it underground! Rec rooms, half a dozen bathrooms…ugh. But she is not the only one. I never understand why it’s so crazy to want things to be fair for everyone, which is what my feelings boil down to.

    And there’s that other excuse: “Life isn’t fair.” Obviously! But that doesn’t mean *we* have to be. We have ability to be fair when we want to be; it’s just that many people don’t. Even poor people like the notion that they *might* be able to get rich one day, although the likelihood is very low. Chances are better, these days, that they’ll just get poorer.

  15. joe July 13 2013 at 5:12

    There was a teacher who taught about greed as a defilement of the human mind about 2600 years ago. And it was true as long as human’s exist. The other two defilements are ill will and delusion. More or less, or no greed at all. Richer getting richer, poorer getting poorer. Survival of the fittest. As a person with conscience, it should be known that this system encourage benefits only for a small group to rather than for all, and takes advantage and exploit others and the world. This don’t make people who are so called successful seem to be rational as they might say so. It would only seen that leaders who strive for a win win situation should be fit to be called successful and to be a role model. Thats why the buddha taught to renounce the world and live a simple life. There’s the answer but people tend to be ignorant. Human nature. Peace.

  16. […] you like) to direct their energy and creativity. Read this interesting blog post on human nature; http://francoistremblay.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/greed-is-part-of-human-nature/ Human nature is just animal drives, everything on top of that has been created in our social […]

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