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Blupete's Weekly Commentary


July 11th, 1999.

"The Competitive Nature of Man."

There are those with collectivist notions of social organization (the ideologues and visionaries among us) who assert we should all love one another and share our stuff and not be competitive. As splendid as the ideal might be, the reality is, that the great mass of people out there do not give a fig about ideals; they, as it should be, go about doing what is necessary to take care of themselves and their families. It does no good to appeal to reason: the world runs on passion.

Man has come to be all that he is (without the conscious intervention of man) on account of millions of years of evolutionary "progress"; it can hardly be expected that man in a few generations can remake himself. Man has come to be, and continues to maintain himself, as the result of the operation of natural laws, one of which is an egocentric mechanism driving an extended order of collaboration. (Such a law is not to be confused with the laws that govern intimate relationships such as exist between family members.) This egocentric mechanism to which I refer is one on which the lives of millions of human beings depend: -- it is called the free market. I can do no better than to quote Friedrich A. Hayek (the 1974 Nobel prize winner in Economics):

"We are led - for example by the pricing system in market exchange - to do things by circumstances of which we are largely unaware and which produce results that we do not intend. In our economic activities we do not know the needs which we satisfy or the sources of the things which we get. Almost all of us serve people whom we do not know, and even of whose existence we are ignorant, and we in turn constantly live on the services of other people of whom we know nothing. All this is possible because we stand in a great framework of institutions and traditions - economic, legal, and moral - into which we fit ourselves by obeying certain rules of conduct that we never made, and which we have never understood in the sense in which we understand how the things that we manufacture function." (The Fatal Conceit.)

Man is not of divine origins, nor is he headed that way; he is not perfect, nor is he perfectible. He is what he is; by nature formed. One thing is for sure -- without first determining the nature of man, it is not possible to proceed to questions of a political and economic nature, such as, "what is the best social arrangement under which people might work and live?" We can let our hopes and imaginations run free, as have done a myriad of speculators down through the ages, but much misery will come about if we try to fit people into a scheme which takes into account the way we would like humans to be, rather than the way, by nature, they are.

More to the question of man's competitiveness: let me give a further quote. This time from the pragmatist William James:

"The hunting and the fighting instinct continue in many manifestations. They both support the emotion of anger; they combine in the fascination which stories of atrocities have for most minds ... the pleasure of disinterested cruelty has been thought a paradox and writers have sought to show that is no primitive attribute of our nature, but rather a resultant of the subtile or other less malignant elements of mind. This is a hopeless task. If evolution and the survival of the fittest be true at all, the destruction of prey and of human rivals must have been among the most important. ... It is just because human bloodthirstiness is such a primitive part of us that it is so hard to eradicate, especially when a fight or a hunt is promised as part of the fun." (The Principles of Psychology, 1890.)

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Peter Landry

July, 1999 (2011)