The News About Human Nature

The Boston Business Journal recently reported remarks by Alasdair Roberts, Director of the School of Public Policy at UMass Amherst, that a sense of fragility is inherently part of humankind’s experience.  It is interesting that it should be reported in the press as if it were “news.”

Decrying the weakness of political institutions and the ugliness of international politics, the article notes that some people are escapists seeking to make our sense of frailty disappear.  There follows discussion of the themes of Graham Allison’s current book Destined for War (a study of history in order to illuminate the risk of  war between the US and China), suggesting that realistic people always have seen the world as a dangerous place (Allison’s book deals only with events during the last five hundred years in terms of conflicts between countries).

This cynical view of mankind is reinforced by Harari’s brilliant book Sapiens, which contends that humans are an incredibly dangerous and illogical species; for him, turbulence is a constant of the human condition.

Many believe that we live in a unique time bubble, which should be viewed as such.  Americans have avoided wars that have destroyed us, and many have wealth and health beyond historical understanding.  We have existed in a political shell that perhaps allowed us to ignore the truths of history and the defects of the present. Viewed from this vantage point, the idea in the Roberts article, that human existence is turbulent and fearful and should be experienced as such, would appear to be inaccurate.

The real news perhaps is this: if you are reading the Boston Business Journal, and if you have the money and time and focus to read  Allison and Harari, you are one lucky homo sapien. In the words of Hunter Thompson, buy a ticket and take the ride.


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