“The rotten-to - the- core” assumption about human nature espoused so widely in the social sciences and the humanities is wrong.
This premise has its origins in the religious dogma of original sin and was dragged into the secular twentieth century by Freud and reinforced by two world wars, the great depression, the cold wars and genocides too numerous to list.
The premise holds that virtue, nobility, meaning and positive human motivation generally are reducible to, parasitic upon. Or compensations for what is really authentic about human nature: selfishness, greed, indifference, corruption and savagery.
The only reason I am sitting in front of this computer typing away rather than running out to rape and kill is that I am “compensated” - that is zipped up, successfully defending myself against those fundamental underlying impulses.
In spite of its widespread acceptance in the religious and academic world, there is not a shred of evidence, not an iota of data compelling us to believe the idea that nobility and virtue are somehow derived from negative motivation. On the contrary, I believe that evolution has favoured both positive and negative traits, many niches have selected for morality, cooperation, altruism and goodness, just as many have selected for murder, theft, self-seeking and terrorism More plausible than the rotten-to-the-core theory. Of human nature is a dual aspect theory: that the strength and the virtues are just as basic to human nature as the negative traits are, and that negative motivation and emotion have been selected for in evolution.
Evolution, after all, works through 2 processes: zero-sum-game survival struggles lubricated by negative emotion - anxiety anger and sadness - on the one hand and sexual selection on the other, a positive-sum-game process that has favoured virtue and is lubricated by positive emotion.
These two overarching systems sit side by side in our central nervous systems, ready to be activated (on the one hand) by privation and thwarting, or (on the other) by abundance and the prospect of growth and success.
MARTIN E. P. SELIGMAN
PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
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