I saw this article yesterday after a conversation with a friend about this dilemma:
My answer is that we humans have evolved a specific mechanism – culture – which allows us to adapt to many different environments and changing situations. Unlike a Wallaby or a Deer, we are not born with a mostly complete innate sense of what kind of animal we are and what kind of environment we will exist in. Humans have to be shaped by culture over a number of years (it’s a year before we can even walk and another year before we start to talk).
To use an analogy, culture is like the Operating System which overlays the physical hardware and teaches us how to survive in our culture. And it is the culture which sits between our physical hardware and the natural world. We are inculturated in how to survive in our culture, and our culture provides the modifications of our non-human world to adapt it to the inculturated humans to live in.
Just as with computers, we can’t interact with a human without interacting with the operating system. Our best chance of understanding human nature is to look at humans from a variety of different cultures (and times). This makes it really hard to separate what is part of our core human nature (which can’t be changed) and what is cultural (which can be changed).
Thus, our (capitalist) culture shapes us to act in ways which get us money, because that it what we need to survive in this culture. But money is an abstraction, we can’t eat it. So although we may understand that what we really need to survive is food, clean air and water, temperature regulation (shelter, clothing) and tribe, we don’t scan our environments looking for those things. Instead we scan our environments looking for ways to get money.
It’s important to recognise that capitalism isn’t just an economic system. It’s also part of culture, part of the Operating System that shapes not only behaviour, but also the beliefs and understandings which generate behaviour. Other parts of that cultural operating system include language, history, philosophy, laws, religion, the material objects and tools we interact with and, above all, the modelling and stories we absorb through our TV and computer screens. All these things work together with the economic system of capitalism to shape us and how we act, think, talk and understand ourselves.
The multiple crises we now face, including the devastation of the earth’s life-support systems, are not because there is something wrong with humans as a species. They are the result of an outdated operating system that is at least 200 years out of date and is beyond patching – it now needs a complete re-write!
Now that would make a New Year’s Resolution worth chewing on!