HUMAN NATURE FALLACY: (1) Screw up. (2) Note similar screwups elsewhere. (3) Label screwups “human nature.” (4) Piss off anthropologists everywhere.
As an anthropologist – as a freakin’ scholar of humankind – it pisses me off when people make wild and unresearched assertions about “human nature.”
For example, when asked why the US Congress tends to procrastinate, Minority & Majority Secretary Paone explains: “It’s human nature. Sort of like college students cramming for exams. You let the whole semester go and then the last two weeks, you try to study as much as you can before your exam. It’s rare that you come across the student that does his work every week in an orderly, week to week fashion. And senators are no different. You’d like to think that you get better as you age, but you don’t. So those last weeks of a Congress are usually extremely hectic.”
It’s infuriating! Human behaviors vary greatly across cultures and generations. Without research, deeming any of these behaviors “human nature” is arbitrary at best and ignorant at worst. Imagine how a physicist might feel, if policymakers started making up fake laws of nature; that’s how I feel as an anthropologist, when policymakers play fast-and-lose with “human nature.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a college student, and I tend to procrastinate just like Paone describes. So do many of my classmates. Yet, why assume that’s human nature? How the heck could I know that? How could I know that procrastination isn’t just a product of America’s campus culture? How could I know that American congresspeople didn’t simply inherit the culture of procrastination, back in college?
Too often, I see people screw up, note similar screwups elsewhere, and label that screwup “human nature.” I call it the Human Nature Fallacy. The worst part is, when people guise their shortcomings as human nature, they often give themselves permission to stop improving – as Congress has for years.
Question for the discussion thread: have you ever heard someone pass off their personal shortcomings as “human nature?” Of course, any other comments are welcome, too. Even short and stupid ones. So be awesome and say something below! No registration required. Yay, anonymity!