Human Behaviour

A common objection to the idea of a Resource Based Economy (RBE) is the assertion that something called 'human nature' would prevent humans from being able to form a peaceful, functioning society. This is because it is supposedly in the 'nature' of humans to be violent, greedy, selfish, and lazy. It is thought that without money, humans would have no motivation to work or contribute meaningfully to society. Furthermore, it is thought that without laws, prisons, or other forms of punishment, we would not be able to cooperate with each other and society would be reduced to animalistic chaos and violence. However, a true understanding of the mechanism of human behaviour shows that the assertion of 'human nature' is a scientific fallacy.

In order to understand human nature, we must first understand some basic concepts in genetics. First, there is the famous biological equation:

Genotype + Environment = Phenotype

Genotype refers to the specific set of genes an individual has inherited. It represents the 'blueprint' for an organism, and therefore dictates the set of traits an individual will be programmed for.

Phenotype refers to the actual physical traits and behaviours an individual manifests. Phenotype can refer to things like eye colour, height, aggression levels, lung capacity, number of fingers, etc. Essentially, phenotype represents the realization of the blueprint programmed into your DNA. However, the transition from genotype (the code in your DNA) to phenotype (the way you actually turn out) is complicated by the remaining term in the equation: environment.

Environment is an umbrella term that refers to everything outside of an organism that said organism will interact with. Things like the climate you live in, the food you eat, the people you interact with, your levels of physical activity, the conditions in your mother's womb (and by proxy your mother's health and stress levels) and all of the materialistic ideas a person is constantly bombarded with in our society, are all part of your environment. So what is the relationship between these 3 terms?

Basically, your genotype provides you with a 'menu' of potential traits. The environment acts as a selector and modifier, by activating or deactivating genes in response to what an organism is exposed to. The end result of the interaction between genotype and environment is phenotype; in other words, due to environment, there is always a possible disconnect between what an organism is 'programmed' for and the way an organism actually turns out to be.(1,9)

An example of how gene-environment interactions (often abbreviated as GxE) can affect behavioural phenotype is a 2003 study by Caspi and coworkers.(2) It examined the relationship between a genetic mutation which is linked to depression and stressful life events. The study showed that the mutation on its own had little effect on whether or not an individual would experience depression. However, subjects who experienced stressful life events were significantly more likely to experience depression and suicidal thoughts, with an increased number of stressful events correlating with an increased likelihood of depression. Importantly, this effect was strongest in those individuals who both possessed the mutation and experienced stressful life events, displaying a clear GxE interaction. In other words, the subjects' genotype determined only their potential disposition to depression, but it was ultimately up to the environment to determine whether or not that depression would actually manifest.

A previous study by this group also examined the relationship between a certain mutation which has been linked to increased aggression, childhood maltreatment, and violent behaviour in males. The study showed that there was no link between the mutation and violent behaviour in the general population. However, individuals subjected to maltreatment as children (whether or not they possessed the mutation) were more likely to engage in violent behaviour; those subject to more severe treatment were significantly more likely to act violently. Most importantly, those who both possessed the mutation and were subject to maltreatment had the highest risk of all for violent behaviour. This study seems to show us that violent behaviour is not a result of a natural inclination of some people to act violently, but is more often a response to a violent environment.(3)

So, does this mean that all violent behaviour can be 'blamed' on the environment? What about the actual choices that the individual makes? While it is true that a person has the ability to affect their environment, we must keep in mind that any choices a person makes are ultimately a product of (and are limited by) their environment. Consider the following thought experiment as an example: A man lives in a very poor village and is starving to death. Just down the road, there is a very rich village that has everything this man needs to survive, but will not provide it to him without money (which the man is quite short on). In this case, the man essentially has two choices: Either starve to death, or head down the road to the rich village and steal food and supplies from them. We can see with this example how easily the environment can harshly limit an individual's choices. If we wish to eliminate violence from our society, we must change the environment so that violence is not advantageous to the individual.

Human behaviour can be further understood with a concept known as operant conditioning. Essentially, this principle states that those behaviours which are rewarded will develop and thrive in an organism, whereas those behaviours which are punished will not develop as strongly, if at all. In the case of our society, the only true 'reward' offered is profit; all other goods and services are obtained through money, therefore it is only those behaviours which generate profit which are rewarded by our society. This strongly perpetuates selfish self-interest -- as opposed to selfless self-interest, which is doing for others for your own benefit -- and greed, since it is these behaviours which tend to maximize profit. Conversely, behaviours such as altruism are directly punished by our society since these behaviours will cost an individual time and resources but will almost certainly not generate profit. Therefore, the individual is far less likely to experience altruism as 'rewarding' and thus will be much less likely to display it in the future. It is also interesting to note that substance addiction has been shown to be a 'hijacking' of this reward system wherein an individual's brain reacts to the use of their chosen drug the same way it would react to a 'reward' stimulus. Thus, we can actually think of our society's dependence on money as an addiction since it works through exactly the same mechanism as an addiction to, for example, heroin.(4,5)

An important point to address is the behaviour of animals in the wild. Many people look to animals in their natural habitats, see them acting violently and selfishly, and assume that this is the 'natural' set of behaviours a human would manifest as well. However, we must keep in mind that animals live in an environment of scarcity. They are forced to fight with each other because there are simply not enough resources to go around. By creating a human society based on competition and scarcity (of money, not resources), we have essentially done little to remove ourselves from our primitive conditions: we must all fight and compete with each other for the limited amount of money that is available in our society.

Therefore, if one could create a society free of scarcity, maltreatment, and social stratification, then it would make sense that selfishness, violence, and other forms of antisocial behaviour would be drastically reduced, and possibly even eliminated over time.

However, one could still object to an RBE on the grounds that, without money as a motivating factor, most people would just laze around without contributing to society in any way, however, there is much evidence to suggest that 'working' does not prevent laziness, but is actually a direct cause of it. Studies have shown that stress due to job factors is an incredibly important determinant in the health of individual, with one study placing it behind only age as a predictor of health.(6) It has been shown that jobs in which an individual has little control over their actions, jobs that are passive and require little mental activity, and jobs which cause a high amount of mental strain, all contribute to a sedentary lifestyle (that is, being lazy). There are two reasons this link is thought to exist: One is that chronic stress causes an organism to become more sedentary, something which has been proven in laboratory animals; the other is that, specifically in the case of passive and low control jobs, the occupation itself encourages a sedentary lifestyle. In other words, a job requiring little activity or thinking conditions the individual to adopt a similar lifestyle outside of work. It is important to note that while there would still be some 'work' required to run a society in an RBE, none of this work would be low control or passive, since these kinds of jobs would be left to automated machines. Moreover, due to this advanced level of automation, only those individuals who find that particular work enjoyable would be needed to do it. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that laziness would be prevalent in this society: the types of jobs people are forced into which cause them to be lazy would no longer exist.(6,7,8)

As a final note, we should always remember that the single most important quality in determining evolutionary success is adaptability(1) and this is displayed clearly in our species: we have risen to dominance on this planet because we are the most adaptable, not because we are restricted to some set of behaviours called 'human nature'. The true nature of human behaviour is that there is no set 'human nature' and we all adapt to the environment that has been presented to us. Therefore, the only way to eliminate violence, greed, laziness, and mental illnesses such as depression, is to create an environment that does not perpetuate these traits. Human behaviour is simply a response to the environment presented by human society which unfortunately emulates the harsh scarcity of nature. Therefore, until a complete overhaul of society is performed, we should expect our species will continue to behave like animals in the wild.

-- Jas

Garcha

Citations:

1. Trevor D. Price, Anna Qvarnstro and Darren E. Irwin. The role of phenotypic plasticity in driving genetic
evolution. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B (2003) 270, 1433-1440.DOI 10.1098/rspb.2003.2372.Review

2. Avshalom Caspi,Karen Sugden,Terrie E. Moffitt, Alan Taylor, Ian W. Craig, HonaLee Harrington, Joseph McClay, Jonathan Mill, Judy Martin, Antony Braithwaite, Richie Poulton.Influence of Life Stress on Depression: Moderation by a Polymorphism in the 5-HTT Gene. Science 2003 301(5631):386-389

3. Avshalom Caspi,Joseph McClay, Terrie E. Moffitt, Jonathan Mill, Judy Martin, Ian W. Craig, Alan Taylor,
Richie Poulton. Role of Genotype in the Cycle of Violence in Maltreated Children. Science 297, 851 (2002);DOI: 10.1126/science.1072290

4. Reynolds, G. S. A primer of operant conditioning. (Rev ed).Oxford, England: Scott, Foresman. (1975). xiv, 155 pp

5. Steven E. Hyman. Addiction: A Disease of Learning and Memory. Am J Psychiatry 2005; 162:1414-1422.

Review

6. Karasek, R., Gardell, B. and Lindell, J. Work and non-work correlates of illness and behaviour in male and female Swedish white collar workers. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 8: 187-207 (1987). doi:10.1002/job.4030080302

7. BENJAMIN C. AMICK III, PEGGY MCDONOUGH, HONG CHANG,WILLIAM H. ROGERS, CARL F. PIEPER, GREG DUNCAN. Relationship Between All-Cause Mortality and Cumulative Working Life Course Psychosocial and Physical Exposures in the United States Labor Market From 1968 to 1992. Psychosomatic Medicine 64:370-381 (2002)

8. Brisson C, Larocque B, Moisan J, Vézina M, Dagenais GR. Psychosocial factors at work, smoking, sedentary behavior, and body mass index: a prevalence study among 6995 white collar workers. J Occup Environ Med. 2000 Jan;42(1):40-6.

9. Aryeh D Stein, Patricia A Zybert, Margot van de Bor, LH Lumey. Intrauterine famine exposure and body proportions at birth: the Dutch Hunger Winter. International Journal of Epidemiology 2004;33:831–836


Comments

Splendid article! It shares most of my way of thinking, and explains in a easy way to read.

Congratulations!

Thanks Pablo, glad you enjoyed it :)

Are old people going to be invaulebale in a new civlization or are they going to be consideried a drain or emotional burdien.. but maybe they can help the development with there historic info they bring to the table... hard to say if we cant solve things like alzheimers or have the techno..... yet .. i can not see why they would not be an asset if we could solve this ... if doctors are not working for the government ...which brings up another issue like over population ...would their be counts ...and how it would be aloud to have kids and would you have the kids raised individualy or would you take them away and not know who your child is and the whole civilzation raise the children like they belong to everyone......anyone of the children could be yours... so all the adults love them too peices ..Or you know which one of the children is yours but your acess is too child is on the whole to all the children ....lol that could work but would hurt the indivdual ?but it would have to be orginized in a way that people where not having kids that over populated cities...and times pic when they could ...I could see that educations could take different forms.....free to what every you wanted to learn ..........so inconclusing their is going to be a price that we'll have to pay but it could be a very well thought out one

I don't think old people would be seen as a burden, mostly because they have valuable experience that can only be attained through age. The technology to treat age related diseases is accelerating and will likely accelerate faster in an RBE environment too, thus extending their ability to function. Also it's important to remember that there would not be a 'government' in the same sense as today.
As for overpopulation, this is largely a myth. We have the technical capability to provide for our entire population plus at least several billion more, but we don't currently take full advantage of our technical capabilities due to the need for profit.
I would think that the raising of children would be left to the parents, but some of them would probably choose to raise their kids in different ways, I highly doubt there would be any restrictive rules regarding this as that seems too authoritarian for this system.

The only real price that we would have to pay in the RBE system is that people would have to be more socially responsible in terms of not consuming more than they need and not infringing on the rights of others.

If you'd like more information on the RBE system and some of the things I mentioned, you might consider checking out my book 'The First Civilization', which you can find for free at http://blog.thezeitgeistmovement.com/blog/jas-garcha/first-civilization-...

Really great piece. I love when people in TZM actually reference experiments/studies that give some additional credibility to their claims. I would even recommend adding the study that measured how a persons ability to complete a task requiring a higher level of brain functioning, was diminished as the monetary incentives increased. I can't remember exactly what study it was, but if you pressed me enough, I am sure I could find it.

The questions surrounding incentives are probably the toughest to address. You can argue with free market capitalists all day about incentives, but it is really difficult trying to prove something that never existed (i.e. RBE). I love the argument how capitalism is the best system, because all of the other systems before it had failed. Great logic.

I still wrestle with the issue of monotonous jobs (janitors, landscapers, etc.) Someone/something has to do these jobs, and even though we realistically have the technology to address these things (those little Romba robots clean my floors like a charm), one can't help but be pessimistic when thinking about the level of global conscientiousness needed to throw out the monetary system and divert our resources to actually making those technologies a reality. It just doesn't seem possible when we live in a system that MAKES people selfish and only act in their own self-interest. People honestly don't have a choice. The system has it's teeth to deep in our culture, that it would require every single person on the planet to one day decide to completely buck the system. Because if not, than only the dissenters would suffer, while the people didn't choose to help change the system, out of fear of possibly loosing everything, would go on with business as usual.

It is too complex, corrupt and self ingrained in our culture for things to realistically change. Money = power, and that concept has created this self perpetuating need to be greedy and selfish.

Wow, this is really pessimistic, so I apologize. I meant to just say, really great article, keep fighting the good fight.

No need to apologize, given the current state of things it's easy to become pessimistic, especially considering the scope of the challenge we've placed before ourselves. Personally I think that our best hope of a transition is either to capitalize (forgive my use of the term) on some kind of global-scale economic collapse (should one occur), or to make the transition so slow and subtle that no one even realizes it's occurred until after it has (assuming we even have that much time available).

A big thing that keeps me from losing hope that change is possible is the fact that websites like this exist, and people like us exist. Therefore, we know that creating such a world populated by such people is not impossible. And if we really get down to it, anything that does not defy the known laws of physics is not impossible, so until someone publishes the Law of Economic Douchebaggery, my hope will remain alive.

Enjoyed reading this, thanks.

thanks for saying that

i think its pretty sad that no where in this article jacque fresco was written about- and even bf skinner nothing in the citations- lol-both had alot to do with what your talking about- i suggest you credit the people in your sources next time

There was no mention of Jacque Fresco because while I did mention the RBE, all of the actual information in this article is universal and not specific to RBE at all. Nothing I wrote in this article besides the word 'RBE' are original thoughts of Jacques Fresco, or could not otherwise be derived from the references present. I actually went much more in depth into this topic (in terms of genetics etc.) than he does in any of his writings anyways.
I'm not saying he doesn't deserve credit for his ideas, but since the only thought I used from him was 'RBE' and that is not copyrighted there is no 'official' need to reference him. I think by now we're all well aware of the fact that he came up with the RBE idea, for comparison consider that there is no reason to reference Nikola Tesla every time the words 'Alternating Current' are written down. Again, no disrespect, it's just a matter of practicality.

As for Skinner, again it's not practical to reference the entire history of scientific inquiry on a topic every time it's mentioned. None of the articles were written by him so there is no need to reference him. Besides, he is referenced within some of the references. Again, just because a topic originated with one person, that doesn't mean that person has complete monopoly over that idea. One is not expected to reference Watson and Crick every time DNA is mentioned unless one is specifically using a paper of their's.

Bf skinner gets quoted a lot in the zeitgeist movement information. Personally as a teacher I avoid his stuff like the plague. I find Alfie Kohns views on human behavioural far more hopeful as they profess to empower children to be intrinsically motivated and to find ways that work for everybody rather than externally motivated to meet selfish needs . Skinner believes that all human behaviour, even love is motivated by reward or avoidance of punishment. I find this, if not abhorrent, at least too simplistic. Naom Chomsky also refutes Skinner when it comes to language acquisition. It churns my stomach, that Skinner is seen as someone worth quoting when his theories can justify punishment as a strategy for educating children. I have also seen Kohn being quoted in some Zeitgeist material. It seems strange to me though, that Skinner and Kohn's discourse can be drawn on to support the movement when they are completely contradictory. In fact In Kohns book Punished by Rewards he tells a story of his meeting and disagreements with Skinner. I believe a future world would never benefit from the views of skinner and I think American behaviourist psychology has a lot to answer for in our moneytocratic and meritocratic world. Even so thanks ffor your article and your commitment to a better world.

That was very educational. Congratulations, excellent job! I already shared this.

im a senior in a high school, and i thought you'd be pleased to hear that im that girl who is in the school library every lunch and snack printing articles from zeitnews.org... getting funny looks from the librarians... and i have to say that it is completely worth it, because now i have a huge binder of articles to give my teachers that get defensive when i say things like "human nature is a scientific fallacy"(yes, that is a quote from one of the articles). for example one of my teachers said something like "there will always be evil people" and then BAM i whipped out the articles that were relevant to his statement... and the next few days he walks up to me and says "you know im glad you showed me these; they really got me thinking".

That's fantastic! So much bad information gets distributed in high schools, and I think a lot of it is because the teachers aren't terribly well-informed themselves, they're basically just there to pump out the lesson plan as written and do very little critical thinking.
So keep it up! The funny looks are always a small price to pay for the spreading of valuable information

-Jas

Well done Mr Garcha... There is so many thinkers nowadays, to bad they producing nothing by articles like that. I was trying to understand environment around me when I was younger. Trust me, use your muscles to build something that will last for your kids, for next generations instead thinking about why people are shite. Sooner or later you will understand that thinking about how world changes is useless as f...

Martin

I disagree. How are we supposed to bring about any change in the world unless we're first able to think about how such changes can be brought about? This of course requires that we first think about why things are the way they are, so that we can readily identify and treat the problems rather than just the symptoms. Besides, let's not forget that nowadays we have the internet, which means that articles and ideas such as this cannot be brought down without the entirety of the internet being destroyed, and are therefore far more permanent than anything one could physically build.
Not to mention the fact that if this article inspires even one person to do something that has a positive impact then it has, by definition, changed the world, even if just by an extremely tiny amount. This of course is where the real strength of thinking lies: I can build something and then have one thing produced, or I can distribute an idea and potentially have an infinite number of things be produced because of it.
Nothing that can be created by muscles will ever be as powerful, productive, or as lasting as that which is produced by thinking.

And one thing I would like to point out as well is, ask an individual if they would like to (a) go work in a factory, (b) sit all day at home or (c) do a healthy activity they would love or would like to do (such as climb mountains, art or whatever is of interest for them (in a resource based economy one is not limited to/by the 'supply and demand' principle which dictates what a person can and cannot do and to what extent in order to survive.) And so it is easy to understand that if one were to sit around all day in a RBE it would actually be negative for one’s mind and body to do so, and to be presented with a better option (choice positive activities) is obliviously a positive and better choice than sitting around all day, which would only be negative on yourself in a RBE. Whereas now, coming home from a 8-10 hour day in a mundane grey walled factory doing the same thoughtless repetitive work, sitting around afterwards at home is actually a relief from that activity AND is overall more preferable to sit around than go to a job like that, but in this system its require or else you die. So that environment of possibility is changed due to technological advancements applied for the benefit of all (on an individual scale such as this example and then obliviously as a whole).
So in this system you have people making millions to play pool a couple times a year on tv and that’s cool and acceptable while children TENS of thousands of children die every day UNNEEDEDLY. So in a RBE these positive activities would be abundant for everyone, while technology takes over these mundane jobs.

Practically no one I spoke to about the concept of RBE said they would rather sit at home doing nothing. Most people seemed to have replied that they would travel, explore the world, go to places they cannot, learn new things, etc.  And even though they replied in such a manner, they said that 'most' people would probably just be at home and 'consume, consume, consume'. I kept trying to tell them that they cannot make such generalizations and that they first have examine WHY are people sitting at home doing 'nothing'. I tried explaining that the most probable cause of such behavior is because of the monetary system in which we reside in. To do anything today, you need money. If you don't have it, you cannot really go out to a 'nice restaurant', or do other things that you usually have to pay for, let alone build things in your home (materials cost money again), and so with practically next to 0 options available in the present system, you do what is within the scope of your PURCHASING POWER. And that's when they start thinking. Eliminate money, provide people with ACCESS and expose them on notions of sustainability and to relevant general education. Many negative views stem from the present system... and an attempt at projecting what people would be doing based on how the world works NOW (and not in RBE). Shattering assumptions can be relatively easy if you know what you're talking about and have ample evidence to back up your claims, but its not so much as 'shattering' that's important but rather exposure to a new way of thinking and having people at least take into account the possibility that their projections/assumptions could be mistaken (due to lack of taking into account all of the information relevant to the subject at hand).