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Understanding Human Nature and Tapping the Best Out Of It

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My friend Fred Gohlke, who has one of the finest of minds, was discussing the means to usher in a system of democracy that is truly "government of the people, by the people and for the people'. In relation to "the need to harness human nature by making probity an asset in our electoral processes," he broached the question "Where does human nature come from?"

Fred rightly stated that "we must understand our nature before we can develop institutions that capitalize on our strengths and control our weaknesses." He went on to interpret the evolution of human nature along the lines of the dominant thinking of our times--the Darwinian theory of the "survival of the fittest." He classifies personalities into the categories of "stronger" and "weaker," and goes on to say that the "will to believe" (meaning faith) has caused great harm to human society by making people "believe" in the kind of personalities who finally end up ruling them.

His delightfully methodical exposition of the evolution of human nature and society is available here:

A Constructive Reinterpretation, Based on Spiritual Intelligence

Though Fred's exposition is undoubtedly erudite, I felt that it does not fully account for what is happening now to the human race (and not just to American society, which is Fred's specific subject). In particular, I find worrisome his dismissal of faith as a destructive force, since this view is symptomatic of a widespread social malaise. I suggest the following alternative account of mankind's present state, based on a view from the "inside,"' as opposed to Fred's view from the "outside." It offers a constructive interpretation that challenges today's general pessimism regarding faith and the state of the human race.

Let me start with a statement made by Fred himself: "However, those beings (primitive man) did not become 'human' until they began to change their animalistic behavior. The ability to make such a change defines what we call humans."

Now, what was the ability that led early humans to change their animalistic behavior? It was not merely higher intelligence. Along with higher intelligence that led to reasoning and abstract thinking, a spiritual intelligence must also have been at work that enabled them to distinguish between right and wrong.   

Spiritual intelligence (synonymous with conscience at work) is a basic faculty that integrates the information gained through the senses and gives meaning to the thoughts that arise from it. The meaning is sensed at the core of one's being, at one's "inner self," which is also the source of bliss during deep sleep. When there is a lack of meaning, the "inner self" does not rest in peace. Thus, something is good (or right) when it is meaningful to the "inner self," and bad (or wrong) when it produces conflict and disturbs peace.  
Western psychology recognizes "self" as the basis of human personality. It  is "perceived reality," and can include any of the human perceptions, including peace. However, recently, the core of "self," the "inner self" has also been recognized. This is "pure consciousness," or "bliss," enjoyed during deep sleep. While "self" is perceived reality, the "inner self" is the core reality.  
Animals too have a primitive spiritual intelligence, but their capacity for reasoning and abstract thinking is elementary; their potential for conflict is therefore minimal and the 'inner self' rests in peace. Since, by contrast, primitive man's spiritual intelligence had to contend with complex perceptions, it started working at a deeper level. The concept of good and bad, or right and wrong, first arose from the "inner self" of the individual. By extension, the same concept came to apply to the society as a whole.  

The Three Tendencies in Human Nature

Apart from spiritual intelligence, there are three tendencies that determine human nature. These are what Indian philosophy calls the rajasic, tamasic and sathwic tendencies, or, in English respectively, the active, passive and serene tendencies. All three tendencies exist in every individual in varying proportions. The active tendency spurs the individual into action; the passive tends to enjoyment; and the serene seeks peace. The serene tendency is unique, in that it heals the disturbances caused by the other two tendencies.   
Those with a dominant active tendency seek to push forward with their thought and action. This tendency, for example, spurred the caveman to kill animals for food and the king to rule over his subjects.

Those with a dominant passive tendency end up primarily seeking enjoyment in life. They are self-centered and have little concern for others.

Those with a dominant serene tendency are more balanced. They consider matters more objectively and are concerned with the welfare of society as a whole.

Fred Gohlke's "stronger" people correspond to those with dominant active and passive tendencies; his "weaker" people to dominant active and serene tendencies.

Faith, or "the will to believe," as Fred puts it, is related to the satisfaction felt by the "self" while it is considering a matter, which is dependent on the peace of the "inner self." Faith is a basic requirement for the normal human personality, since, without it, every matter would cause dissatisfaction and there could be no peace. Yet, faith is not exclusive to good actions or good people. It is of benefit to every person, even if the matter at issue or the person in whom it is reposed does not deserve the peace that flows from it. That considered, a good working rule for faith is this: take faith in something after due consideration, but be watchful that the faith is justified. 

Similar to what is meant by "faith," the word "conscience' has become outdated and is generally considered irrelevant to contemporary life. The term "spiritual intelligence at work" makes better sense to the modern mind, since intuition based on spiritual intelligence is undervalued and logical thinking based on "evidence" is deemed the better path to truth. This modern view from "outside," however, has resulted in an understanding of human nature and human civilization that is both narrow and superficial. The notion of a human nature without faith and conscience is merely a theoretical construct, since without these capacities humanity would be reduced to the limitations of an animal nature.

The Serene Tendency Is Key to a Meaningful Electoral Process

The apparent shift in today's understanding of "faith" and "conscience" coincides with the domination of the "passive tendency" over the "serene tendency, which has caused widespread social unrest at the community, national, and international levels. The best way to reverse this unrest is to nurture and promote the serene tendency, and limit the passive tendency, within every human being. While spirituality and religion (in its true sense) help to nurture the serene tendency, understanding the tripartite structure of human nature can help everyone to contribute to the fulfilment of its highest potential.

Electoral processes are at the apex of the pyramid of institutions that help society to function. It is therefore highly regrettable that electoral systems based on political parties and relying on self-centeredness now lead throughout the world to governments that are ruled by people with dominant active and passive tendencies. We need instead electoral systems that give people with dominant active and serene tendencies, who are capable of selflessness, a fair chance to advance politically. Such systems would also have a cascading effect on all other aspects of the society, benefiting everyone. 

Accordingly, I suggest that the following model of electoral processes (in the form of a web-site design), titled Ideal Democracy, be considered for implementation. Unlike present systems based on political parties that facilitate the passive tendency to act in concert with the active tendency, this model promotes the objective thinking of the serene tendency and allows it to act in concert with the active tendency.  

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Vijayaraghavan Padmanabhan is former Professor of Medicine, Madras Medical College. Based in Chennai, India. His interests include Spirituality, Politics, Economics and Medicine.

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