Endlessly malleable human nature?

One accusation people on the right sometimes make against people on the left is that they treat human nature as endlessly malleable, that they, in other words, reject the whole idea of human nature. There are certainly some thinkers on the left who seem to give support to this accusation.

But it would be a mistake to think that one must deny human nature and accept infinite malleability in order to accept what people on the left say.

It’s undeniable that there is massive diversity in human behaviour, and also that some institutions or behaviours seem to have better outcomes than others, and also that there are many more paths that are not yet explored than those that have been explored.

The conservative inclination is to say, at the very least, that it is wiser to try to choose the best of those that have already been well explored than to experiment with options beyond the frontiers of human experience.

But there are good arguments to suggest that it might be unwise to leave too much unexplored, especially when we consider the remarkable rate of change we see around us in the modern world.

Whether we should try new things, and how cautiously we should try new things, can be debated. It’s a hard question to answer, and it’s even harder for most of us ever to be able to imagine enacting in the world whatever answer we arrive at.

I guess the point for me is that we can’t try to win the argument by caricaturing the other side as if they have to believe something that not all of them do or must believe. Debate about the malleability of human nature if you like, but don’t forget that the answer to the question won’t resolve the political questions so often attached to it.

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