Understanding Human Nature

David Mamet is an American author, essayist, playwright, screenwriter and film director. His current play, Oleanna, is having its run in LA. It's about a sexual harassment case, in which a female student exaggerates and misinterprets her professor's comments. Oh, how I would love to see that! Feminists were supposedly up in arms over the 1992 rendition of Oleanna -- which, I can only gather, is because Mamet shows sympathy for the professor, who I guess is innocent. God forbid feminists concede that this could ever be the case.

The political overtones aren't surprising, considering Mamet's 2008 article in the New York newspaper Village Voice -- titled "Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal." In the article he says he "took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind." Below are some paragraphs I plucked from his article:

As a child of the '60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.

I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.

And I began to question my hatred for "the Corporations"—the hatred of which, I found, was but the flip side of my hunger for those goods and services they provide and without which we could not live.

And I began to question my distrust of the "Bad, Bad Military" of my youth, which, I saw, was then and is now made up of those men and women who actually risk their lives to protect the rest of us from a very hostile world.

What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow.

In short, Mamet began to question his beliefs and "found that I do not think people are basically good at heart."

And there, in a nutshell, is the quintessential difference between a liberal and a conservative. A liberal's view of human nature is that all people are inherently good -- and thus everyone is equal. A conservative, on the other hand, understands that humans are flawed -- and are thus prone to evil. Conservatives understand that all people are not the same, nor are they all good.

The reason young people are notorious for being liberal -- and often don't become conservative until much later in life -- is that they're idealistic about people. They hold to the fallacy that all people are inherently good. They want to believe it. They need to believe it. It sounds so right, so fair, so natural. As the years pass, after they've lived a little and seen a bit more about how people operate, they realize -- as I suspect Mamet did -- that their view of human beings was indeed wrong.

There are, of course, those who refuse to relinquish their liberal worldview. People like Oprah, for example, who's famous for her view of human nature: "When people know better, they do better." How wrong she is! Unfortunately, like all leaders, Oprah has many, many naive followers. Do does Obama.

I have a theory as to why so many people cling to the liberal worldview. For years now sociologists have been studying the reasons why it takes so much longer for young people to grow up today. In the 2005 Time article, "Grow Up? Not So Fast," Lev Grossman writes the following:

Historically and economically minded scholars are worried that twixters aren't growing up because they can't. Those researchers fear that whatever cultural machinery used to turn kids into grownups has broken down, that society no longer provides young people with the moral backbone and the financial wherewithal to take their rightful places in the adult world.

It makes perfect sense that liberalism would prevail at a time when people are taking so long to grow up. The younger our minds remain, the more they will cling to false notions about the world and the people in it. Fifty years ago people grew up much faster -- and the world was far more conservative.

The future is uncertain, particularly in light of who's running the country. What I am certain of, though, is that people eventually do grow up. For some it will take decades. (And still others will go down fighting.) But at some point, most people get it.

I just hope it's sooner rather than later.

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