We assess animal behavior better than we do that of humans. We are more realistic where we can analyse with objectivity. Our own behavior remains largely a mystery to us.
As does the question of changing that behavior. On an individual or species wide basis.
Pavlov’s dog aside we do not expect, largely, to change the nature or behavior of an animal. Why should we expect to change our own?
Animals have basic needs. They are coded to survive, they have evolved to compete. They seek food and they seek mates. Perhaps they have a desire (conscious or not) to welcome pleasure and to avoid pain. Perhaps some are more sociable than others, some more conscious, some less, depending on the complexity of their brains.
But you would not expect much mercy from a hungry wolf, you would certainly not expect it to feel any guilt or shame when it rips your throat out. Not today and not tomorrow. The Big Bad Wolf is not going to change.
Change, if it does occur takes place over many thousands of years. Or longer. Sometimes no change occurs even through millions of years – take the cockroach as an example, or the shark.
As a counter example take the wolf’s distant offspring – the dog. Trained by humans over thousands of years dogs have become (by and large!) a little less violent, a little more friendly. Over thousands of years!
Yes, yes I am aware of experiments where rats are encouraged by trick or treat tactics to press one button or another, but I am interested as ever in the possibility of human change. Redemption even.
Do we have the power to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps in our own lifetime? As an individual or a species?
No, I would venture most definitely not. Nurture and nature yes, spout the phrase all you will. But my strong (and yes, subjective) suspicion is that our behavior is largely endogenous. Built in.
Mother Teresa’s are born not fashioned. Adolf was born a murderer and tyrant, albeit his behavior may have been accentuated by his time in the trenches and his failure as an artist. That he got where he did was a matter, largely, of chance. Had his luck been less blatant he may have remained a small time nutter in some lowly Austrian town.
In many thousands of years’ time we may have trained ourselves to behave better because we want to. Or we may crack our own code and achieve improvement sooner.
But this week, this decade, my firm belief is that we are stuck with who we are. Collectively and individually.