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.
And yet I did eventually quit smoking. It took many attempts and many failures. It required not just one decision, but many decisions throughout the day. It helped to have an understanding through my own prior experience and reading about other’s experience. The motivation to try again was news stories from California about new laws preventing smoking in different public areas, and knowing that life was going to get more complicated in the near future for anyone who was still addicted. It used to be that everyone smoked everywhere.
I too was able to give up smoking. I also gave up alcohol perhaps as much as 20 years ago. I suppose what it took with me was (a) the will and (b) the intellectual argument that I needed to.
Depression has been a very different matter. I have been unable to wake up one morning or over the course of many mornings and decide that from thereon my life would be free of depression.
It has never worked that way for me. I believe it is simply endogenous. Part of the way my brain and body are wired.
My father was that way and worse. It has been passed down. It is physiological and I can not change it by will power.
I can change it by altering the constituents of my body. My friend Alfred was kind enough to pass me some of his stash of magic mushrooms and on days when I have taken 0.33 grams or so, the depression simply disappears for the day.
My belief, my argument is that the same could have worked for Adolf (a) if the right chemicals were available (they were not and are not) and (b) if he had chosen to ingest such chemicals.
The free will (if it exists) is in the decision to take the chemicals. Without the chemicals, free will regardless, the change is impossible.For me at least – Adolf? I don’t know. Perhaps he just liked Xyclon B and was simply a very nasty and warped person!
That at least is what my subjective experience tells me;
I seem to have free will, I seem to have the choice of taking chemicals if I want to feel better. But without those chemicals, whatever I “will” is whistling in the wind.
Disclosure: I have a fixation about Hitler and Judaism resulting from Semitic origins on my father’s side of the family.
Fascinated by that strange little desert tribe.
Net result in my view: we have limited choice but advances in science may open further doors to us if we choose to take them. In my view!