The relationship between the nature of human beings and the nature of social order is dynamic and complex. For example, the sex drive is part of human nature, but social norms dictate which of all of its possible forms of expression are appropriate and which are not. Thus, the sociocultural dimension has a profound formative effect on human behavior. Likewise, the ways in which we conceptualize human nature also have their impacts on culture. That is why the dynamic interaction between the individual and society cannot be separated in terms of cause and effect. Rather, each one is found continually influencing and reinforcing the other.
As we have seen, mental models of human nature produce outcomes that tend to validate them. They generate social structures that in turn confirm and reinforce them. If we believe that we are no more than specially endowed animals, we are likely to follow our instincts, and our culture will tend to reflect a hedonistic search for pleasure and crude competition. The resultant society, with its emphasis on entertainment and a competitive spirit, will reinforce the model of man as a rational animal.
If we follow the fatalistic / deterministic creed that man is a victim of forces he cannot control, we will see that belief reflected in a society that prefers not to take responsibility for its actions, but waits passively for someone else to solve its problems. The notion that some races are inherently superior to others will result in oppression and exploitation and, to the degree that their power admits, discriminated groups will foment protests, rebellions or power struggles.
These complementary mental models regarding the nature of man and society have been perpetuated in all echelons of society and extended to every corner of the globe. However, if we change these mental models for a conceptual framework based on the potential for human nobility, which recognizes the unique contributions that each one can make to the wellbeing of all, we will see a holistic relationship between the person and society, a reciprocal interaction between the welfare of each individual and his or her impact on the good of the whole.
According to one mental model regarding the nature of social order, conflict is inevitable in all societies, and is even a cause of progress. When this idea is added to the concept of man as inherently violent and greedy, what you have is a society that is rife with clashes at all levels. In this section we will review some of the elements of this mental model: the ‘law of the jungle’, competition, power, identity, and war.
Other traditional mental models of human society are divisionistic. They are intimately related to the concept of man as naturally selfish and competitive, as they view humanity as a collection of different groups, each with its own interests, in continual struggle amongst them. They include aspects such as projection, demonization, racism, uniformity versus diversity, and the fear of losing our individual and/or collective identity. In this section we will see how these mental models were formed and what effects they have had in shaping the world as we know it.
This section will present a critical analysis of several elements of these two sets of mental models according to which human society is necessarily divisive and conflictive, and will conclude that the arguments on which they are based are unfounded. Saying this is not to suggest that society is necessarily united and cooperative. Rather, it means that all communities –large or small– are capable of deciding what they want for themselves, whether an existence plagued with competition and violence, or a peaceful, mutualistic lifestyle.