The Human Condition

THE HUMAN CONDITION….Yesterday I chided Jonah Goldberg for believing (in my words) that serious problems of the human condition are “barely worth trying to improve in any deep rooted way.” Today he responds:

Conservatives, generally speaking, don’t believe that no problems are fixable. Rather, they simply believe that some problems are permanent….Permanent problems of the human condition can be lumped under the rubric of “sin” or human nature and the like. But whatever you call them, I am at a loss as to what permanent problems of the human condition Drum thinks we’ve solved. Certainly not war or greed or envy or lust.

Understanding human nature and human culture ? and taking them seriously ? is important. No contemporary liberal of my acquaintance thinks that these things are “ignorable,” as Jonah implies in another post, but neither do we think that “careful control” is the only possible response to them.

Think. We haven’t “solved” the problems of war or greed or envy or lust. But we’ve made progress, much of it through liberal institutions and liberal education. In the industrialized West, slavery is gone and racism has been genuinely reduced. Sexism is less prevalent. Conservatives themselves are fond of pointing out that liberal democracies don’t typically wage war against each other. And as for lust, what’s wrong with that in the first place?

(But I’ll give him envy. There’s not much evidence that we can do anything about that other than control its more virulent forms.)

Progress on these fronts is slow, arduous, easily lost, and obviously stronger in some places than in others. But it’s real. We control what we can’t change, but it’s a mistake to think that genuine change is impossible. Culture is a powerful thing, and not an immobile one.