"Produce great persons, the rest follows." --Uncle Walt W.
I'm trying to get my hands on an article published in 1969 titled "The New Socialist Man" by one Thoedore Hsi-En Chen. I got a reallyreally interesting glimpse of something yesterday thanks to the Pure_Sophist_Monster's recent post. I think that the idea of the "New Man" is being surreptitiously smuggled back into public discourse. The idea, as it last manifested (in terms of socialism), argues that human nature is fundamentally changeable, and that, consequently, our systems do not need to adjust to us, but rather, we need to adjust ourselves to fit the system. Or, more clearly, in the words of Thoedore Hsi-En Chen,
While the more realistic and pragmatic Communists recognize the need for material incentives to stimulate the public cooperation, the ideologues argue that the new man should be educated in such a way that he will not expect personal benefits but will find reward in the increase of production, the fulfillment of state plans, and the success of the proletarian revolution. If socialism does not work, according to the ideologues, it is not because the system is not good, but because human nature has not been changed to conform with the new system. Instead of modifying the system, it is more important to change man.
Undoubtedly, we may substitute for "socialism" whatever form of government we want. PSM's complaint was that the letter accompanying the census form appealed to base self-interest (tho' in the guise of communitarian rhetoric) to motivate a positive response. His view is that human nature need not be self-interested--that if only "we" (who?--the enlightened ones?) teach them other ways of performing selfhood, they might be new men, with new principles, new ideas, and new values.
I do accept that there are motivations that are not based in self-interest, but I don't believe the government can enlist us on behalf of those motivations (love, personal loyalty, etc.) because those motivations flourish only in the freedom of choice. If the government wants me to fill out my census form, it better offer me something tangible.
So what's everybody think? -- is human nature infinitely flexible, plastic, malleable, whatever? Can we remake the next generation not in our own image but rather in the image necessary for a better society? If our system is unfixable, can we fix each other instead?
If it was ever fair to call me the Platonist, it's not anymore. I'm very skeptical that we can willfully change human nature in any profitable or meaningful or sustainable way--and, indeed, I think any effort along such lines is dangerous, destructive of its own proclaimed ends, and hopelessly romantic. But I'm probably misrepresenting PSM's view? Comments?