What are the causes of human behavior?
I’ve spent a lot of time studying and reading about this topic, from multiple perspectives.
Why do I care?
Why don’t you care?
To understand human behavior means to understand your own behavior. It means you have a grounded rationale for action. It means you “make sense.”
The “modern” perspectives on human behavior (“nature,” “nurture,” “humanist,” “utilitarian,” “evo-bio,” etc.) are interpretations funneled through popular reasoning.
…at the beginning. There’s this thing called a human organism – a collection of organs (and other organisms) that developed over the course of 4.6 billion years (or maybe just since the Carboniferous revolution 356 mya).
The interaction of the elements of the earth’s crust, the earth itself (its magnetic iron core), the relationship with its moon, and energy from the sun, all created a thin film of activity on the surface of the earth.
The first activity was based on “anaerobic” metabolism. The activity of those animals created a bunch of oxygen, resulting in the Great Oxygenation Event 2.4 billion years ago, and the evolution of animals that used oxygen for motoring around and eating and/or incorporating other things.
Mammals popped up in the mix, and started wreaking all kinds of havoc – bearing live offspring (not eggs), adapting well to different habitats thanks to warm-bloodedness, fur, etc.
Behavior is mitigated by natural demands, shaped over eons, passed down through selected genetics and behavioral example. For the most part it’s a simple matter of supply and demand…basic competition for resources. Lots of resources means low competition. Other things start to happen with all that free time.
Happy accident of happy accidents, the apes came out of the trees. Being able to access two environments means more opportunity. As the head is positioned upright, the vocal chords change, allowing for a greater range of sounds. As the hands are freed they can do other things…even while walking around! And all of that new input means a bigger processor. More brains. Tools can be made for special uses.
What dominates behavior is the social unit. The tribe, the pack. The need for leadership and hierarchy. It’s partly genetically, and partly environmentally (pack- and nature-environment) determined. The strong ones in packs will tend to assert themselves, because they can. If left alone, not needing to assert themselves, they may not.
As the animal develops further, the ties that work well are strengthened. Social hierarchy achieves a safer outcome, especially against other tribes. It’s the old “in-group/out-group” behavior coming ’round again. Division of labor means more free time for all, since everyone doesn’t have to do everything all the time. The specialists get better and better at their skills and become Trades…it’s worth it to seek them out, to trade for their skill at the task.
As the group grows in size and scope, it needs more rules to maintain order. When it passes a certain size, it needs Laws. And there has to be a Reason to follow the laws. So they make up Morality, and Gods, and Demons, and Manners, and Fashion, and many other things.
Now the populace is easily controlled. But beneath the aerobic system likes a heart of stone, still pulled by the magnetic core of the earth. Beneath the veneer of civil morality (blamed on God, Nation, Fashion, Manners, or whatever) lies an animal seeking opportunity for resources.
You notice this most when things get tough…i.e., when resources get scarce (or are perceived as being scarce). The Civil Monsters become Uncivil (though still define their actions as Civil ones…they are, after all the Civil Monsters), and etc. down the line of exigencies (Fashion Monsters, God Monsters, etc.).
Blame blame blame, when at base, there’s only need to satisfy (perceived) demand for resources. Simple.
Now what works is to appeal to the perceived-need or -demand. It has become a trade unto itself…and its most of what anyone trades at all anymore.
I had to write this post after several visits to the playground with my 1 year old son. All of these things are exposed so much more readily there…they haven’t been trained to behave in accordance with different reasons. So one notices that there is no such thing as “sharing” in children under the age of 2. It’s really more a matter of interest of loss of interest (which is related to attentional focus, which is related to the perceived supply of “interesting things”).
The parents on the playground are even very honest about this – “We’re still working on the ‘sharing’ thing,” they’ll remark with a grin.
Yes, yes, you are…