Can Humanity Change?

One of the teachings of Stoicism is that humanity doesn’t fundamentally change. The drama and squabbles we see today are fundamentally the same drama and squabbles we see from ancient times. People were kind and people were petty. People focused on acquiring good and gaining status. People shirked those things to try and find meaning. People loved their families and hated their memories.

It’s a lesson I struggle with somewhat

Because I want to believe that humanity can grow and be more than we were. I want to believe that the narrative warnings of 1984 and Brave New World will become obsolete, instead of cyclically relevant. I want to believe that tomorrow will be better than today.

In some ways, it has been, which seems to challenge the Stoic notion. People die less. We’re all better fed. Children survive to higher ages. Etc. Etc.

But I’m coming to the conclusion that we do so because our nature changes very slowly (if at all), but our environment in the form of institutions can change, and people respond to changes in their environment.

It makes the progress we’ve made unfortunately fragile. Living in the USA right now and watching the intentional destruction of institutions built to guardrail behavior is a sad reminder of this. But on the other side, it does suggest that if we build stronger institutions that dampen our worst impulses, and make them resilient with plain and apparent justifications, examples, and wisdom, then we just might be able to do be better.

I don’t think we’re learning the right lessons at this moment, but I do feel that it’s still possible.