It is often said that “human’s are social animals” without really thinking what that implies. Many creatures are social, in the sense that they live in groups, but there are wide differences in what ‘social’ means – from the simple semi-chaos of herding for cattle or deer through to the elaborate, regimented, division-of-labour society of the termite or the honey bee.
Norman Geras died today. Many people will never have heard of a retired politics professor from Manchester, who wrote books on obscure German revolutionaries (Rosa Luxemburg) or human nature in Marx. Some may have seen his more recent “NormBlog” or maybe even heard about his support for theIraq war. But Norman’s influence has been profound on many people, including me. I met Norman back in the early 1970s when I joined the International Marxist Group (IMG), the British section of the Trotskyist Fourth International. The Manchester branch of the IMG was a revelation to a working class boy from Barrow – full of powerful intellects like Norman and Ian Gough, and teeming with debate and ideas. I haven’t seen Norman in many years, although we did exchange some emails when I came back to Manchester a few years ago. He’d retired by then and was writing Normblog and I was busy with my academic and domestic life, with a new son to look after. We said we should meet up, but it never happened. When I found out Norman had died this morning my first reaction was to find my copy of one of his books, from 1983. Here’s why: Continue reading
Why do I use the term “Homo Janus” for this approach to human nature?
It is to contrast this theory of human nature to various others – such as for example the idea of ‘homo economicus’, the rational utility maximising human so beloved by economists. The ‘Janus’ bit is to emphasise the paradoxical, contradictory, nature of human social instincts.
The Roman God Janus is most often depicted as having two faces, but also sometimes as having four (Janus Quadriphons) – see the picture of the four-sided ‘Janus Arch’ in Rome on another page.
As the theories developed here humans have four basic social instincts – H. Janus seems appropriate.
This was something I wrote on Whitehall Watch 4 years ago, but it says something useful, I hope, about my approach to applied social sciences.
There seem to have been two versions of the Roman God Janus – one with two faces and one with four. The ‘Janus Arch’ in Rome – with its four openings – is said to be linked to the latter. It seems an appropriate image to link to our “four-faced” human social instincts. Maybe the Romans knew something we have forgotten?
This post contains a selection of what I think are useful additional (re)sources for exploring our contradictory human nature. It will be updated from time to time. Continue reading