The Psychology Behind Denying Change and Nature

Nature: The Psychology Behind Denying

Humans have a rather difficult time coming to terms with things. Gamblers seem to think they can indeed win their games of chance, despite the odds being against them heavily; those with large egos seem to think they are more important than they are; and many us likewise seem to think others care significantly about us, when in reality their behaviors say otherwise. So prevalent is this problem that it is the source of many major social issues.

The problem more specifically is the inability to accept that we cannot change something. When we cannot change something, we are no longer in control and must come to terms with the reality at hand. However, there are many realities which we deem wholly unpreferable and so deny that it is indeed the reality.

When someone claims for example that there is a nature to humans, almost immediately after a proclamation that we “should not allow nature to dictate our morals,” or “cannot derive an ought from an is,” follows. In part, because there is some validity to those arguments, but in no small part because people do not like the idea of human nature.

If we are to accept the existence of human nature, then we must accept the limits we have on changing behavior not only in others but also ourselves; we must also accept that there are limits which cannot be surpassed in helping others in society. Some of the ugliest truths come from accepting human nature.

In the world where human nature exists, we cannot always sway a criminal from a life of crime to a life of a virtuous citizen; no amount of tax-payer money will sway them from their antisocial tendencies and mischievous past. Likewise, we cannot proclaim every student can master calculus, nor every person can handle wealth responsibly. And if we find in ourselves laziness and too much hedonism, we would rather latch onto the hope of changing than to accept the vices of our nature.

Much the same holds true for homelessness and substance abusers. In a world with human nature, despite our best efforts, we will have to come to accept that we cannot help some of those who are homeless and addicted to drugs. Whether we should stop trying or not is, I must add, an entirely different topic. What is being said here, specifically, is that we cannot help some  people, no matter how hard we try. 

Furthermore, a world of nature would also entail some sort of nature to the way in which people exchange goods. That there is no infinite plasticity in economic behavior and systems is a conclusion of any argument from nature. As an example, consider a naturalized account of capitalism.

It is common to hear many claim that capitalism works, yet is not preferable. And defend it nonetheless. Because for them, capitalism is in some sense a natural occurrence, it is the nature of human economic systems.

That sort of reasoning is likewise attacked not on grounds of justification, but on grounds of an inability to accept limitations to change. Many do not want to accept that we cannot shape economic and political systems to our will, and that there might be some unchangeable nature to them.

So we do not like accepting the nature of something because it is an admission of our own limitations and lack of control. But another reason relates to being anti-authority or anti-status quo.

As odd as it may seem, it indeed happens. People do indeed derive their views on politics, psychology, and philosophy from personality traits; there are many among us, perhaps ourselves included, who derive their conclusions about assertions by assessing whether it aligns with their preferences for self-perception or identity.

Some deny the claims to human nature, or nature more generally, because nature asserts a status quo, or becomes an authority of what can and cannot be said or done. And for those reasons, people come to disagree with claims to nature. They do not want a status quo, nor do they want an authority to rule over them.

Thus, the rejection of the status quo, the rejection of authority, and the inability to accept permanence and limitations are reasons, being more psychological than philosophical, for people to deny claims to nature.

Change: The Psychology Behind Denying

What holds true for the denial of nature holds true for the denial of change, at least in some regards. There are some who deny change for reasons of psychology rather than reasons of philosophy.

The two general aspects for denying change are authority and stability. Humans tend to prefer stability and so dislike change, as do humans like the authority which comes from non-change.

For starters, one of the many reasons why experienced political participants adhere to the same political party is in part because they fear change; they do not want to be faced with the uncertainties which come with new political regimes. Instead, they prefer what is familiar and predictable: comfort.

Another example where denying change is motivated by a fear of instability can be seen in cases where a child lives in an abusive home. Not in all cases, but in some, when the child comes of age, they remain in their abusive households because to move on would prove too unstable for them.

The fear of instability, in other words, can be a psychological driver to deny change, a driver which overcomes any philosophical discussion in intensity.

The denial of change also happens when people seek to maintain some sense of authority or truth. In science and philosophy, people appeal to highly cited papers and books so as to establish their own communicative authority over their interlocutor. And even in ordinary life, people might suppose, mistakenly so, that there is a nature to something and thus cannot be wrong; which, indirectly, makes the person’s point necessarily true and therefore triumphant. The point being, whether there is indeed a nature to something or not matters less, since the nature is only a means to an end; and that end is power.

So, just as there are psychological motivations to deny something’s nature, so too are there psychological reasons to deny change.

In conclusion, then, we are wise to be keen observers of possible psychological motivations to assert one thing rather than another. As not everyone engages in a philosophical discussion with the aim of being open-minded. Clearly, some enter with the aim of fulfilling an unconscious or conscious psychological motivation. Or perhaps we all enter as so.

Email notification


Ideasinhat is a business development analyst and longtime reader of academic literature. He writes books and essays on science and philosophy, and posts them to this website. The essays, as with the books, cover topics from psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science to economics, politics, and law.

Leave a Reply