Human Nature in a New Perspective: Genetically Coded Primary and Man-Made Secondary Societies

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You-Sheng Li,

Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars

When all human societies are divided into genetically coded primary and man-made secondary societies, only primary societies are based on human nature.

Human nature can be defined as a series of basic desires and capacities with their peripheral potentials. (Li, 2005) With the capacity of heart beats, 50-90 beats per minute are basic while beats more or less than 50-90 per minute are peripheral potentials. The primary society does not have the power to force its members to live on their peripheral potentials while the secondary society does. It sheds considerable new light on the academic issue regarding human nature.

Human nature is neither good nor bad while a man of his own making can be either good or bad. In fact, our civilized history has been a long process of upgrading wars with the humanity fighting against itself. ( Eckhardt, 1995 ) So A. Toynbee (18891975) says, “The human race’s prospects of survival were considerably better when we were defenceless against tigers than they are today when we have become defenceless against ourselves.” Many evidences suggest that under the pressure of war, humanity traded its happiness for materialistic achievements and linguistic sophistication. The suicide rates were doubled in Canada and significantly increased in United States during the twentieth century. (Macionis and Gerber, 1999)

1, From Ancient Chinese Real/Man-Made Persons to the Two Levels of Society

Children who have been brought up by animals are not humans in any sense except for their physical appearance; they behave exactly like the animal they were brought up with. We are therefore essentially products of our culture and society. Both modern society and culture are created by man, and it is not surprising that recent scholars say: “We are, in short, what we make ourselves”; “The most influential perspective in sociology...has been view human nature as a consequence of human histories and experiences, rather than any predetermined essence. Indeed, many recent social theorists...have rejected the very notion of human nature itself.” (Wolfe, 2001; Marshall, 1994)

During the Axial Age from 800 BCE to 200 BCE when philosophical foundation was first laid down, a Confucian philosopher, Hsun Tzu (286-238 BCE), reached a similar concept, man-made persons (人为之人), and the two Chinese character man-made (人为) comes from the two halves of the Chinese character for falsehood (). Why ancient Chinese philosophers reached the same conclusion more than two thousand years ago as Western scholars do today was due to a simple fact that they clearly saw the transition of real natural persons to man-made persons, who are essentially their own making. For the same reason, Taoism, as the first philosophy that appeared in Chinese history, introduced the concept of real persons as its goal of self-cultivation.

The definition of the genetically coded primary society and the man-made secondary society justifies the following: A primary society will form automatically under the following conditions: 1). The population is less than a few hundred, and the population is free to divide when it is too large; 2). The population is engaged in face-to-face interaction; 3). There is no contact with and no ideological influence from a secondary society; 4). There is no outside force threatening their survival.

Ancient Mediterranean civilizations did not meet those conditions while Chinese civilization did. Multiple civilizations and multiple states threatened each other’s safety in the Mediterranean world while the ancient Chinese formed a super state of primary societies to function as police to keep peace among local powers in their isolated world. (Li, 2005, 2010)

Since a typical secondary society appeared in China only during the late Axial Age, 476-221 BCE, the ancient Chinese philosophers saw the fundamental difference between the two levels of society and between the real and man-made persons. On the other hand, with a typical secondary society well established in ancient Mediterranean civilizations, both Socrates and Plato stressed the divine elements in human nature while Aristotle saw a goal-oriented or teleological cause in everything including humans. Their views on human nature reflect the goal-oriented and incontrollable nature of the secondary society. The Bible story says, God drove Adam and Eve out of the Eden Paradise after they ate the forbidden fruit. The primary society was inside while the secondary society was outside the Eden Paradise. According to the generations recorded in the Bible, scholars have estimated that the time of Adam and Eve was about six thousand years ago when Mediterranean civilizations began to emerge.

The division of society into two levels, the primary and the secondary society, provides a powerful new perspective for understanding the various aspects of human nature.

2. The Two Levels of Society and the Impassable Gap between the Two

The distinction between the primary society and the secondary society can be refined by examining the way in which they are contrary to each other: One was man-made, the other, hereditary. It is thus not difficult at all delineating the major differences between the two by deduction from the definition with reference to ancient tribal and modern societies.

Those differences include: the former primary society is based on genetics, and therefore, on human nature and instinct while the latter secondary society serves its goal; the former has only one type while the latter has limitless possible types; the former is a psychological/emotional whole while the latter relies on a uniform ideology and goal. Detailed discussion appears elsewhere. (Li, 2005, 2010)

The division of human societies into two levels, genetically coded and man-made, focuses on the underlying transformation or a jump, which fits well into the multi-level operation of the universe (Table 1). [Place Table 1 here]

 Table 1. The Universal Evolutionary Pathways


1. Physical World

2. Life

2. Culture

4. Consciousness

Level 1


Level 2


Level 3

Elementary particles

Level 4

Atoms and electrons

Level 5



Level 6

Matters and objects


Level 7

Stars and planets


Level 8


Organs and limbs

Level 9



Level 10

Primary society


Subconscious or aesthetic

Level 11

Secondary society


Conscious: rational thinking systems

Level 12

High spirituality and aesthetics?

There are impassable gaps between those levels in Table 1. In a way, tissues are the primary society of cells and organs are the secondary society of cells. Normally, cells cannot leave their tissues to reach the organ level. Although humans build secondary societies, our history also suggests an impassable gap between the two levels of society. According to a study, the Chinese population suddenly dropped more than half for at least ten times between 221 BCE and 1911 when the secondary society was established. A population of sixty million was recorded during the 2nd century BCE but only 1.2 million remained at the beginning of the third century. (Chen, 1979) There was no single such drop recorded from 2200 BCE to 476 BCE when the ancient Chinese super state of primary societies was present in China.

3, The Two Levels of Society: Joy-Oriented Aesthetic Order/Life and Goal-Oriented Rational Order/Life.

The Darwin theory of the survival of the fittest does not mention the motivating power behind survival. For animals and the primary society, the joy of life is the only motivation to survive.

When I was sitting in front of my living room window, I often observed squirrels in the park beside my house. There are more than a dozen of them, and they all are in a great shape, neither fat nor thin but healthy. Do they all live a healthy lifestyle? They spend a minor part of their life looking for food but the rest, idling around nonstop. If we call the former their working hours and the latter their spare time, they enjoy their spare time by physical exercise, exploring their world of grass and trees. As to food searching, they are apparently very picky. When they have found something to eat, they examine it carefully at a leisurely pace. They throw the parts that are not delicious enough, and often than not, they discard the whole thing and then move around looking again.

I also observed birds through my home windows and observed deer in the wild, and they live the same life as the squirrels I have observed. Their spare time is for the joy of life while their working hours are for joy-oriented food searching. With delicious food as a reward from a short time interval, it is apparently a very joyful process to the animals while our games such as basket ball, football games or card games usually have much longer time interval between each winning with only abstract goals achieved in the end. Humans are civilized to endure boring time and entertain abstract ideas.

Once I saw on TV a scene of native people who lived in the Amazon jungle and did not wear any clothes. It struck me that they were also uniformly in a great shape, neither fat nor thin. To an outside observer, they are indistinguishably the same. I have never seen a gathering of so many healthy human bodies except for soldiers and athletes who are apparently highly selected groups while the native people are not.

Chinese peasants lived in a quasi-primary society or nearly primary society until the late 1950s. This was made possible by little commercialization, small government, and isolated illiterate population, but it also illustrates the resistance of human nature against the man-made secondary society. According to the famous American scholar of Chinese studies, John King Fairbank (1907-1991), the numbers of all registered government officials were 18000 during the Tang dynasty (618-907), 20000 during the Song dynasty (960-1279), and 20000 during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The population was 400 millions in late Qing dynasty. Fairbank says, “In anywhere in the world other than China, there was never a place where so few officials ruling so many people for so long.” (Fairbank, 1995) The reason behind it is that the social order was still aesthetic in the Chinese peasants because of their quasi-primary societies. Even in the 1950s, there were much less crimes in the countryside in comparison with the nearby cities. There were only a few policemen in a county that had more than half million residents. Human nature itself is enough to keep a primary society harmonious and functional.

Here I took Chinese peasants, especially women, as an example to show how they lived essentially a joy-oriented aesthetic lifestyle. (Li, 2010) They lived their entire life in the isolated countryside among families, relatives, and friends, and did not have any goal of life at the secondary society level. In other words, they lived their life at the moment and at the local villages without the modern concept of time and space in the secondary society. To my observation, they treated anything happening outside their villages, either from the government above them or the nearby cities, the same way as they treated climate changes. They saw it as something in the other world. They also mixed them up with their fairy tales and fantasies including opera they watched and romantic historical tales they were listening to. Those tales and opera were all about kings, emperors, ministers and their families. To my observation, they adapted a joy-oriented aesthetic attitude towards those otherworldly tales: they only saw the entertaining parts and did not notice any meaning of life in relation to their life.

The only exception was the family lineage, which was beyond the moment. To my observation, the family lineage only stayed in the graveyard and in the lineage records of their clans and did not enter the minds of those illiterate peasants. In the graveyard of many generations, the Chinese peasants only knew the ones who they and their parents had lived with.

Those Chinese peasants worked at a much leisurely pace in comparison with our office working style. When several families worked together, they kept an on-going conversation entertaining each other. Their minds were on the entertaining conversation but not on the work. A lot of those peasants can become hard workers once they are in the city, though they still lack the knowledge and vision how a secondary society is regulated.

With Chinese peasants living in quasi-primary societies until the late 1950s, it is possible to study the influence of this quasi-primary society on human behavior at the secondary society level:

During the Anti-Japanese War (1937-1945) when Japanese army invaded China, Chinese Communists came to the areas of Northern China occupied by Japanese in early 1938, and enrolled all rising anti-Japanese forces under the Communist umbrella. Most those forces were local peasants with some knowledge beyond their villages. Once the Japanese surrendered and the Second World War was over while China entered a three-year civil war (1945-1949), a lot of those anti-Japanese guerrilla soldiers quit the Communist party and became ordinary peasants again in spite of the fact that they would have a much better life if they chose to stay and become Communist government officials. One of my uncles quit during a fighting against the Nationalist army. He said that he did not have the heart to see so much blood and so many dead bodies (of Chinese people). Apparently, human nature sees the justification of the war against invasion but not the justification of starting a war among the same people.

Chinese Communist leaders during Mao’s era (1945-1976) were consisted of two groups: those who studied in Europe or Russia (Soviet Union) when they were young and those who had never been abroad before. The former came from well-off families while the latter from families of ordinary peasants. As a result, the former were well adapted to the secondary society while the latter, under the influence of the quasi-primary society. During the Great Leap Forward in 1958 which resulted millions of deaths from starvation, the four nationally famous fanatic supporters (李井泉,柯庆施,

吴芝圃,曾希圣) were all from landlord families while the only one (彭德怀), who stood up against this Great Leap Forward and was imprisoned afterwards, was from a poor peasant family. During the notorious Great Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, the most famous two (彭真, 谭震林) who stood up in 1966 and in 1967 against this Cultural Revolution were both from ordinary peasant families. The first one, Peng, said, “All people are equal before the Law.” Among the millions of supporters, two were said to be the corner stone columns of this Cultural Revolution. Without the support of this two the Cultural Revolution could not be carried out normally as one of the two took charge of the army and the other, of the daily routine of the government. Those two (林彪, 周恩来) were both from well-off families. During the Cultural Revolution, many wrong decisions were always unanimously passed at the meetings of the Central Party Committee because of the abnormal political atmosphere. The only exception is that a widowed lady (陈少敏 ) from a poor peasant family cast the only dissenting vote. In modern society, women are less contaminated by civilization than men. In conclusion, human nature does not tolerate disastrous absurdity while a man-made man does.

4, Different Cultures and Different Secondary Societies Correspond Only to Different Ways of Play in a Primary Society

Among mammals, civilized humans are the only species that works. Furthermore, in comparison with other mammals, we are the only species that keep our playing habits fully throughout our lives. Traditional view holds that young mammals play to get prepared for their adult lives. Thus, our life-long playing habits may well serve as a preparation for a much higher life in the secondary society. In an aesthetic primary society, life is nothing but a play. (Li, 2012) Different cultures and different secondary societies correspond only to different ways of play in a primary society. Without our awareness, we have adapted to working and living environments that are far from being natural.

If you catch a wild bird and put it in a cage, it is most likely that the bird will neither eat nor drink until it dies no matter how much you love it or what delicious food you provide. The environment inside the case does not suit the nature of the bird. The social control humans can tolerate is limitless. Many stay in prison for decades and come out happier men. (Li, 2005)

Let’s take language as example to further illustrate how far our secondary society has left from its original primary society. Language is mainly for psychological/emotional exchange and carries aesthetic value in the primary society while language is mainly for communication or exchange of information, insights, opinion, and so on in the secondary society. The philosophy of life or world view is also different: The primary society is able to view the physical world, the social world, and the inner world of human minds from a relaxed mind while dictated by the social ideology, the secondary society has a focused view. In fact, war and competition forced people to focus on each other. European visual artists created only human figures until the 17th and 18th centuries when Holland and Britain developed paintings of scenery and landscape. (Chi, 1983) Navigation enabled them to escape from the grip of the continental military powers and therefore gave them a relaxed mind to see more of the world.

Roasters are much more colourful than hens. Similarly, men grow beards that do not have any physiological function. David Buss (2001) discussed in detail the differences between men and women, and he quoted from Miller (1998) that men are motivated to create and exhibit art as courtship displays. As a result, men produce more cultural products than women: musicians, writers, poets, and so on are mostly men. Growing beards do not need subjective efforts, courtship displays have sex as the reward while a musical or literature career demands much more efforts but the reward is less visible. In a primary society, women are more sociable, more emotionally expressive, and it is not surprising that there were more female authors in the ancient Chinese poetry, the Classic of Poetry. (Li, 2010) I have attended a local amateur writing group, where were always more female writers and poets for the last twenty years, though they take writing as their joyful hobby and not as a career.

What is the difference between the goal-oriented professional writing and the joy-oriented self-expressive writing? The former concentrates on linguistic sophistication or on focal depth while the latter concentrates on natural joy and has a much broader view. The former has a specific world view among numerous other views while the latter services as the social bond felt by each of the members in the primary society.

5, The Fragile Future of This Planet Relies on the Transition of the Current Goal-Oriented Lifestyle to a Joy-Oriented Aesthetic Lifestyle

Here we examine in more details the two lifestyles: goal-oriented rational and joy-oriented aesthetic, or shortened as goal-oriented and joy-oriented, from an individual perspective, the psychological experience one has to go through as an individual. Here we boldly yet realistically adapt to the Taoist view that materialistic and social achievements, no matter how grandeur and how extraordinary they are, mean no a single bit more than an individual can psychologically experience them. To us, the world exists only because we can psychologically experience it. Although the world also exists in scientists’ work and their laboratories, we have to read textbook of science to psychologically experience it. In other words, we take the joy-oriented view to examine our life today to show the necessity and probability of the transition from the current goal-oriented lifestyle to a joy-oriented aesthetic lifestyle:

1) Relaxation: because it is a biological need to rest or sleep, it is most similar between the joy-oriented and goal-oriented lifestyles,. As the author discussed before (Li, 2010), we are more difficult to go into the state of thoughtless awareness, compared to the people who are from the joy-oriented primary society. Those people from the primary society are more easily to mix up reality and dreams. For similar reasons, our dreams at night were more worrisome than the joy-oriented people. The majority of thoughts and images appearing in our dreams at night or occupying our mind during the day are found to be negative, worrisome or thoughts about problems in life. It is nothing but those negative thoughts or minds that drive us to work hard day and night, and also drive our civilization to go forwards materialistically and sophistically but not necessarily joyfully.

2) Recreation: Olympic athletes often live a life of hard-training for decades before their dreams come true. What they have been doing is nothing but the Olympic game, a game of pure recreation in real life. It is beyond any doubt that our goal-oriented lifestyle invades our dreams at night should be normally a recreation in the primary society. If an athlete has to go through hard-training for decades before reaching his goal, deer or squirrels have to go through searching for minutes before reaching their delicious food. The difference between a few decades and a few minutes keeps the former relying on discipline, law, and social pressure for motivation and the latter relying joy of life for motivation. In the primary society, members also have goal-oriented recreation but the goal can be reached easily in a shorter time.

3) Working: since animals do not work, humans only began to work after civilization provided an idle class to supervise other people’s working. Some scholars think, humans began to work because of agricultural investment for the future. According to my observation of Chinese peasants before the late 1950s, farming was not enough to get peasants to work in the way as we do today. As mentioned above, Chinese peasants worked together for harvesting or tilling the soil as a collective entertainment: their minds are occupied continuously by on-going singing and conversations of humour while hands are on tools for a routine movement, liking we are on bicycles for a joyful trip. In other words, work can be carried out at such a leisurely pace to allow the mind fully occupied by joy-searching without any interruption. The author believes that the same amount of work in the present secondary society can be done easily by a simple technique of dispersing it all day long to a leisurely pace to allow joy of life dominating the mind and the time. Of course, it can also be achieved by other more sophisticated techniques or even cut off the unnecessary amount of work if we adapt to a joy-oriented lifestyle.

4) Fulfilling the Basic Biological Desires Such as Eating: I used to receive harassing phone calls at midnight for years during which, I formed the habit of waking up at midnight and unable to go to sleep again. As a result, I had to take a nap at noon every day. My psychiatrists did not think I had any mental disorder though I had a situation to worry about. I learned from them: it is normal to sleep twice at night and at noon while it is not natural to sleep 8 hours in a stretch. Similarly, it is more natural if we nibble snacks all day long rather than having three meals a day. Our work ethics in the secondary society does indeed invade our spare time activities such as fulfilling the basic biological desires. We treated them as a kind of work to keep ourselves alive.

5) Relation among Humans: the relation between members of the primary society is aesthetic, based on psychological/emotional exchange. The primary society is a psychological/emotional whole because of the subconscious social bond related to face-to-face interaction. The solidarity of a secondary society relies on a uniform ideology and goal. Although psychological/emotional exchange takes place in both societies, it is the basis of relation among members of the primary society but only auxiliary among members of the secondary society where, the relation is created and consolidated by our shared goals/views and the related social structure.

6) Achievements and Self-Actualization: if you have thousands of workers to build a city according to your design and have this new city as your achievement, if you are commanding an army with officers at all ranks down to the million of soldiers and have this kind of life as your self-actualization, you cannot have the same thing in a joy-oriented primary society. On the other hand, nothing prevents you from having similar psychological experiences by imagination or by adventures at the primary society level.

If you compare the two psychological experiences, one of the achievements and self-actualization at the secondary society level and one of the similar psychological experiences by imagination and by adventures at the primary society level, you will find the latter full of pure aesthetic joy while the former has always inevitable worries and responsibilities.

Let us consider those thousands of workers and soldiers, do they have the same feeling of achievements and self-actualization? They may have their own feeling of achievements and self-actualization at a much lower level but with more feelings of worries and responsibilities. A lot of them may have nothing but negative feelings.

6, Conclusion: The fragile future of this planet with its all residential species including humans relies on the transition from a goal-oriented rational lifestyle back to the original joy-oriented aesthetic lifestyle, namely following the ancient Chinese Taoist teachings to take animals as our models of life. It is equally important to shift our governmental and administrative activities at the secondary society level to balancing and feeding back by computers, which will be more like our body managing its population of cells and the inner environment of cells. (Li, 2005)


Buss, David. 2001: “Human Nature and Culture: an Evolutionary Psychological Perspective.” Journal of Personality 69:6, December 2001.

Chi, Ke,1983. Western art history. Beijing: Chinese Youth Publishing House. (In Chinese)

Eckhardt, William, 1995: “A Dialectical Evolutionary Theory of Civilizations, Empires, and Wars”, p75-108. In Civilizations World Systems Studying World-Historical Change. Edited by S. K. Sanderson. Walnut Creek, USA.

Fairbank, John King.1995. Fairbank on China: A New History. Translated by Xue Xun. Taibei: Zhengzhong Book Bureau. (in Chinese)

 Li, You-Sheng. 2005. A New Interpretation of Chinese Taoist Philosophy, p13-16, 152-155, 221-225. London, Canada: Taoist Recovery Centre.

Li, You-Sheng .2010. The Ancient Chinese Super State of Primary Societies: Taoist Philosophy for the 21st Century, p25-32, 164-179, 98-117. Bloomington, USA: Author House. p208-35.

Li, You-Sheng.2012: “The Ancient Chinese Super State of Genetically Coded Primary Societies and its Implications for Modern Democracy.” Submitted to and accepted by the Ninth ISUD World Congress. ISUD=International Society for Universal Dialogue. 

Macionis, JJ and L. M. Gerber.1999. Sociology. Scarborough, Canada: Prentice Hall Allyn and Bacon Canada. p587.

Marshall, G, 1994. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Sociology: Human Nature. Oxford University Press.

Miller, GF. 1998: “Sexual Selection for Cultural Display.” In Evolution of Culture. Edited by R. Dunbar, C. Knight, and C. Power. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Wolfe, A., 2001, "Human nature" in Encyclopedia of Sociology, p1233-36. New York: Blackwell.

(This essay was written for and accepted by the Tenth Congress of ISUD, International Society for Universal Dialogue, in 2013 but I did not go. You-Sheng Li)