Quite a few people have said to me that humans are corrupt, greedy, hormonal, irrational, incapable of running their own lives properly, and that therefore they either need to be looked after or we must put aside grand dreams of change. There are probably a million and one views in between those two which I haven't looked at, and which I probably should, but I haven't found them and therefore can't discuss them.

As a liberal, this horrifies me. Fine. I should adapt my opinions to the facts, not the other way around. Yet I genuinely do believe that people are good and that communities are capable of changing for the better, even if it's hard and even if we never quite manage utopia.

Why do I believe people are good? Short answer: I don't. Long answer: I believe that people are stupid, corrupt, greedy and cruel, but also that they are good, kind, altruistic and upstanding. Each person is a mix of "good" and "evil" (I don't like these terms - I think they're quite black-and-white whilst humanity is made up of shades of grey - but I can't find any to replace them): even the friend to all living things and the saint on earth has dreamt of killing and torturing their enemies and even the corrupt totalitarian dictator has loved ones and ideals. People do care about each other: you see this in families, friendships and communities. Equally, those same people will take up arms against the "dirty foreigners" and collaborate with genocidal maniacs. It's difficult to admit and live with, but it's true. Since all people have both "good" and "evil" in them and since "good" by definition is good for the individual, the community and the human race (I believe that true, hypothetical good benefits the individual and the community, and if it can only benefit one of the two, it should benefit the individual - I have seen the bad kind of collectivism, where people are forced to give up everything for a community they're not part of and actively dislike, and I've sworn off that), we should work towards goodness.

Please keep in mind that this does not involve coercion, which by definition is not good - it may be necessary, but it's not good. Ideally, it would involve great amounts of study and debate throughout an individual's entire lifetime, and what the individual decided would be left up to them.

Now, onto another bit: humans being hormonal and irrational and/or having no free will. Yes, humans are hormonal. No, humans are not irrational. They're non-rational, as they rely on emotions and ancient caveman urges, both of which had some use in the past but aren't much use now. As for free will? Eh, that's complicated and the debate is still going on about it. We're remarkably easily manipulated, easily able to change our reasons for things without knowing we've changed them, and we decide on an action about half a second before we think we decide on it - but it could be that free will is not initially conscious (which might lead us to redefine free will, but that's a whole other story), it could be that the process is different for complex reasoning (as opposed to, say, pushing a button), it could be that no, free will doesn't exist, but our determined will is so individualistic and chaotic (focusing more on individual survival than on any greater plan) that it might as well be free will...that last one is a talking point all of its own and I don't really do it justice here.

Now that that's out of the way, I'd like to follow on from whatever facts could be fished out of that mess and build opinions on them. Yes, humans are by no means rational creatures by nature, but fortunately, we are also sapient: we display wisdom and (hopefully) sound judgement in our large, complex environments, and we are capable of prolonged abstract reasoning (such as philosophy). This means that we are capable of being something more than hormonal, non-rational creatures. Generally, rational decisions tend to be better for communities and individuals than non-rational ones, as they take more things into account and have a defined plan, and therefore in the interests of every sapient being - not just individual human beings, not just communities and our entire species, but also conscious computers and robots (which are being built and may play a large part in our future, and which we will have to deal with as if we were dealing with actual humans) when they come on to the scene - it is better to be rational and use the sapience and abstract reasoning which we are capable of.

So we've come to the two viewpoints following on from humanity being greedy, corrupt idiots: 1) herd people like sheep or 2) don't think about utopia. Now, how do you reconcile those with the idea of beings which have the potential to be rational, sapient thinkers...?

If people are rational, sapient thinkers, or can be brought up to be rational, sapient thinkers, it makes it much more difficult to blindly herd them. This means that the government and media will have a tough task on their hands, or they'll have to adapt. Politicians will have to rely less on image and more on policy, and the media will have to focus on intelligent debate in the comments section rather than poorly-argued vitriol...that's if people can be made into thinkers on a large scale. The capacity is certainly there, but it requires an educational system and more importantly a community that places great value on independent thought. That's extremely difficult to foster, but it can be done, otherwise we wouldn't have any thinkers.

What does it mean if it's difficult to herd people blindly? It means a lot more compromise and a lot more "design by committee" - except what one would be designing would be an entire country. This potentially means a lot of cock-ups are in store for the human race.

As for putting aside grand dreams of change...a society of thinkers will notice what's screwed up and what isn't. Some will try and change things, some won't. Either way, thinking people can be more proactive and so a society of thinkers might be a lot more turbulent, swinging wildly from one utopian experiment to another.

Will that be a good thing or a bad one? To be honest, nobody really knows, because the human race as a whole isn't great at setting up utopian experiments and letting them be. I argue that it can't hurt, because while the way might be fraught with fights, skirmishes and potentially costly mistakes, if humanity does find a solution which pleases everyone and gives everyone a voice in society, it'll be worth it.