The Presumption of Goodness

I am a humanist and a sceptic. I also take great pleasure in snarking and watching others snark - and being a good sport some of the time, I don't mind if others snark at me. I'm a little jaded, quick to imagine motives, and I always question statistics with reckless abandon (and probably very little knowledge of the subject).

I'm also a wild idealist.

What did you think when you read that last sentence? Did you think I was stupid? Naive? A little cuckoo, perhaps? That's what happens when I try to discuss things with people (and no, my age doesn't help). I'm told that I'm too radical, too unworldly, too...well...I guess my ideas upset them a little, because I'm constantly reassured that the world doesn't work that way and that everything is okay - or that it's better than anarchy. (I disagree with them on just about every point there.)

One of the most idealistic parts of me is my faith in humanity - my presumption of goodness, if you will. I assume good faith; I assume that people are kind and try to do the best for others.

At least, I try my best to believe it.

Being a lover of facts and evidence, I can't help but notice that there are quite a lot of complete arseholes out there. Being a human being, I've got a hell of a lot of cognitive bias - among which is confirmation bias. Being a pessimist, I tend to see the worst in things. Putting these things together, awful lot of people do an awful lot of awful things, and it's sometimes hard not to assume that that's all humanity does. Indeed that's the default position of some people I know, where greed and bigotry are the facts of life and therefore, the line of reasoning goes, it's pointless to do anything about them since they're normal, natural, and can't be repressed.

This is where I veer completely off track and start to throw in a load of random concepts - but first off, here's my take on the "human nature" argument:

It's total bullshit.

Greed? "Human nature!" Hate? "Human nature!" Bigotry? "Human nature!" [insert negative trait here]...yup, you guessed it, human nature. It's a gap-filling argument - the specific negative trait is not fixed - and therefore rests on foundations at best questionable. (Plus, if you're going to talk about natural traits in humans, you might as well mention sharing, altruism, general kindness to the in-group, compassion, intelligence, adaptability...all of these are also traits found in humans.) It also assumes that humans are inherently flawed or evil, which is both poisonous and, more to the point, likely false given that since humans are capable of doing and (often) do good things, even without fear of punishment or when they'd risk punishment for doing something good. (Yes, it does happen - what is good and what is against the rules or law are not mutually exclusive.)

Anyway, that digression aside, why would I assume that humans are good? Because I act on my assumptions, and assuming that humans are evil means I then have to act like they're know, shut myself away, not trust people, not care about them, generally just add to the suffering in the world. There's more than enough of that already.

I do the rather counterintuitive thing of assuming human goodness and acting like humans are good because I want to embrace my fellow people with open arms. I want to forgive them. I want to build a free and humane society, because I've seen people who are able and willing to build it, because our generation and the next ones should not suffer wantonly. For those people I will drop my defences, for those people I will try to work towards a world of as little suffering as possible.