Thursday, October 16, 2014

People Are OK, Mostly

People occasionally ask me what, since I'm an atheist, I believe. It's a valid question, since "atheist" as a position doesn't tell you what I do believe, just what I don't believe. It's not necessary to have beliefs, I don't think, but I've come to realize I have some: Some things that I hold as personal truths, regardless of whether they would stand up to objective scrutiny.

(That said, I am, as always, willing to put my beliefs up for debate or objective scrutiny, if such a thing can be arranged.)

So here are my beliefs: I believe that people are generally understandable. I believe that most people, given an actual, immediate chance to do the right thing, would do it. I believe that people are self-interested, but that they understand, on some instinctive level, that what benefits the people around them benefits them.

Now, understand, when I say "around them", I mean literally the people physically nearby. I mean the people in the monkeysphere. It should be obvious to anyone paying the least bit of attention that when people can be abstracted, when they become nothing more than a screen name and 140 characters, that it's easy to think of them as not-human (to say nothing of how easy that is when they're thousands of miles away, entirely different culturally, and functionally invisible).

I don't believe that "good" and "evil" are fixed positions. I believe that evil is as evil does. I believe that even someone who is an avowed anti-person (choose your poison; homophobe, racist, sexist, misogynist) can change that position because they got to that position somehow. In short, I believe - well, this one isn't "belief" so much as "duh" - that everyone is on their own journey and comes to wisdom (or not) from different directions.

I think that I've managed to accumulate some wisdom over the years - but everyone thinks that. I think that I'm a generally good person - but everyone thinks that (if you want to say "but!", put a pin in it). I think that my moral positions are generally righteous - but everyone things.

I am not, at the end of the day, special, except in the nuances. But I like to think that paying attention to that nuance is important.

So here's that pin I mentioned: I know there are people who cheerfully say, "well, people are shit, but I'm shit, too, so whatever." Or some misanthropic variation; "people are stupid," "I hate people," "I don't want to live on this planet anymore."

I don't go in for that position. Not because it's wrong - people certainly are capable of being horrible to each other. Some moral positions are indefensible. But I don't go in for the misanthropy because it's lazy. It's avoiding any chance at education or interaction by just throwing up one's hands and saying, "well, it's all fucked."

I don't think it is. I think that people, individually, can figure it out, can grow some empathy, and can stop lashing out. I don't pretend to be a saint on the subject - I'm watching my Twitter feed go nuts daily over Gamergate, and watching some of the people responsible for perpetuating the worst of it sit smugly by and claim (falsely) that the "movement" was ever about anything other than one lonely, petty man's attempt at lashing out at his ex.

But I'm not quite ready to say, "yeah, it's all fucked." Because if I do that, if I agree that people are shit, then I have to include all people in that statement. And there are too many people that I know, personally, who are capable of such acts of love and compassion that they bring me to tears, for me to lump them in with the people who are capable of such acts of selfishness and bitterness.

So, I'm not going to say that people are good, because that's lazy, too. But I will say that, on balance, people are OK, and that it's important to remember that everyone is the hero of their own story. That's not to say that their story is good or a story you want to play a role in, or even a story you want to try and understand. Just that it's useful, to me, at least, to know the story exists. Maybe it'll help me make edits to my own.