Friday, April 17, 2009

Call Me the Prime Optimist

I've been called a pretty negative person, at times. I admit it. In the past, when something bad would happen, I would often expect the sky to fall on me at every turn. And the thing is that if you go looking for trouble you tend to find it.

The strange thing is that I actually think of myself as uncharacteristically optimistic when it comes to my view of individual humans. As a group, humans can go to hell as far as I'm concerned since groups inevitably fall to the sin of group think. Let's face it, a bad idea is still a bad idea no matter how many people subscribe to it at the same time. But, individually, humans can be reasoned with, most of the time. And individuals tend to want to do what is right even at their own inconvenience.

The reason I bring this up at all is because I had lunch today with Maryanne, an old friend who is the mother of the first girl I ever fell in love with. Maryanne doesn't seem to trust government at all, regardless of who is at the helm. For my part, I'm pretty fond of government so long as it is run by people I like and agree with; otherwise I see government as obnoxious at best and oppressive at worst.

Maryanne and I got into a discussion about capitalism, socialism, and communism. Since I grew up in a trailer park, once lived out of my car for a month or two, and have grown to hate the hypocrisy of wealthy, religious, conservatives, I've become rather fond of the romantic notion of pure communism. (Before you freak out, with the exception of a few experimental villages or a couple of primitive tribes, there has never been a purely communist society on the planet. Nor has there been a purely capitalist one. Both are extremes along a continuum.) But since communism is so hard for capitalists to wrap their heads around (capitalism almost seems like a religion to some people) I'm happy to compromise with socialism.

What does this have to do with optimism? Well, in order to believe that pure communism could work you have to believe that people are intrinsically good. I do, because I see it all the time. When Raleigh was devastated by Hurricane Fran in the Fall of 1996 the city was without power and phone service for a week. The area could have descended into chaos, but it didn't. People came together and helped each other to cope with the situation until our technology was restored. And that is how most people respond to a disaster.

But the good in human nature goes deeper into psyche. Think about our entertainment (books, movies, TV shows). We don't normally root for killers, or rapists, or greedy businessmen. Our heroes, the ones we really like and root for, save the little guy, protect the distressed damsel, and fight the oppressive system for the betterment of society. We like watching characters do the good thing because intrinsically WE want to do the good thing. And we want to do the good thing not because some antiquated religious text tells us to; we want to do the good thing because we are good to begin with, and need to be, in order for the species to survive.

Granted, we don't always succeed at doing the good thing, but that doesn't stop us from trying.

Have fun and keep living life... and be good to one another!

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