Thursday, July 9, 2009

Depraved or Deluded?

What is the essential character of humanity?

I thought about that question as I followed an argument recently. The argument was about why the media covered celebrity deaths, but ignored the millions of children who die from hunger every year.

Does the media neglect reporting on hunger because people don't want to hear it? Or does the media not report on hunger because they avoid subjects that might make their sponsors look bad?

Are we good people being led astray by the powerful? Or are we selfish people just getting what we want?


And neither.

People are not heartless. More than a quarter of all Americans volunteer in any given year. Charitable giving in the U.S. exceeded $300 billion last year, even with the economic crisis. Millions of us work for nonprofits, prioritizing a meaningful career over one that brings in loads of cash. Everyday people do extraordinary things, like the guy who jumped onto subway tracks to rescue a complete stranger.

So despite the horrible things people do to each other, we can't claim that people are rotten.

But people are not idiots either. We can't blame our failings on programming by the more powerful. The idea that we have no agency is insulting. The inference, when someone says that, is that they are smart enough to find out the truth, but other people aren't. Just because people don't act the way you think they should does not mean that they are sheep.

So despite the pulpit that some powerful people have, we can't claim that people are blameless because they are deceived.

There is no essential character of humanity. We are all capable of all things. We can be as peace loving as Gandhi or as violent as Hitler.

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