Rebirth of Reason

The Free Radical
The Good Life

Liking People
by Joseph Rowlands

One day I was discussing with a colleague the evils of government control of education. At one point I suggested the most important step to ending this monstrosity is the repeal of compulsory schooling laws. As long as the government requires children to be schooled, it will inevitably see itself as the decider of what counts as schooling. It's an open invitation for the government to control every aspect of raising children.

My colleague was shocked. Without thinking, he declared that without compulsory schooling laws, parents wouldn't educate their children. He said if they weren't required to educate their children, they wouldn't even bother putting them on a bus to go to school. He didn't claim this would be a tiny fraction of the populace, but a significant number of parents.

What made him think that people could care less whether their children got an education? If there is a value that is universally recognized in the world, it's education. So how could he believe that parents would callously leave their children ignorant and incapable of living in this world? I didn't know. So I asked.

Would he personally choose to let his children live in ignorance? No. Is there someone in his family that would? No. Friends? No. Has he ever heard someone say that children don't need an education? No. So what possible reason does he have for thinking this would be a widespread problem? Simple. People are stupid and evil.

"People are stupid and evil". Does that sound familiar? I'm guessing it does. This is a widespread belief that is promoted by nearly everyone. Those with the biggest interest in promoting this belief are the socialists. They whittle away at liberty by declaring that people are too stupid to be left on their own. Politicians love looking for some idiot somewhere that screwed up, and declaring that all men are like that, and that they must be enslaved for their own good. This makes sense, since their goal is the diminution of rights.

What makes no sense at all is that many Libertarians and Objectivists also promote this belief. Or more importantly, they accept it. How can the defenders of freedom work under the premise that most people are that stupid? Or that people are evil and vicious? The very idea undermines the case for liberty.

Fortunately for us, it's false. People are a lot better than they're usually given credit for. We need to learn to recognize their strengths, instead of focusing only on their weaknesses. And there really are a lot of strengths. I'll go through a few, but the list can easily be expanded. There are exceptions, of course, but they're just that: exceptions.

First and foremost, people are productive. They live by their own ability. They work in order to gain wealth, and they recognize the connection between work and pay. They understand what it means to earn money. This is why get-rich-quick schemes are almost universally looked down on. People recognize that if you want to make money, you have to work hard for it.

Additionally, only a small minority of people are criminals, and if you ignore victimless crimes, it's a tiny percent. Most people have a strong respect for the law, understanding that it is the fabric that holds society together. They also have a strong sense of justice.

Another trait that people have is a desire to get somewhere in life. Many don't practice it consistently, but most people want to be better off. Understanding that their wellbeing is based on their productivity, they try to improve themselves. Whether through education, harder work, or more serious commitment to one's work, people try to improve themselves and their condition.

Next, many people have a pretty good implicit philosophy, or common sense. This manifests itself in a lot of ways. When people see "modern art", they know that it's some kind of pretentious trickery. When they talk about politics, they understand that the politicians are unprincipled whores, willing to sell anything for a buck. They recognize that most philosophy is just a bunch of word games. They know that TV doesn't "control" their decisions. They take responsibility for their own actions.

People seek happiness, friendships, love, and excitement. They try to get the most out of life. They seek material wealth to enhance their lives. They are benevolent, seeking friendships and relationships. They are romantic, always looking for a "happily ever after". They love their pets and children. They like fast cars and beautiful women.

The list could keep going. The point should be clear, though. There are a lot of positive qualities that most people have. Most have their faults as well, and those faults shouldn't be ignored, but we have to stop treating "the masses" as if they were our enemies. We have to recognize that most people are good, if a little confused.

Seeing the positive in people, and having a general good-will towards our fellow men promotes our lives. It allows us to achieve values we otherwise wouldn't. We can find friendships and love. We can have positive relationships with new and different kinds of people. Liking people allows us to feel less alienated from the world. It allows us to live in this world.

Liking people also helps in a number of other ways. It allows opportunities to inspire and enlighten others. It strengthens our own arguments for freedom and a benevolent world. It gives Objectivism a better foot forward, and makes it more appealing to others.

It is tempting, when nobody seems to live up to your expectations, to damn them all as evil and stupid. It must be resisted, though. It's proper to recognize faults, but it's unjust to ignore people's virtues. People are generally good. We have to recognize that, and view them accordingly. It can be difficult at first. But as with any virtue, it just takes a little practice.

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