What The World Needs Now: A Manifesto on Tolerance, Co-operation, and Human Goodness
By David Metcalfe
November 14, 2018
The world as it exists today is far from perfect. A great number of people suffer horrible injustices on a daily basis, and it is the empathy derived from this knowledge that inspires and guides my life towards the study of these things. What I wish to share with you is an ideal, a vision, for the world, borne out of despair but developed, sometimes painstakingly, into hope.
Progress towards a better world is made by two things: love for others, and the knowledge to create a society that produces it. An individual act of goodness, within an unjust system, is a drop of water in an ocean of acid, and fails to adequately neutralize its corrosive effects on the individuals forced to bathe in it. While it might be nice for a German person to house a Jew and protect them from a concentration camp, it does no good for the millions of Jews who were not so lucky. The entirety of Nazism must be ridden of. So too, in every society, we must come to know the systemic injustices, be rid of them, and find their superior replacement.
Modern western society is very good, and deserves an appreciation for the many great men and women who contributed to its formation through their brilliant ideas, significant sacrifices, and sincere passion. But their veneration must go beyond the content of their work, and into the concepts they lived for. The great truth for Adam Smith was not in capitalism itself, but in doing what makes the world a better place, as it was for the Founding Fathers, the slavery abolitionists, the women’s rights activists, the scientific discoverers, and the countless others who lived and died in pursuit of their altruistic vision.
My vision is simple: for humans to minimize evil, which manifests itself in suffering, sadness, and hatred, and to maximize good, which manifests itself in joy, fulfillment, and love.
The processes by which I seek to achieve these things are found in the ideas of humanism, liberalism, socialism, pacifism, and universal co-operation. These processes are not absolute, and if I should be privileged to find better processes to achieve these goals, I would be happy to do so. The following is a thorough, but not exhaustive, case for why these processes seem like the best possible methods.
Are Humans Good?
There exists debate as to whether humans are innately good or innately bad. Those who insist the latter tend to cite various historical atrocities, such as African slavery in America, or the horrors of Nazism. Even a casual study of history will prove that the list of historical atrocities is endless. At every time in history, in even the best of societies, suffering due to sickness in the hearts of men was rampant.
But it would be foolish to jump to the conclusion that humans are innately bad for several reasons. The most obvious is that you object to these atrocities. If you were innately bad, you would hear of someone being brutally murdered, and it would not faze you. The very fact that you think the holocaust was a bad thing is reason to believe that you have some kind of goodness within you. And what you will find is that this disgust of evil and desire for goodness is not restricted to you. Anywhere you go: any church, any university, any country, any political party, any workplace, will have people who share this same disgust of evil and desire for goodness (provided that there is free thought, as will be discussed later).
But it might be said that we live in a superior society to those of antiquity, and our goodness is a product of the society from which we came, rather than something innate within us. However, this is settled by the acknowledgement of the answer to the historical atrocities that came about. It was humanity that abhorrently mistreated black people for centuries, but it was also humanity that learned to acknowledge the rights of black people as citizens with equal rights. It was humanity that hunted down Jews and placed them in torture camps, but it was also humanity that fought against the Nazis and restored justice.
It is a common idea amongst Christians, in particular, to believe that humans are innately bad, and that it is only by influence of the Christian God that mankind does anything good. They have convenient examples to support this idea, such as the two already mentioned, because everyone was Christian in at least some capacity in the western world from the time of the Roman adoption of Christianity in the 4th century, up until now. They say that the emancipation movement was led by Christians, while forgetting that the slave owners for the three centuries preceding were also Christian (not to mention that Abraham Lincoln and many other well-known emancipators were not Christian). They say that the retaliation against Nazism was led by Christians, while forgetting that Nazi Germany was composed primarily of Christians, and anti-Semitism had been preached from Christian pulpits for centuries.
And more so, it would be a tragic misinterpretation of history to lack appreciation for the many societies without Christian influence that showed examples of human goodness. Do we not think that in Ancient Greece, mothers showed sacrificial love for their children? Do we not think that in Ancient Babylon, men showed courage in the face of danger? Do we not think that Confucius taught that humans were valuable and worthy of compassion?
History shows us that both evil and good come from humanity, independent of time, place, religion, etc. But, in saying “humanity” we are conflating the individual “human” with the collective “humans”. We know that people act differently as individuals than as groups, so asking the question of whether humanity is innately good should contain that distinction.
Humanism Toward Liberalism
Authority, The Collective, and The Individual
“If all of your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?” is a popular American colloquialism that reveals insight into an important aspect of human nature, namely, that we tend to act in a group in ways we would not act as an individual. The individual tends to be more rational and good natured than the group. The Stanley Milgrim experiments, for example, offer a positive case for the individual but a negative one for the collective. In each instance of shock administration, the individual subject wished to stop harming the victim, but the authority influenced him to continue.
Peer pressure is deemed a bad thing precisely because the group causes the individual to act less morally than he would on his own. School bullying is most often a group of students acting negatively towards a socially marginalized individual. This occurs, on a more significant scale, with more severe consequences, in many groups, even entire nations. The Stanley Milgrim experiment’s most notable application was that there is good reason to believe that the vast majority of Nazi soldiers were simply taking orders or trying to fit in with the rest of the group. And once the Nazi regime was defeated and replaced with a different authority, the German people were just as morally good as any other society. This suggests that the evils of Nazism were the result of authority and collective evil, and not of the individual.
We may then suggest that the atrocities committed during the African slave trade were also a result of authority and collective evil that corrupted the good nature of the individual. Upon realizing the humanity of the African people, individuals began to rise up against the authority and collective, and eventually formed a new movement, culminating in emancipation.
If humanity’s evil is in the authority and collective, and its good is in the individual, we should expect societies that allow for less authority and collective power, and more individual power, to be more moral. The 20th century answers that easily. The regimes that adopted totalitarianism, and abandoned individual rights in favor of authority and the collective, committed the worst atrocities. These included the regimes of Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler, and to a lesser extent, many of the Islamic countries in the Middle East.
On the other hand, societies that adopted democracy, and expanded and upheld individual rights, had the least suffering and most good. These are the western nations that consistently end up ranking highest for quality of life, year after year, such as Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Canada, United States, Australia, and others. We might also note the extreme disparity between North and South Korea; countries of nearly identical geography but vastly different in every possible aspect of life. North Korea, with its excessive government control and allegiance to the collective, is a far worse place to live than South Korea, with its democracy and individual rights.
Psychology, sociology and history show us that authority and the collective are the cause of humanity’s evils, while the individual is the cause of humanity’s good. And this is not to say that an individual does not have the capacity for evil; even nations that maximize individual rights still have crime. And this is not to say that authority or the collective do not have the capacity for good; mankind has done great things under wise leadership and social inspiration. But this is to say that a tendency exists. A tendency too significant to be ignored, and even significant enough to inform the nature by which we ought to construct society. We must bring about the goodness of man by maximizing his individual rights to life and liberty.
Tolerance and the Individual Right
Maintaining the right to life is a fairly simple task, at least in a philosophical sense. We simply make murder illegal, and allow the government to take part in that which is necessary for the maintenance of life, such as safety, health care, food, and shelter, at least for those who cannot afford it by means of the free market.
The right to liberty, on the other hand, is a more difficult task. It is more than a legal matter, and is primarily a social one. Even under liberal government, with the promise of equality and liberty for all, black people were enslaved for nearly 100 years after America’s founding. Full legal equality was not granted until 100 years after that. Martin Luther King Jr., for simply advocating that which was already legally right, was hated by many and eventually shot. Similar problems occurred for women, gays, and other racial minorities. It is because the social environment, with its rigid norms and expectations, exacted a powerful, all encompassing tyranny on everyone. But social tyranny is not felt by those who naturally exist within its parameters (white, wealthy, Christian men), but by those who deviate from it (often by no fault of their own). While a black man and white woman may be legally allowed to marry, they would not be safe from social punishment in 1970 Alabama for doing so (perhaps even in our current day). This means they are not really free.
Social tyranny is both collective and authoritarian, and is therefore a cause of evil. The greater the tyranny, the greater the evil it causes towards those who deviate, or wish to deviate, from it. Ridding humanity of this is a noble objective. Social tyranny’s greatest enemy is tolerance. Tolerance can be thought of as the direct antagonist of social tyranny. The more socially tyrannical a society is, the less tolerant it is. The more tolerant a society is, the less socially tyrannical.
Tolerance is necessary for individual freedom because it allows one to act as they so choose, without any collective or authoritarian impediments. Since individual freedom maximizes humanity’s good, tolerance is the best thing for society.
Tolerance is not an end in itself, but rather a means by which we minimize social and legal tyranny and maximize individual freedom. The means are always subject to the ability to meet their end, and therefore, tolerance must be limited wherever it no longer serves individual liberty. This is why, for example, we would not be tolerant of racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other worldview that seeks to exact tyranny on those who are deemed “lesser”.
Liberalism Toward Socialism
Collective Co-operation and The Individual
If the individual is good and the collective and authority bad, we might think it logical for each person to abandon society and government altogether, in pursuit of isolation. This would be a more extreme goal than even the anarcho-primitivists would advocate. We know very simply that man is not meant to be alone, in the fact that even the most capable outdoorsman seeks solitude in the forest as a temporary challenge, and not as a permanent way of life. For most, solitude in nature is the result of unfortunate circumstance, which calls for emergency, and is only remedied by a return to society.
Man is born into collective dependency, and never grows out of it. In fact, he only adds to it. As a baby, he needs only his mother. As a child, he still needs his mother, but also a father, friends, and a teacher. As a teenager, he adds romantic love. As a man, he adds a wife, children, co-workers, and if he grows wise, he understands the interdependence of society’s complex workings, and appreciates the importance of each person’s contribution to the well being of all others.
The advantages of man coming together to form society are great. But with these advantages come risk of equal magnitude. Relationships and technology, the two most significant advantages, are beneficial to mankind but can also be very detrimental. Relationships, for example, give the opportunity for people to express sexual love toward each other, but also give the opportunity for people to rape each other. Technology, for example, gives people the opportunity to be healed from sickness, but it also gives people the opportunity to be injured or poisoned.
The virtues and vices of society are tilted in good favor by the establishment of government. Society gives people the opportunity to express sexual love toward each other, and the government prevents people from raping each other. Society gives people the opportunity to be healed from sickness, and the government prevents people from being injured or poisoned.
Since the government is an authority, it has the potential to be evil if it does more than the protection of individual right to life and liberty. This is why the government must have a constitution that guarantees it will act in accordance with man’s individual right, and seek to maximize it in every endeavour. If it fails in doing so, it is the individual who must decide, not the collective. That is why each person should independently cast a vote in favor of their good nature, and since the tendency to virtue is that the majority of individuals are morally good, we should accept the result of majority decision.
In a market economy, individual labor contributes to society, and is rewarded with money. This money becomes the individual’s right, and is therefore under government protection. Anything purchased with the money earned by the individual is merely a transfer of his right, not a relinquishment of it.
Individual Right and Collective Responsibility
In acknowledgement of the good in individuals coming together to form a collective, and the government’s role in maintaining individual right, we ought to do what we can to create and sustain a society that is beneficial to all. The majority of people can largely be left to themselves to contribute their labor to the collective good, and maintain themselves by the free market. A minority of people will need the permanent assistance of the collective in maintaining themselves. This minority includes those who are disabled, sick, persecuted, or lack the means by which to obtain work. If this minority is neglected, we relinquish their right to life, and in seeking to obtain their right, they may be inclined to crime out of desperation. Rather than force this non-working minority into death or crime, we can instead use the labor of the fortunate majority to contribute to the well being of the unfortunate minority.
And this fortunate majority is not static, but dynamic, and fluctuates based on many factors. A working person may become injured, sick, persecuted, or out of work for any number of reasons. And all people, provided they live long enough, will grow old. Rather than allowing these people to die, the government can provide basic needs to them, in what is called “social security”. As the government itself is not an economically producing entity, it has a right to collect a certain amount of money from each working person, for the sole purpose of maintaining the rights to life, liberty, and property for all. This is known as “taxes”. Taxes should be accountable to the constitution and the people, and if the majority of people, in exercising their individual liberty in voting, should choose to elect officials to increase or decrease taxes, they may do so.
Anything that is necessary for the preservation of individual rights to life and liberty may be controlled by the government. These include things like health care, police, firefighters, in their best quality, and things like food, housing and transportation, in their most basic qualities. Food, housing and transportation have the potential to be commodified when beyond the basic needs, and their commodification is a necessity for the maintenance of a successful market economy. Things that are superfluities, such as restaurants, cars, vacations, extra or fancy clothing, and anything else not necessary for life, can simply be part of the free market economy, to be sold and distributed according to supply and demand. This is known as the “free market welfare state”.
Pacifism and Universal Co-operation
The Collective Expansion
The coming together of individuals to create society is not limited by arbitrary border lines, skin color, location, gender, religion, or any other designation. All people are of equal value, and ought to be treated as such. The maintenance of individual rights for the purpose of maximizing human goodness is a global enterprise.
While this structure of society and government (socialist, liberal democracy) maintains individual rights, and therefore maximizes human goodness, nations have repeatedly abandoned the enterprise in their interactions with other nations. Imperialism is one of these horrid infringements. It is the exertion of power of a strong nation to dominate or exploit a weaker nation. The practice of this is responsible for a great deal of the countless atrocities of warfare. Both world wars were the result of certain nations seeking to exert unjust power over other nations. In the case of WWII, we might also say that Nazism itself was an unjust practice, even if it had stayed within its borders.
As national governments are elected by their society to preserve individual rights, we may then ask if their responsibility extends towards individuals of other nations. For example, does the American government have a right to protect the rights of people in Syria? The answer is no, because the Syrian people did not have a choice in how the American government acts, and are not under their jurisdiction. The main problem that would be caused by allowing America to protect the rights of other nations is that America’s interests are not impartial, and their government is only accountable to their own people. This means that America will naturally have a tendency to exploit other nations for their benefit.
If all governments recognized their place, not as enforcers of authority and the collective, but as protectors of individual right, there would be no need to have any warfare between nations. Any disputes between nations could be solved by an impartial third party, in the form of a world government. This is what the United Nations seeks to achieve. A one world government could be elected and represent all of the world’s nations, and act just as a national government does, but on a larger scale. The problem, of course, is not whether this would be a good thing, but whether it is possible.
Since America’s conception in the late 18th century, liberal democracy has spread throughout the western world, and made significant reforms in many places in the east. The world’s movement, especially more recently after the fall of the Soviet Union, is toward liberal democracy. People recognize the goodness of individuals, and once they know the freedom possible in liberalism, have a tendency to move towards it. Government and collective control is waning, and it is only a matter of time until all people are free. Once people are free to act and believe as they so choose, and elect their own governments, a world government is sure to follow, and war will be essentially a thing of the past.
The processes outlined in this article are in the hope to promote that which produces a better world. There is no need to become dogmatic in these processes, and in fact, good reason to refrain from dogma as much as possible. Free thought is humanity’s great liberty, and is necessary for the expression of human goodness.
War, poverty and sickness are not realities intrinsic to life itself. They are preventable through better government, better economics, better heath care, and other innovations within humanity’s reach. We have so much unrealized potential, and that is reason to be optimistic, but also compelled to take action. There is more love in the hearts of people than we often realize, and more intelligence than gets properly used. The combination of these gifts in solving the world’s problems is humanity’s brighter future. I wish I could cure every disease, feed every starving person, and prevent every form of suffering that occurs on earth, but I cannot. It will take a collective effort from everyone of good will and various abilities to change the world, and I hope to facilitate the inspiration of that whenever possible.