Wednesday, October 21, 2020

"A Theory of Everything" and Why The Cynics Have it Wrong




Even a casual survey of human history gives us an understanding why there are always those eager to predict that these are the end times. Savagery and stupidity appear to be hallmarks of every epoch. Our fondest memories can always be ruined by taking a step back and realizing that we might have been having a good day or year or life, but we were surrounded by the unknown suffering of others. Acts of god aside, all the pain humans suffer comes at our own hands. That we, as a species, possess the capacity for evil is beyond question.

As much as I hate it, the cynic is always right. If we just wait long enough, it will all go wrong. Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth, will always, as the cynics predict, bring even our loftiest intentions to ruin. And it seems to me that selfishness is the eighth sin that, like the ring of Mordor, rules them all. Cynicism, as author Rutger Bregman writes, is "a theory of everything." And it's true. No matter what argument one uses against their dark views of humanity, their answer of "Just wait" will prove them once again to be right.

Buddhism acknowledges this truth by conceding that "life is suffering." Other philosophies and religions lay down rules for us to follow. Advocates of specific governmental systems claim that theirs is the one that best mitigates our worst instincts. But if the goal is to somehow make humankind good, they have all failed, clearly. Just listen to the cynics who are over there in the corner chuckling darkly amongst themselves, right again, as usual.

This is all true. It always seems to go wrong. It is, it seems, the destiny of our species to forever fall, no matter how high we aspire to climb.

So how is it that so many of us still aspire? If the cynic is always right, why do I, and so many of my fellow humans, still refuse to give in? 

When our daughter was little and she would be stricken with fear or sadness over some evil in the world, I would try to calm her by pointing out that most people, most of the time, all around the world, are having a regular, even boring day; that the evils exist, but at any given moment, most of us are loving and caring for one another. Mister Rogers' mother would tell him when he was scared by something in the news "to look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." What cynics do is focus on the evil, entirely ignoring the day-to-day goodness that fills up all that time and space in between. And one thing the cynic never does is offer any sort of solution beyond their shrug of glum summation.


Our capacity to aspire, to hope, to care, to help, and to love far outweighs the evil in humanity. Indeed, it's so prevalent, so common, that it's not even news. If human goodness were as rare as the cynics assert, then it would be acts of kindness that made the news. The headline would read: Neighbor Buys Groceries for Elderly Shut-In Expecting Nothing in Return! Woman Comforts Man Who was Upset! Strangers Welcome One Another Warmly!

Having known thousands of young children in my life, I can honestly say that I've never known an evil one. If the cynics were right, you would think I'd have met one by now. Oh sure, these brand new humans all do "bad" things at times, but let me assure you that this isn't evidence of an essentially evil nature cracking through some sort of thin veneer of goodness as the cynics would have it, but rather exceptions to how they are most of the time, which is loving and caring, helping, aspiring and hoping. When I stand watching my young friends play together on the playground, cooperating, sharing, and inviting one another, which is what most of them do most of the time, I see humanity, not at its best, but rather at its most normal and even boring. There are conflicts, of course, but most amount to little more than raised voices, left behind them in a moment as they default to the old, dull, work-a-day of loving and caring. Nothing to report here.

That human evil exists is beyond question, but goodness far outnumbers and outweighs badness. That is our strength and our hope. It's so easy to fall under the sway of the cynics, but they are ultimately the lazy ones, always scanning the headlines to prove their darkest points. But they underestimate us. "We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility," says Mister Rogers, and that is what most of us are doing, most of the time. Human nature is seen when we watch those children on the playground. When someone falls, they all gather around, like antibodies or endorphins, coming in concern to help, dropping their playthings and setting aside their games to be there where they are most needed. This is the solution that the cynics ignore.

Oh, we live in dark times, no doubt, but the cynics cannot hold me because I've made a long study of humankind. What I've learned, above all else, is to never underestimate human beings. We are a species of helpers. Just wait. 

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