Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Measure

I was in a discussion some years back about the percentage of people who were rotten thieving low-life bastards. I said I believed about 60% of everybody was decent for the most part; basically honest and well-meaning. The fellow I was talking to raised his eyebrows. "That many?" Some people, it seems, are convinced that a higher number are corrupt no-good-niks.

So, having formulated this in my mind, over the years I have felt some pride at my liberal allowance. Surely this means I am a spreader of hope, an optimist whose willingness to cede trust and faith to such a good number of my fellow humans contributes a positive force to our civility. Is it not also true that "the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him"? (Henry Stimson)

After all, even if I'm sometimes wrong, it's unlikely that someone is a "confidence man." And if the number of liars is squishy, lots of those are "white lies." And not out-and-out predatory amoralism.

But the other day I had a horrible realization that threw doubt on my carefully nurtured self-image: What if this really means I am only more moral than the low 40%? Suddenly I'm not looking so good. By this logic, if I was a worse scoundrel than 90% of everybody else, I would of course place myself in the "good" group, and claim that 10% of people were really evil . And conversely, if I was in the top 10%, I would undoubtedly again place myself among the winners, and rightfully claim that 90% of people are just scum.

Not only that, but this lends some credence to the most horrible idea of all: that the most misanthropic, morally conceited blue-stockings are perhaps the most moral of us all. They, the top 1%, rightly see themselves as good, and not only good, but better than 99% of everyone!

Well, I'll have none of it. It's obvious I was roughly correct in the first place. About 60% of people are basically good, and anyone who thinks they are in a more extreme moral elite are just fooling themselves. They have unforgiving natures. They are, in fact, dishonest to themselves, a moral failing of critical import. They are, in a deep sense, untrustworthy.

In short, I feel I am actually much better than such people.


Yoki said...

Very good post, Jumper, and your punch line is excellent. I would have put the percentage of the basically decent higher. I have discovered, in both my personal and professional life, that if I begin relationships on the basis of trust and only change my approach on evidence of untrustworthiness, I have by and large been treated well. I've been really messed over a couple of times, but it is very very rare that that happens.


- Yoki -

yellojkt said...

Yes, but Seinfeld observed that 90% of all people are undateable. Just check the line at the DMV if you need to confirm this.

Jumper said...

I'll just invoke Sturgeon's Law here. ;)

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