One of the things you must understand about the world is that people are generally, for the most part, on the average and in the long run, good. It’s in the murky definition of what being good is that we get into some of the troubles with being human. For example, the white nationalists cheering the election results from last week think that they are doing something good for the country by wanting “libtards” and “feminist dykes” to kill themselves. In their limited view of the world, that is a good thing.
The people who voted for the Orange candidate think that their vote was good, or that it was the best thing they could do for the country. I can’t fault them for that. I thought my vote was also for the good of the country. They saw a racist, nationalist, xenophobe and thought, “Well, that doesn’t really affect me, so I’ll give him a chance at draining the swamp.” They felt that it was good. (So far, the proposed cabinet is made up exclusively of Washington insiders, so that’s that.)
In essence, no one among us look at ourselves as villains. We’re the heroes of our own story. We convince ourselves that what we do, no matter how hideous and hurtful to others, is generally good. I got to test out that theory as a teenager when mom took me with her to a penitentiary to meet some of her clients. Although they accepted fault in what they did, they felt justified in what they did. “That person had to pay” or “I really needed that (car, money, television set).”
Me? I’m sure I’ve done things that are questionable from all points of view, but I’ve convinced myself that it was necessary in some way. It’s just how we’re wired.
Another good example is a certain antivaxxer who, I think, is trying to be like me. He went to the same school I went to for an MPH. And he’s now a doctoral student in epidemiology, yet he remains convinced that epidemiological concepts like herd immunity are hoaxes. (Yeah, go figure, right?) His blog posts have gotten more and more dark over the course of the years. Even his handlers at Age of Autism — the premiere antivaccine website — had to let him go. He became “that guy,” apparently.
He is now convinced that the coming administration will end autism by ending vaccination. He’s also diving deep into the racist and xenophobic thoughts of white nationalists, calling Black Lives Matter and feminism a “cancer” on our society. And, while he makes fun and rants against people for being “victims,” he writes as if he himself is a victim of some universal plot to cause autism through vaccines. But I bet he thinks that he is perfectly justified in everything he writes, and in going to talks by people he despises and asking incoherent questions.
I bet his mother loves him unconditionally, too.
See, what is good and what is bad in the world is very subjective. There are some things that seem universal, like not killing or not lying. But there are times when people kill to defend themselves or others, or in the course of war. There are times when you have to lie in order to prevent a confrontation, or protect someone or some thing. Everything is subject to, well, subjectivity.
It’s kind of like moral relativism, where you need to look at the universe of things and situations around the thing you’re trying to judge as being good or bad. (Far-right conservatives rant against moral relativism, then use a form of it to justify their deeds, which I find absolutely hilarious.) However, there is one thing that I think — rather, have the sneaking suspicion — is good in a universal sense: Helping others.
Almost every story, fable, parable or whatever that is trying to teach us something about good versus evil has at its core the service of others. I mean, “The Good Samaritan”? Just listen to it:
We all enjoy a good villain now and then, but you have to keep in mind that the people you consider to be your villains might consider you to be their villains. After all…
But, again, when the all the chips fall, people will generally do what is best for the group and not so much what is good for themselves. We saw it on 9/11 in New York. It was seen at Pearl Harbor. Just look at the videos of natural disasters and how people come together to help each other regardless of the things that separated them before.
We can be good people. We wish to be…
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
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