Good in the world
On self-evident truths about human goodness -- and the rogues we sometimes have to contain
When we see pictures of border guards preparing to welcome Ukrainian children with stuffed animals as they flee the war imposed on their homeland, or encounter stories of people volunteering to offer shelter to refugees, the natural reaction is to feel a sort of heartwarming reassurance about the good found in other people. That is a good sensation to have. But we should have at least one more.
■ Most human beings share certain unchanging characteristics found throughout history: We care for our families (especially our own offspring), we hope to be loved, we are averse to pain and death, and we want to have choices -- the freedom to choose our own destiny.
■ Periodically, some individuals have a different characteristic: A lust for power over others. It's the root cause of a vast amount of the human suffering throughout history: The desire of a few to exercise control over many. Fortunately, the fact that this lust goes against the human nature of most people is self-evident.
■ It was bold of the Founders to have written that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" were "self-evident". It should go without saying that the flaws in how some of the authors of the text, including its main author, failed (through enslavement) to live up to the fullness of the self-evident truth of liberty for all.
■ But part of believing that those rights really are self-evident is to believe that even people living under the power of tyrants can know those rights for themselves, even when cut off from the rest of the world.
■ It also means that we can, without hesitation, criticize and seek to hold people accountable when they actively choose to bring harm to those freedoms -- whether by deliberately bombing civilian shelters, stalking critics, or wasting scarce resources on offensive weapons while starving civilians at home.
■ The mirror to our natural heartwarming response to the vast amounts of good in the world needs to be an unapologetic and righteous condemnation of those who seek to abuse that natural good for their own power and bloodlust.
■ It may be expensive sometimes to stare down that evil, and free people of goodwill ought to be reluctant to put resources to use investing in swords when we know there are peaceful plowshares yet to be built. But it's ultimately costly to do nothing when rogues still walk the Earth, as they regrettably always will. We need to take heart from the near-universality of human good and believe in the self-evidence of the rights to life, liberty, and happiness.