Of Ethically Appraising Persons and People

Posted by Billy on Friday, March 12, 2010 in , ,
More often than not, persons are kind, well-intentioned, and loving - even if they express it poorly or are ill-informed.
More often than not, people are nasty, ill-meaning, and self-loving - even if they accidentally do positive things as a result.

Anyone who knows me can tell you I love almost everyone I know. This jives pretty well with the first of the two statements above. There are a few exceptionally mean people, but for the most part I posit that mean actions of persons typically correspond with imperfect information or ineptly expressed emotions. I'm sure we can all think of a few personal examples of both, and doing so helps to realize that it is likely often the same case in others. I believe most any individual can be said to "mean well" most of the time. One of the strong points of Kantian ethics is that good intentions are all that matters in ethical evaluation of an individual agent. It follows that most individuals are ethically good folks, even if they sometimes particiapte in ethically poor actions.

What anyone who knows me may not be able to tell you is that my optimism for the kindness of individuals does not extend to collective consciousness. Groups of people, acting together, tend to show characteristics like discompassion, nationalism/exceptionalism, greed, and destructiveness. This group could be a nation, a corporation, a political party, a club (a Klan, perhaps?), or even a social clique.

Taken together, I think these two statements constitute one of the most important "life lessons" I've come by since high school. That hateful people does not equal hateful persons is a vital realization if one wishes to go through life paying attention to the surroundings, but without becoming a bitter, solitary misanthrope. Conversely, it is also helpful to be aware that, despite perhaps knowing a multitude of beautiful persons, one oughtn't expect to see the same in the newspaper.

An important caveat is that this idea does not preclude culpability. If you (I use the general "you" here) participate in any sort of group hatred, you may be an otherwise kind individual, but you are still guilty of being hateful. That is to say, you are committing an ethically deplorable action, even if you are an ethically good agent. For whatever reason, you think your hatred is "for the best." Well, perhaps musing on the kindness of individuals and the contrasting nastiness of groups will help you realize that it is not, and be a little more accepting. And perhaps we can someday solve the mystery of how a collection of persons, who are each kind and loving individuals, can become a people that is selfish and hateful. The world may never know.



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