Reflections on the intentional morality of people.
I sometimes encounter individuals who believe that “people” are morally bankrupt, that you can’t trust people, that society is converging towards hell, not heaven. And they have scriptural backing; “For the natural man is an enemy to god” Benjamin tells us; Paul adds that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him”.
I really don’t buy it. Most people I meet wherever I meet them seem to me to be generally good, moral folk. I have met a few vile people, predators and abusers and despisers of that which is good; but they seem, to me, rather rare.
I was quite interested, then, in re-reading Zenos For those not familiar with Jacob’s account of Zenos’ writing, Zenos compares nations or peoples to trees and the righteousness of their people to the quality of the fruit the trees produce. to notice how he uses the word “natural.” There are, in his allegory, two kinds of fruit: one is called “good” or “natural” and the other “bad” or “bitter.” Likewise, there are two kinds of trees: those that produce good fruit are called “tame” or “natural” and those that produce bad fruit “wild.” But with these words, Zenos also suggests that it takes a great deal of work to have good trees and fruit; the default state appears to be wild and bitter, not natural.
I observe that people are naturally good despite being naturally evil. That is, it appears to be the natural state of humans to do good things despite having inbuilt desires to do evil things. This is at least true in a tame environment, where people are raised to be good and value goodness. Having not experiences a depraved society first-hand, I cannot speak to it.
The thought that people naturally rise above their nature makes me grin for its superficially paradoxical form. But it also makes me smile for what it suggests about people. Its not just that most people I know are nice, though they are; they are also trying to be nice. It is in their nature to want a better nature. And that, I think, may be the happiest thought I’ve had all year.