# Most of us are basically good: a thought experiment

#### rousseau

##### Contributor
I have a theory that most of us, certainly not all, are basically good people who want to help others and reduce suffering in the world. To illustrate this, here's the thought experiment:

You place any given person in a room with two buttons:

- one is a 'permanently solve every problem' button for themselves
- the other is a 'permanently solve every problem' button for everyone in the world, including themselves

No strings attached, no catch, all they have to do is walk across the room, and press one of the buttons. Which of the buttons do they press?

The argument is that most people would press the button to help everyone, given the opportunity, but given the reality of competing resources we're forced to fight with each other - what some would consider immorality.

#### rousseau

##### Contributor
Most of us are basically fearful: a thought experiment

We are tribalists by nature.

Agreed, think that comes from this part:

but given the reality of competing resources we're forced to fight with each other - what some would consider immorality.

Helping others is mutually beneficial, and ideal, but not possible given constraints.

#### Loren Pechtel

##### Super Moderator
Staff member
The cost of pushing the everyone button is zero, somebody would have to be pretty negative on society not to push it.

#### fromderinside

##### Mazzie Daius
Amazingly we have republicans ........ freedom is greater than community ..... go figure

#### southernhybrid

##### Contributor
Most people seem to respond very generously when a tragedy occurs. People will donate money to help victims of storms and fires. People will rush out and try to rescue strangers during a disaster. Most of the time, we might not think of how we can help others, but it does seem as if when disasters happen, we suddenly become caring. Humans are pretty complicated and I don't think all of us are tribal. I think almost everyone would push the right button, with the possible exception of hateful narcissists. But, helping the entire world is in one's own best interests too, so who knows? I assume that means no more wars or poverty etc. What's not to like?

#### fromderinside

##### Mazzie Daius
I'm surprised that as many give as are claimed by this report.

Charitable Giving Statistics
Americans gave $410 billion to charities in 2017, up 5%. https://nonprofitssource.com/online-giving-statistics/ Seems to me these numbers come from tax returns rather than actual surveys of donations received by charities. Still, I'm impressed and confused since the numbers don't match up with the levels of self-interest displayed in political arena. I think the rates shown by Red Cross for blood donations, 3%, were nearer the actual levels of participation. #### southernhybrid ##### Contributor I'm surprised that as many give as are claimed by this report. Charitable Giving Statistics Americans gave$410 billion to charities in 2017, up 5%. https://nonprofitssource.com/online-giving-statistics/

Seems to me these numbers come from tax returns rather than actual surveys of donations received by charities. Still, I'm impressed and confused since the numbers don't match up with the levels of self-interest displayed in political arena.

I think the rates shown by Red Cross for blood donations, 3%, were nearer the actual levels of participation.

When people give to charity, they aren't usually thinking about politics. Americans in general, are known to be quite generous when it comes to charitable giving.

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
Everyone is basically good. The only disagreement is on what goals qualify as "good", and what means are tolerable in order to achieve those goals.

Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Mother Theresa, all of the popes, every king, emperor, tyrant and despot in history were good people whose failings were due only to their having a different view on who was deserving of their good graces, who needed to be punished or eliminated to serve the greater good, and how far they should go in pursuit of their ideals.

Even Donald Trump is a good man - he just believes that he is the only person worthy of his care, and that pursuit of his personal benefit is a goal so worthwhile that it's unimportant if the little people (anyone who isn't Donald Trump, and therefore doesn't really qualify as 'people') get hurt in pursuit of that personal benefit.

He's not a bad person. He doesn't seek to harm others for no reason. It's just that his reasons don't match yours or mine - what is important to him isn't the same as what is important to us.

The real problem of evil is that there are no evil people - just good people who restrict their attempts to be good to smaller tribes than 'all of humanity', or 'all animals', or 'all living things'.

Everyone draws the line somewhere. 'Good' just means 'draws the line in a similar place to me'.

Put Adolf Hitler into your thought experiment, and he would unhesitatingly press the 'fix all the problems for everyone' button, secure in the belief that doing so would cause all the Jews, vagrants, homosexuals, and communists to vanish, and would provide a utopian world in which Germans governed as benign dictators to protect the lesser races from their own inadequacy. Does that make him 'good'? If so, does that render the OP thought experiment valueless? I suspect the answer to both is 'yes'.

#### fromderinside

##### Mazzie Daius
I'm thinking if good is true then bad is true. If good and bad are only applicable to unique subpopulations by individuals then the terms are meaningless. However if everybody identifies by his neighborhood, district, town, county, state, region, skin color, language, sex, relationship, and says they are good and different from that is not good or evil or bad then good and bad have tribal value.

And since we can define ourselves by identity with specific relationships and values and we are a family/tribal species those terms can be applied if specifically defined by relationship. So there's that.

Then the thought experiment takes on value to the extent relationships are specified vis a vis value making bilby's analysis somewhat less useful leading to conclude that some or even many would answer him with not so.

I'll correct my evaluations by specifying family and some level of group can be specified, that fear demarks those boundaries leading to yes but at a much lower extent than that claimed for nation, party, faith, etc. categorization.

Its called eating one's cake and having it too.

#### SLD

##### Veteran Member
People are 85% good. Honest Tea did an experiment. They put a bunch of their teas out on the street in a cooler with a sign that said \$1 per bottle, and then stepped back and let people make up their own minds. I happened to run into the guy running the experiment and asked him how much they got. They received 85 cents per bottle on average.

SLD

FDI

#### ronburgundy

##### Contributor
Given that there is no cost at all to the button pusher, they'd have to be downright evil prefer others to suffer for no reason to choose the "only me" button. So, this thought experiment would only show that most people are not serial killer level evil, not that they are good.

To show "good", then pressing the everyone button would need to come at a cost or at least a reduced gain, such a "all my problems solved" "most of everyone's problems solved".

Or what about "I get 10 times more than I need" vs. "Everyone, including me, gets what they need but no more." There the person is not sacrificing anything vital or needed, but merely forgoing excess so everyone has what they need. Plenty of people would choose the "me" button in that case. In fact, we see it in real life with those who have not only all the wealth they need but all the wealth to get what they want, and yet still act to increase their wealth even more at others' expense.

#### rousseau

##### Contributor
Given that there is no cost at all to the button pusher, they'd have to be downright evil prefer others to suffer for no reason to choose the "only me" button. So, this thought experiment would only show that most people are not serial killer level evil, not that they are good.

To show "good", then pressing the everyone button would need to come at a cost or at least a reduced gain, such a "all my problems solved" "most of everyone's problems solved".

Or what about "I get 10 times more than I need" vs. "Everyone, including me, gets what they need but no more." There the person is not sacrificing anything vital or needed, but merely forgoing excess so everyone has what they need. Plenty of people would choose the "me" button in that case. In fact, we see it in real life with those who have not only all the wealth they need but all the wealth to get what they want, and yet still act to increase their wealth even more at others' expense.
To me what it demonstrates is that acting against one's own interests, or against a cost, isn't the best measure of our desire to ease the suffering of others.

Maybe the extent of our benevolence can be measured by cost, but when there isn't one at all the most human decision is nearly universally to help.

The catch being that this is human nature under ideal conditions - conditions that don't and can't exist the brunt of the time.

IOW, in a world of competing resources, competition and hoarding is the default. But if you take away those conditions it isn't.

So if our metric for goodness is the extent that people act outside their own interests, you actually come to the conclusion that we're mostly bad. I'd rather call that our response to reality.

#### fromderinside

##### Mazzie Daius
Watched a 'maybe this happened during man's evolution' video that hypothesized modern humans confronted homo erectus in India after Toba eruption about 74 thousand years ago.It seems there were both human and homo erectus tools before the eruption there but only human tools after the event. It also takes place at about the time of the human bottleneck or near extinction. Some speculate that during these tough times humans and homo erectus confronted each other in this area.

resumptins were both used fire but man completely controlled it while erectus did not. Also it was assumed that humans were better planners than were the erectus while erectus were probably faster because of evidence from their leg bones.

Bottom line one group probably based their values on a different set of presumptions than did the other. Erectus were not planners but they were excellent trackers and hunters and they knew how to find water. Humans may not have been quite as fast or as long haul travelers but it was clear they planned and communicated by mouth, hand face, and token and they had means to carry water.

So one group the erectus may have cooperated most of the time but when stressed they probably resorted to everyone for oneself including going to cannibalism as evidenced by scratches on erectus bones at erectus sites.

Humans though since they had tokens and language probably aggregated better than did erectus.

Allfo this leads one to conclude there were very different concepts of good and criteria by which one adjudged good in the two species leading to certain victory by humans who had a much more sophisticated and adaptive culture, not to mention much better weapons.

Just thought i'd throw these two into the discussion about good for a more complete experiment.