An ode to optimism.
Written by Steve QJ and published in Medium.com 11/15/2021
I’ve noticed a trend lately. In every conversation about discrimination or politics or social justice, every time it’s suggested that society is getting better, or that attitudes are improving or that humanity isn’t irredeemably evil, somebody will start talking about “some people”.
Oh, you think the world is less racist than it was 60 years ago? Well, some people are still burning crosses on black people’s lawns. You think it’s possible to overcome hatred with compassion and reason? Well, some people are incapable of either. You think society is steadily becoming more tolerant? Well, some people (some women) still think women shouldn’t be allowed to vote.
Sadly, it’s all true.
Some people are racist and sexist and all the other flavours of bigoted. Some people will lie and cheat and kill each other over pocket change. By every measure, in every demographic, with no rhyme or reason, “some people” are the worst.
But it’s also true that most people aren’t.
Most people care about equality. Most people support universal healthcare and increasing the minimum wage and taking more decisive action on climate change. Most people are too busy trying to live their lives to have the time or inclination to make anybody else’s harder.
Most people take racism seriously (even if they disagree on how to fix it). Most people think gender equality is important (even those who wouldn’t describe themselves as feminists). Most people understand that the colour of a person’s skin or who they love or the configuration of their genitalia doesn’t matter.
Most people aren’t so bad.
But it doesn’t always feel that way. Mainly because the information we consume is perfectly optimised to convince us that “some people” (or more precisely a few people) are most people.
“Some people” make us feel angry and scared and, let’s be honest, superior. “Some people” drive clicks and comments and advertising dollars to websites. “Some people” inspire that most profitable of all emotions on social media; outrage.
That’s why you’re more likely to hear that some police officers kill civilians with impunity, than that most of them have never even fired their weapon. You’re more likely to see videos of some protestors looting and rioting and burning buildings to the ground, than hear that most (by which I mean nearly all) protests are orderly and peaceful.
And over a year after he left office, you’re still more likely to see clickbait about “some people” thinking Donald Trump is going to be magically reinstated as president, than be reminded that, in both elections, most people didn’t even vote for him.
Keeping the difference between “some people” and most people clear in our minds isn’t about blind optimism. It’s not about pretending there isn’t real injustice and suffering and evil in the world. History has shown us time and time again that there’s no limit to how low “some people” are willing to sink or how deluded they’re capable of being.
It’s about being deliberate about where we direct our focus. It’s about understanding the size and the nature of the problems we face so we aren’t swallowed by despair. It’s about recognising that no society ever healed itself with cynicism and apathy and outrage.
It may not always feel like it, but those of us who care about decency and fairness and building a better world? We are most people. We just need to act on it. We need to stop being afraid to stand up to the bullies and puritans on Twitter. We need to be willing to talk to each other. Even, no, especially when it’s difficult.
Some people don’t think it’s worth the effort. But most people? Well, that’s up to us.