Monthly Archives: October 2015

Good and evil

The unresolved debate over the nature of human beings dates back to more than two thousand years ago in Asia. In around 300 B.C., Mencius developed a theory which brings to a conclusion that human nature is fundamentally good. Xun Zi opposed it with a theory which concludes that human nature is fundamentally bad. A stream of other schools of thought followed either of the two theories. In the warring states period, states had an incentive to develop more competitive ruling systems than those of others and, to do so, needed to appreciate whether people are born to be good or bad. It was because a good understanding of human nature would facilitate determining, for example, the size of costly judicial and security systems, which is a function of the amount of good and evil realized in the society. Philosophers (ruling system designers) viewed human nature as a proxy of the amount of good and evil observed in the society.

Their views, however I believe, were incomplete at best. The amount of realized good and evil is rather a function of how national systems (ruling systems then under the monarchy) are established and operated, not a function of how people are born to be. It has been well documented by several research that crime rates and suicide rates historically rose in years of a Republican in the White House and dropped in years of a Democrat. The former’s policies which involved corporate tax cuts and easier layoffs raised unemployment rate, and nation-wide depression caused by high unemployment resulted in a hike in crime rates and suicide rates. This is an example of how poorly-managed national systems increase the amount of good and evils observed in the society, among others. Nevertheless, we often see some politicians attribute realized bad social outcomes to national character or traits – which belong to a battery of human nature – while they are outcomes of the national systems the politicians design and run.

Arguably putting an end to the long-lived debate, democracy forms a surprising innovation. It enables people to determine and control the relative proportions of observed good and evil in the society. Precisely, in modern societies where democratic systems are installed (which are assumed to function as designed in this writing), the wedge between good and evil converts from the matter of human nature to the matter of choice. That is, the choice between a pair of certain short-term benefits and uncertain long-term losses expected from the practice of evil and a pair of uncertain long-term benefits and certain short-term losses expected from the practice of good. Or, in even simpler words, the problem of incentives.

Given the representative political system, it is now possible to pull up the proportion of observed good by delegating the right to operate and amend democratic – administration, legislation, and judicature – systems to those who are willing and able to do so in the following directions. The ways that reduce costs (and uncertainty) as to implementation of good and merits (and certainty) as to implementation of evil and that raise merits (and certainty) as to implementation of good and cost (and uncertainty) as to implementation of evil. That is, the extent to which democratic systems incentivize, as described above, each member of the society drives the relative proportions of observed good and evil.