Man is innately good/evil: a statistics update…

I have discussed the premise that “man is innately good” or “man is innately evil” many times before, giving it a place of honor in the fundamentals of politics. So does the State, which does its very best to indoctrinate people in the belief that man is innately evil and can’t be trusted.

I’ve recently discovered something called the World Values Survey, an international survey that covers all sorts of economic issues, moral issues, ethical issues, and political issues. The question which I think is especially interesting is this one:

V23.- Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?

I hope the relation is obvious. The position of man being innately good should lead people to answer that people can be trusted, and vice-versa. There would be very little reason for someone who believes that man is innately evil, is corrupt, and always seeks to commit crimes and cheat, to answer that people can be trusted.

I selected all the Western countries on their list, and got an average of 38.0% in favour of “most people can be trusted.” This is somewhat higher than I expected, although still pretty low. The percentage is highly variable depending on the country. Here are some examples:

France 18.8%
Ukraine 27.5%
Japan 39.1%
US 39.9%
Australia 46.1%
Norway 74.2%

It seems pretty straightforward: countries with high levels of intolerance and neuroticism have a lower level of trust. Playing with the various factors reveals something even more interesting. When we average all the Western countries, but differentiate by subjectively-established economic class, we get:

Upper class- 53.9%
Upper middle class- 50.9%
Lower middle class- 40.0%
Working class- 31.4%
Lower class- 24.4%

This is very, very interesting. People’s self-reported economic class is strongly correlated with trust. The same is true of schooling also, with almost exactly the same percentages (23.1% for people with absolutely no schooling, to 54.4% for people with a degree).

How can this be explained? I think the answer is pretty simple. People who are upper class and highly educated tend to be the exploiters, and usually had an easier time of growing up and so on. They haven’t, in general, experienced a great deal of hardship. Therefore it may be easier for them to trust others, and their beliefs about the current society will tend to be positive. People who are lower class or working class had a harder time growing up and tend to be the exploited (they are also vastly overrepresented in prison). Therefore it would be more difficult for them to trust others, and their beliefs about the current society will tend to be negative.

The power elite also contains a certain percentage of sociopaths. No one actually has any idea what that percentage is, but it must be higher than the average (2-3%), since the allure of power and having control over others attracts sociopaths. And sociopaths believe that other people (i.e. people who are not sociopaths) are all saps who deserve to be trampled underfoot. Therefore a sociopath would be very likely to answer yes to the question. Of course he trusts most people, since he knows most people actually have empathy, unlike himself. And even the non-sociopaths, being immersed in a culture of sociopathy, cannot do otherwise but adopt the attitudes of sociopaths.

If my interpretation is correct, it seems to me that what we have here is mainly a case of self-fulfilling prophecy. Living in a society which is structured around the premise that man is innately evil will push people to believe that man is innately evil. Living in a society where people are controlled puts evil people in control (politicians, businessmen, soldiers, professionals) and perpetuates social warfare and war itself.

The Equality Trust theorizes that differences in trust are due to inequality (although, to be fair, they say that about everything). Once again, if my interpretation is correct, this makes a great deal of sense. The less power available to people at the top, the less they can exploit others, and sociopaths will tend to be less attracted to these positions since there’s not as much benefit to them. Also, in a more egalitarian society, there should be less people in jail, and the makeup of the prison population should be less skewed.

This would seem to imply that more egalitarian societies are more conducive to egalitarian beliefs, and less egalitarian societies are more conducive to non-egalitarian beliefs. On the other hand, one must also remember that the more oppressed a group is, the more it will be active. So we should expect Anarchist movements in less egalitarian societies to be more active than they are in more egalitarian societies. What that actually means in terms of Anarchist success or failure, I could not say. But it certainly is an interesting theory to ponder.

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9 thoughts on “Man is innately good/evil: a statistics update…

  1. Lori July 16 2010 at 13:18

    These data also beg the question of whether inegalitarian society is a natural consequence of the Hobbesian aspect of humyn nature, or whether it’s the other way around.

  2. Francois Tremblay July 16 2010 at 13:18

    There is no “Hobbesian aspect of human nature.”

  3. David Gendron July 20 2010 at 14:41

    Interesting post. I am a lower middle class highly educated man, and my response is NO to this question.

  4. David Gendron July 20 2010 at 14:42

    No, in the sense that most people can’t be trusted.

  5. Lori July 20 2010 at 14:52

    I agree that there’s no Hobbesian aspect of human nature. Perhaps I should have said ‘symptoms of social dysfunction that get interpreted as symptoms of human nature.’ I’m an anti-essentialist as I regard human nature as the prerogative of individual humans. I don’t buy ‘man [sic] is innately selfish’ any more than ‘man is innately evil.’ As for trust, my praxis is to trust individuals and distrust institutions.

  6. Francois Tremblay July 20 2010 at 15:46

    David, why do you answer no??

  7. David Gendron July 21 2010 at 16:13

    Because I consider that most people can’t be trusted.

  8. Francois Tremblay July 21 2010 at 16:14

    Uh, okay.

  9. ADam October 20 2011 at 15:22

    hahahahaha “uh, okay.”

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