This is my contribution to the Panda-Graham debate about Social Justice, whatever that is. They are never going to be able to come to any agreement because they are beginning with two completely different assumptions about "human nature," a phrase I would argue means even less than "social justice."
Consider the following statement:
Deep down inside, we're really all the same.Sounds like an innocuous, self-evident statement with which everyone can agree. The problem is that it's wrong. Of course as humans, we all have the same "basic needs" for food, sex, approval and so forth, but the values, morals and experiences we bring to the task of meeting those needs are so different both from person to person as well as from culture to culture that in too many ways to count, we are NOT all fundamentally "the same."
Some people are fundamentally trusting (and therefore trustworthy) and believe, like Anne Frank, that people are really good at heart. Others, perhaps those who failed to master basic trust in infancy, do not think their needs will be met unless they take what they need. Others live in a culture where getting away with whatever you can is the accepted norm; one who works harder than he needs to is a naive patsy.
I think what that statement really means is that deep down inside, we believe everyone else is really like us. Not like we think we are, or what we'd like to be, or what we tell ourselves we are, but how we really really really are, deep in our hearts. (I came to ponder this phenomenon, by the way, when a patient with a drinking problem said to me, "Doesn't everyone like to have three or four beers after work to relax?" Er, no; but it showed me that's what HE wanted.)
Take the following example: walking down the street, you see a wallet fall out of the pocket of a man walking ahead of you. Do you pick it up, run after him and give it back, or do you pick it up and slip it into your own pocket? (Or do you leave it there and just walk by?) How much does the risk of getting caught play into your decision?
Now, instead of answering the question, "What would you do?" in this situation, answer this one: "What do you think most people would do?" I submit that your answer to that second question is what reveals your true character.
What this means is that when Panda says,
We are, most of us, potential freeloaders...he is really admitting that given the opportunity (and with no risk of being caught) he would take the money and run. Although granted, much of what Panda writes is so over the top it's hard to know how much of it he really means and how much is just the posturing of a blog persona. Still, as one of his commenters puts it:
...the view of life one gleans from the ER is truly confined to the ER....Generalizing to the world from one’s narrow workview in the ER is a dangerous and very strangely skewed view of humanity.Graham, on the other hand, is young and idealistic; here's his core statement (my term):
I believe that for the most part, [people] do the best they can based on their circumstances.What this says to me is that Graham does the best he can, based on circumstances of course. There are plenty of people Panda never sees who somehow manage to stay out of the ER; who have no insurance but manage to pay me out of pocket, even though they wait far longer than they should to come in. Panda is a victim of what I call the Denominator Effect (probably the subject of a future post): he doesn't realize how skewed his patient population is, and he doesn't believe that other kinds of patients exist. Oh, he'll acknowledge it intellectually, but deep down inside he doesn't really *believe* it.
Because Panda and Graham, who are so different from one another, each believe that everyone is just like him, they will never -- by definition -- be able to agree. Each is right, but only to his own way of thinking. Human nature, you know.