Every time an event like the Paris attacks rocks the world, we’re left struggling to answer many difficult questions about humankind. How are there so many people in the world willing and able to carry out such deadly assaults? What are their motivations and justifications for killing scores of innocent people? Innocent people who are just trying to get an education or enjoy a night out with friends.
There are obviously no simple answers to these questions and we’ll come back to these quandaries time and time again. But a passage I recently read in Andy Weir’s novel, “The Martian,” is a great reminder that humankind isn’t as evil as it sometimes seems. In general, people are good. And their instincts are to help others.
Here’s the passage, which could spoil the novel for those who haven’t read it yet. It’s from the point of view of astronaut Mark Watney, who was accidentally stranded on Mars.
The cost for my survival must have been hundreds of of millions of dollars. All to save one dorky botanist. Why bother?
Well, ok. I know the answer to that. Part of it might be what I represent: progress, science, and the interplanetary future we’ve dreamed of for centuries. But really, they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It may not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true.
If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are arseholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side.
Pretty cool, eh?
For the most part, people across all cultures are striving for the same basic things: food, shelter, love, happiness, and prosperity, to name a few. Humankind isn’t inherently evil, though it may sometimes feel that way. Weir’s passage is a great reminder of that.