One of the increasingly dismaying things I see in the world today is an increase in political cynicism. A sense that not only are the rich/powerful/republicans/liberals out to get you, that their entire purpose in life is to out to get you. I have a hard time taking on this world view because, inevitably, at every level of society I meet, most people genuinely believe that they are doing good. They’re aware that other people might hold different views of them but they believe that they’ve been misunderstood and they’re doing the best job they can.
I believe the fundamental difference is one of access. There’s a feeling of powerlessness and alienation when you view a group that you oppose as “the other”, a society in which you will never gain access. To many people, it’s simply become inconcievable that they could have anything to do with a investment banker or a neo-conservative power broker. These levels of society are locked out to them. On the other hand, the belief that you could gain access to any level of society radically changes how you view the forces of power. This is not to say that I could pick up the phone and call the sultan of brunei or anything but that I’ve met the people who have met the people who are reputed to hold the reins of power in many fields and the consistent message is that there is no conspiracy. It’s simply a tragedy of good men trying to do the best to uphold what they believe.
It’s so easy to blame societies problems on evil forces lurking in the hearts of powerful men. The solution then becomes simple, remove the powerful men, destroy the evil and the world will be a better place. It’s much harder to understand how people who think of themselves as good could end up doing what you think of as evil.