We had a chat last night about whether people are doing the best they can. One of the group said he wanted people not to say he had done the best he could, but that he was only half-assing it. He has said it before. I’ve objected sometimes, sometimes let it go. If I thought he really was half-assing it, I’d not have worked with him, but I’m actually sure that in every moment, he gave the best answer he had, not the second best, wrote the code as well as he could in the time available, and so on.

We are all embedded in a system that has the most bizarre characteristic of having created marvelous things, having provided much good for many people, having arguably improved the lives of almost everyone on the planet … and that yet does things we deplore, produces some results that we deplore, and unquestionably treats people massively unfairly, providing some with thousands, tens of thousands times more benefit than others. Inequitable in the extreme.

This is hell, nor are we out of it.

People find themselves, willy-nilly, somewhere in the maelstrom, and they do the best they can to keep themselves and their loved ones from drowning. They row their flimsy boat as best they can, or try to push their log in the best direction they can, or, unfortunately, direct the captain to sail their yacht over to Branson’s place for a few cocktails.

It is possible, mostly through luck, but also usually requiring hard work, to move to a place in the maelstrom that is better than the one one is in. The poor bastard on the log has very little chance of that, the fucker in the yacht can hardly go wrong in terms of finding more goodies. The rich do get richer and it’s because the system works that way.

I can imagine a better system than the one we have, at least at some levels. And, as God is my witness, I have sometimes made a little niche where a few people could live a little better. We here have all done that. I think we have mostly done it because we care, because we have something like empathy, or at least the logic that says “If I’m doing well, the people around me should be doing well also”, for various values of “around me”. For some of us “around me” means everyone in the world. For others, their vision is not that broad, but we’ve all made spaces where some people lived lives more like the lives they wanted, for a time.

I think we are doing a better job than feudalism of sharing the wealth. We’re not doing as well as we can imagine.

But a key thing is, by my lights, Norm Kerth was right. “Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

The system sucks. We can influence the system, mostly only locally. Over long long time, the system has been providing more benefit for more people, though nothing like enough benefit for enough people. But the people in it? They’re not good or evil. They’re just doing the best they can. We can maybe help some of them. We can maybe get some of them out of power. We can even, maybe someday, have a system better than the one we have today. Or we can burn it all down and let almost all of 8 billion people suffer more, in the hope that something better will arise from the ashes.

I’m doing my best; you’re doing your best; they’re doing their best. We’re perfect as we are, and we could all use a little improvement. (h/t Suzuki)