One common failing of good-hearted people is to imagine that everyone else is good-hearted and well-intentioned, if not at least justified in their emotions. We're all entitled to our beloved emotions, right? Since Rousseau changed the rules?
Similarly, cold, suspicious and malevolent people tend to imagine that all people are malevolent or purely self-interested.
Both are fatally foolish.
Everyone who knows anything about themselves knows that we all contain both loving and destructive aspects. Civilized humans in Western civilization try to put a leash on their destructiveness and selfishness, so as to join a civil and humane society based on our remarkable, unique, and precious Judeo-Christian religious ideas about the God-endowed value of individual human existence. We may sometimes fail in this ideal due to emotional weakness, character flaws, or immaturity, but civilized people in the Western world aspire to this sense of community, respect, mutual concern, trust, and sympathy. It's an implicit religious-cultural-social contract, and many if not most of us try our best to live up to that contract, both for respect from others and for self-respect. It means a lot to most of us, and we do, and should, feel rotten and self-contemptuous - guilty - when we break this contract of "conscience and good cheer".
Is this approach to the world and to reality worthy of protection with arms? I say "Yes". I say that it is precious, far beyond anything material or comfortable. Our material blessings are just a lucky side-effect of our view of reality, but they can be seductively tranquillizing and sedating.
But such an attitude towards life is not universal - it is cultural and even personal. Such attitudes towards life make us suckers and easy prey for the malevolent, the schemers, the predators, the anti-social, the power-seekers and the con artists - The Lords of the Flies who dominate so much of the planet from Sicily to Africa to Venzuela to Gaza to North Korea to our neighborhood insurance scammers and grifters and politicians. I have already written a little on the blog about evil here, and about related subjects here.
Humans tend to want to live in fairy tales of their own creation, to inhabit worlds that they spin out of their own hopes and dreams and fears and imaginations - their own fictions - until a harsh reality comes to call. At that moment, we humans can either rise and grow, or succumb and regress deeper into fantasy, and to raise the walls of defense of our fantasy world. Commonly, it is external misfortune or aggression which trigger these challenges to our psychological comfort and waken us from our personal dreams. It is truly painful for everyone to be forced to adjust to disturbing realities. It is the burden of being human.
Why do some people seem to want to deny the existence of evil in the world? Because they will have to deal with it, and it's a hassle, or worse. It disrupts a comfortable illusion. And it requires that we confront whatever malevolence we may have in ourselves, too, which is not fun to do. Nevertheless, confronting true external evil is daunting, scary, and complicated, and forces us to locate the required courage and aggression within ourselves - to the point of being willing to die for home and family and country - when we would prefer to be comfortable.
In psychiatry, among other things, we deal with fear, both realistic and imaginary (aka "neurotic") fear. To reduce all external danger to the realm of the neurotic is the height of decadance and naivete, as it the opposite. The world contains both lions and imaginary lions. Humans have to be wise enough to discern the difference.
The world is full of plenty of people seeking power and domination. That's the way the world is. Maybe they are crazy, or maybe not, but they still exist. Pretending that they do not is to be a modern-day Candide. And to casually dismiss evil or aggressive intentions of others, trusting in their basic humanity, can be suicidal. The Jews who remained in Germany found that out recently, as did people in Stalin's Russia, Serbia, Rwanda, the World Trade Center, the Sudan, and now in the Congo. Humans, especially in groups, can be a highly dangerous, ruthless, murderous species - especially to their fellow man. Is this news?
It runs deep in American culture to stand up to evil, and to point it out, and to actively resist it, whether in our own society or in others. That is a fine, strong, and noble societal trait, and I hope we will always remain true to that tradition.