Darkness on Success and Failure, and the Responsibilities of a Society

These are a few subjects that I’d been thinking about conceptually for a few months now, and the current environment leads me to believe that now’s a good time to finally put them into words.

First I want to address the question “Is is possible to do everything completely right and still fail?” I would say “yes.” Some people might present the opposing idea, that if one failed, then they obviously did not make the right choices.

Say you appear in a situation that’s removed from all variables other than the ones described. The situation is that you are in a long line of people, in a sort of game. The game is that the person in the very front of the line chooses between two boxes, box 1 and box 2. There is a prize in one of the boxes. If they choose the box with the prize in it, then they win and get the prize. Then the game is re-set up for the next person in line to play.

Each person can see the choice and result of the people in front of them. Let’s say that there were a near infinite number of people in front of you, and you could remember the choice and result of each of them. About half of the people chose box 1 and half chose box 2.

You saw that of all the people who chose box 1, 99% of them won. Of the people who chose box 2, 99% of them lost. There was no repeating pattern about when the prize would be in one box or the other.

So based on this knowledge, you chose box 1, and it so happens that the prize was in box 2. Did you make the right choice or the wrong choice? Based on all the knowledge, experience, and ability of yourself, you chose the path with the greatest likelihood of success, but another path was actually the successful one. I believe that in this case right and wrong can exist simultaneously. Box 1 was the wrong choice, but it was the right choice to make.

So as the next step of this thought process: must it be possible for one to still fail in life when making all the right decisions to make? Is it situation or personal responsibility that leads people to where they are? To even begin, one first has to know what success and failure even mean in terms of life. From a biological standpoint, success means a life is able to replicate and pass on its genes. To the religious, a successful life may be one that was lived worthily enough for salvation; to the dutiful, it may mean a life that was lived fulfilling one’s duty to family or country; to the peaceful, it may mean a life that was lived happily; to the altruistic, it may mean a life that made life better for others; to the materialistic, it would mean a live of high wealth and standard of living.

The easiest definition, in my opinion, to examine is the materialistic view. So next one must think, “can a person, making all the right choices, still in any possible way end up impoverished or homeless?” To add to this, what obligations does society have to that individual, and what are their obligations to society in return?

In the ideal form of society, the one that we’re striving towards, the one that people imagine when they think of a just and fair society, is one in which a person, equipped with nothing other than hard work and honest attempts, will be successful no matter what. That is to say, if a person tries their best to achieve success, then there should be no way for that person to end up in poverty.

Here’s where a concept I’ve termed “person X” comes in. When designing the functionality and laws of a society, one should design that society with a hypothetical “person X” in the forefront of their mind.

Who is person X? Simple: person X is a person, such that for every privilege and opportunity that exists for at most 100%-1 members of the society, that privilege cannot exist for person X.

To put it in simpler terms, person X is a combination of every member of the society’s least favorable attributes combined. If Y% of a society starts their adult life with a hand-me-down car from their parents or better, if Y < 100 then you cannot assume that person X has the use of a car. Even if Y is 99.99999, person X must take the attribute of the worst-off member of the society.

When a random member A of a society compares itself with a random member B of that same society, there are usually a few overlaps and a few differences. Maybe A’s uncle owns a car dealership and gets A their first job. Perhaps B’s friend from church had a connection for an interview at some place of employment that they could provide. Maybe A was lucky enough to find a place to live with really cheap rent. Maybe B does not have that luxury. Maybe a different person C has parents that will pay their cell phone bill, something that neither A nor B has. Then perhaps there exists a person D with very high academic marks, lots of awards, and lots of extra-curricular activities to add to their resume, something that neither persons A, B, nor C can speak to. For every advantage that is not shared by 100% of the society, one must assume that X does not have it.

Even if it is near-impossible for person X to exist in reality, as long as it is physically possible for X to exist, we as the society have an obligation to assume that it does, and to strive to create and mold the society into one in which X, if they give their best effort, has a 100% guarantee of achieving a successful life.

Person X will look different in each society. In the US they wouldn’t have much. Is there any piece of property that can be said with absolute certainty that 100% of the people that exist within the US own? A toothbrush? Shoes? Food? I think there exists at least 1 person that is without each of these, so I have to assume that person X has none of them.

Neither can I assume person X has any connections, professional or personal, that can help them with money or finding employment. I can’t assume that person X can live with parents even one day after it is legally required.

Education level is slightly harder for me to figure. I must assume that person X did everything to try their very best to be successful, and public education is provided to every citizen, so in theory it may be permissible to assume person X has at least a high school diploma. On the other hand, I must also assume that person X has no extraordinary skills. It is also possible that a person who is born into the worst-case scenario will have a personal situation which, even despite the person’s best honest efforts, would not allow them to fully participate in the public school system or graduate.

As far as location, I must assume the crime rate is that of the US city with the highest crime. I must assume the cost of living is that of the US city with the highest cost of living.

So with all of these variables, a mental picture can start to be formed. Person X just turned 18, and has lost access to their parent’s resources. They have no possessions, no job, no car, no home, no connections, possibly a high school diploma, and no particularly extraordinary skills.

If we tell this person “your adult life starts now, go!” will they have, assuming they give their best effort, a 100% chance of living a decent life?

If my honest answer is “no,” then by default I must conclude that the society is imperfect, and as a member of that society it becomes my duty to attempt to improve it. The society, which person X did not get to choose to be born into, is not fulfilling its obligation toward its members relative to what it obligates them to it. The difference between 100% and the actual percent of the successful life chance that the society gives to person X is the amount of crime or abandoned people that the society willingly creates for itself.