I don't go to a lot of movies in theaters. The huge visuals and way too loud soundtracks are too much for me, so when I do go, the experience is always memorable, no matter what the movie is like. One I especially remember is Titanic; the sequence where the ship is going down has been stuck like a sliver in my brain ever since. That's the part where the people in the few lifeboats feverishly paddle away from those dying in the freezing water. Watching that scene was, for me, like someone hitting me in the gut. The visual image confirmed all too graphically that humans would turn away from their fellow men and women just that callously, and later they would say they couldn't have done anything because they might also have died if they helped.
Of course, that had already been proven again and again. There was WWII, when soldiers killed millions of innocent people because they were told to, and lots and lots of regular people stood by as a dictatorship took hold. Then they watched their neighbors get herded into ghettos and concentration camps and many just went on with their lives, presumably making up some reason in their mind why they didn't need to do something. Later they would say there was nothing they could have done because they might also have died if they tried to help. Of course, there was similar silence when Japanese Americans were herded into internment camps, only the silence wasn't blamed on death, but "safety."
There was Vietnam, where officers gave, and soldiers followed, illegal orders to massacre civilians. Some lost their minds later after it caught up with them what they did, but others probably told themselves that it was ok because they were just trying to stop Communism, or they were just following orders, and they might have died or gone to prison if they tried to oppose those orders.
And there's every day for the last 20 or so years, where we see reports of genocide, war, displacement, disease, abject poverty, and famine. Bosnia. Sudan. Somalia. Haiti. And most of us--me included-have stood by and watched. Were we on the phone every day to our representatives in Congress? Not me. Were we foregoing luxuries like cable or video games and sending every available dollar to help feed the people? I didn't. Were we protesting to demand changes in foreign policy or the end to the wars? I haven't. Joining the Peace Corp? Not I.
And now, there's our government, which is gradually taking more and more liberties with human rights--ours and others'. They've bombed villages full of civilians, and we allowed it, saying they 'must have been terrorists." When images appear that show small children dead or with their limbs blown off, do we insist that it stop, loudly and persistently, because clearly these babies cannot be terrorists, or do we look away, and call them 'collateral damage?'
When grave questions have arisen about the official story of the Oklahoma City bombing, or 9/11--questions that make clear the official story cannot possibly be true--do we demand action? Or do we look away, afraid that if we learn the truth, it might force us to do something we don't want to do--like re-examine everything we've believed to be true?
When civil liberties like privacy of email or phone conversations, or freedom of speech is abridged in the name of 'security,' have we screamed bloody murder and demanded it to end? Or have we said, "well, that's not so bad if it keeps us safe, and anyway, it will only hurt people who are up to no good?"
As it has become clear that millions of Americans, who have lost their jobs in the last years due to globalization, the banking crisis, and so on, have we acted? Have we compassionately sought to help by donating to food banks, or advocating for relief efforts, or helping people we might know personally? Or, have we sought to blame them, or said, 'Phew! Glad it's them and not me" and gone back to our Facebook?
I know what I have done--not much, compared to what I could have done. And, I'll bet there are people reading this right now who, if honest, would have to give the same answer. And there are a couple of things I'm absolutely certain of, after living the life I've lived:
1) The world is getting more and more harsh and wicked and out of control, not because of governments or shortages or global warming, or some other conveniently-out-of-our-control-excuses, but because people are showing less and less human decency and caring. We are all too willing to close our eyes to injustice and hardship and suffering that's affecting someone else, but not us--yet;
2) The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.
The examples I've given show me that we have the world we deserve. We live in exactly, precisely the reality we've created with our own actions and inactions. We tolerate horror, so we live in it. We engage in division and hatred, and so we experience it in return. We've made a world where things are a lot "fairer" if you're one kind of person or living in one kind of place, and much less fair if you're not. The big problem for most average Americans right now is that we are, for the first time, becoming the latter. Not surprisingly, we're not liking it much. Averting your eyes and paddling past the people in the water is a much better plan from the perspective of the lifeboat.
The problem is, the only way this cycle stops is if it stops for everyone. If it's ok to paddle past anyone, eventually that anyone is going to be us. If we close our eyes to injustice or unfairness against someone we don't like or don't know, the standard is set. And eventually, it will be us who are not liked or known. If bombing babies is just 'collateral damage,' eventually it will be our babies. The universe is cyclical. What goes up comes down. Tides that go out always come in. And what we sow, eventually, we will reap.
This was the long way of saying something that has been said for a long time--Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That said, here's the hard truth: If we expect anything to change, the first thing we have to change is us.