We kill when we close our eyes to poverty, affliction, or infamy. We kill when, because it is easier, we countenance, or pretend to approve of atrophied social, political, educational, and religious institutions, instead of resolutely combatting them.This is true, and obviously so. But having our eyes open to the horrors of our time, or theoretically disapproving of the institutions which propogate these horrors, is not the same as acting on what we see or what we know.
Opportunities for acting conscientiously abound, and begin the moment a sensitive individual wakes up in the morning. They present themselves as exchanges with others, as chances to be decent, to be what Vonnegut calls courteous and Martin Luther King called a "creative extremist". Failure to see, failure to disapprove, failure to act, are as easy. So easy they're commonplace. They're what almost everyone seems to do. All the time.
Someone asked me this week "what can I do?" Again. We were talking about local versus global action, and human beings as inherently compassionate and striving toward peace versus human beings as inherently thugish and striving toward violence. I didn't really know, specifically, what he ought to do. I still don't. But I know he can do something, which is the imperative. He doesn't need me to imagine his path to action.
(An aside: of course we could talk about strategies and tactics, and about positive vision, but only if he had one. Discussions of positive vision only go so far with those who have yet to get beyond opening their eyes, or yet to recognize that, beyond the horrors, there are alternatives. Or yet to allow for the possibility that rape, murder and torture are not necessarily hallmarks of the human condition.)
And yet I see in myself something akin to the "what can I do" line of questioning: a kind of waiting for the "go ahead" to do some truly meaningful work--not that it would be very meaningful if it were officially sanctioned. I see in others, as in myself, a tendency to wait for the best moment to "resolutely combat" atrophied social, political, educational, and religious institutions. I realized this only recently. I don't know what I'm waiting for. I don't know what we're waiting for. Waiting is getting us nowhere.
I'm reminded of a question posed by Israeli commentator Tanya Reinhart: "Is it more ethical to refrain from trying to save anyone until it is possible to save everyone?"
Answer: it is not.
Waiting--for a movement, for a bright idea to come along, for a leader--implies hope, and hope can be a bad thing. Whatever it will be, it will not be hope that will get us beyond the horrors. On this subject there is an important little essay, Beyond Hope, by Derrick Jensen. I recommend it without reservation (and thank Mickey Z. for bringing it to my attention). I recommend not waiting. I recommend not hoping. I recommend being a movement of your own.
PS: for an apparent work of art relating to the Reinhart quote above, click here.