Crying Out To An Apathetic Nation

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

--Steven Weinberg




This kind of radical imagery is necessary if religious and secular people of good faith and intentions are ever going to shatter a cultural symbolic order that allows us to ignore the suffering of others. We ingest this symbolic order through daily conversations, it's disseminated through television and other forms of media. We are consciously and sometimes subconsciously conditioned to see classes of people as less than us. This dehumanizing is necessary for us to continue to ignore or (in some cases) justify the suffering endured by the individuals who comprise the groups we label as other. The most violent thing we can do to combat this kind of psychological warfare is make it impossible for those unaware of this conditioning to deny reality. It's not enough to tell people that children are being raped and killed; sometimes we have to show them their mangled bodies. We live in an era where information is easier to acquire than ever, yet objective truths are routinely trampled in favor of partisan political narratives.

The kid in this video made a poor decision: he chose to be born at the wrong time in Syrian history; had he used more foresight he would have chosen a more stable part of the world to be born into. America's response to the refugee crisis has been mostly indifferent, but after Paris and San Bernardino there's a very vocal call to cease all plans to bring Syrians to America. We claim to be a shining city on a hill, a Christian nation, and the best hope of the free world, yet too often we qualify these claims. Yes, we will help you, but first fill out this questionnaire. There's a moving target as to who we share our sympathies with. There's nothing like terrorism or the mass killing of people from the developing world to draw this distinction. It's an empirical fact that the American media focuses more on atrocities in Europe than similar attacks in other parts of the world, yet fear, death, and grief are universal. We have a continental and cultural hierarchy in place that controls who we feel sorry for and who we ignore. 

I haven't written anything that most of us don't know, yet we (as a nation) are stuck in the gap between America's stated ideology and the way fear causes us to ignore the principles that ground those beliefs. The true intractability of this situation doesn't exist between what we say and what we do, but in the ways we seek to justify our hypocrisy while maintaining the illusion of higher moral ground. I don't hold the view that America is the last best hope for the world. The philanthropic work done by Americans should be viewed separately from the actions of our government. I concede the fact that some citizens routinely go above and beyond what could be reasonably expected, but I don't confuse the generosity of our fellow citizens with policy decisions that adversely affect people who aren't in a position to help themselves. This is a negative cycle of fear. something happens, we get scared, we either give away more of our freedoms or close avenues to help for those deemed other, and then the pundit class seeks to legitimize the decision to compromise our principles.

I understand how fear and hatred function in the face of terror, but if we decide to let fear and uncertainty usurp our sense of duty we should agree to leave God and decency out of our rhetoric. Maybe we, progressives, are wrong for continually putting this system on blast. Maybe we should be trying to destroy the institutions we're trying to wake up. A media and government that can ignore or justify tragedies like the little boy in this video face needs to be deconstructed. We can debate ways to help kids like this, we can focus on the underlying cause(s) of their suffering as a way to shift any responsibility to some other nation, or we can affirm their humanity and conduct ourselves in a way that makes our actions align with our beliefs. I know this kid and his sisters won't be the last victims of the evil that's plaguing the world or the indifference that allows it to fester, but we can adjust our response to it. If this kid was from Paris we would work harder to insure his future, but he's not and we won't.

Steven Weinberg was a bit shortsighted in the quote I opened with. Fear and xenophobia can #Trump religion when it comes to making good people do evil things.