Hola mi Gente,
Yesterday was a bad day for the Bernie Sanders campaign. That’s fine; I don’t believe that a movement can be led by one person. My concern is more about what will happen to the many people who have awakened to the reality that here in the United States, we live in an oligarchy.
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Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?
— Joseph Welch to Sen. Joe McCarthy
One of the great moments in TV history, for my money, was when Joseph Welch challenged witch hunter, Sen. Joe McCarthy, with his appeal to moral decency. Have you no sense of decency, he asked. Here’s a clip:
I have the same question except that my question is directed to the US public. My question is, Where is your outage? It seems to me that we have reached a point that we have become so anesthetized that we longer have any sense of outrage. We have lost our moral compass. And we watch either ignorant or lulled into inaction to the fact that ours has become a runaway society.
In social psychology this tendency toward inaction is known as the bystander effect. It refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the numbers of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in crisis. When an emergency situation occurs, observers are more likely to take action if there are few or no other witnesses. It’s as if in a large crowd, everyone is expecting someone else to do something, so no one acts.
One of the most troubling issues of today is the absence of moral outrage in our society. The ongoing revelations of wars justified by fabricated lies, government-sanctioned torture on American soil and abroad, corporate malfeasance, arranged assassinations, the shredding of the Constitution, the state-sanctioned murder and caging of blacks and other people of color people by hyper-militarized police forces and a broken criminal justice system, are greeted with an apathy that is utterly mind-numbing. And that’s just under Obama! It is as if the whole of the American populace is under the thrall of a collective bystander effect.
I’m no hero — by no stretch of the imagination. In fact, I am as far removed from “hero” as is possible. In addition, I am full of character defects and moral failings. I do have a problem, however. For the life of me, I cannot stay quiet in the face of injustice. If I see something that’s just plain wrong, I can’t let it go, I can’t stay quiet. I have to act. I have been like this as long as I can remember and I have paid a steep price for that particular character defect. But, no, I am no hero… and I’m not being modest. I’m being truthful about myself here.
For me, real heroes are spiritual warriors who are alive with moral outrage and who enter the gladiatorial arena to wrestle with the mystery of evil in its many different disguises. Real heroes are the fierce men and women, rich in wise judgment, who still have thunder and lightning in them. These are not the middle-of-the-road fence sitters. Give me a “hot” investigative reporter like Chris Hedges who call presidents liars, and breathe fire at secret wars and hidden government over any of the “cool” stenographers who report the news and lead discussions as long as the perspectives expressed won’t keep them from access to the very power they should be holding accountable.
While we might have freedom of the (corporate-owned) press, I am continually astounded by how our media can report on the most egregious forms of political and corporate corruption but very little happens. We have a former vice president going on talk shows and bragging about how he ordered torture! We have a sitting president who has no qualms with killing innocent women and children abroad. And we have a current presidential candidate who, as Secretary of State, sold arms to despots who contributed to her “nonprofit” organization. Shit, in terms of freedom of the press, as measured by Reporters without Borders, the US ranks 41st.
To be sure, the path of the warrior is full of conflict and contradictions. No individual with an evolved sense of moral reasoning can witness unnecessary suffering, disease, and injustice without feeling outraged and being compelled toward action. Desecration evokes a feeling from deep in the gut that forms into a judgment and grows into an impulse to act.
If our minds and hearts haven’t been anesthetized, we must be outraged by the injustices of the world and realize that if “you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” You have to have a mission in life, something sacred, something larger than your petty needs. It is our responsibility to become protectors of this world, allies of the powerless, and healers of the broken.
These are challenging times for those aspiring to live with compassion and vigor. You have to gird your fucking loins and decide where to enter the struggle against unnecessary suffering, injustice, and poverty.
Suffering is a fact of the human condition. In the best of all possible worlds, there would still be disease, accident, tragedy, disappointment, loneliness, and death. And there is a certain form of wisdom required in order to accept the things we are powerless to change. But there is suffering and then there is what we add to it. There is another form of wisdom that allows us address the suffering that results from psychological, economic, and political structures that we can change. While I do not subscribe to violent “just wars,” there is a just war of the soul that is against unnecessary suffering, against the impulses of greed, the collective lack of empathy, against those systemic mechanisms that are clearly responsible for the desecration of the earth and the dehumanization of people.
But identifying the enemy is always a dangerous exercise. Self-righteousness can easily grow to dominate our judgments. It’s easy to condemn pollution while we continue to use a gas-guzzler to go the corner store. In order to guard against self-righteousness, I have to remind myself constantly that I am part of the problem I am trying to solve. I embody many of the wrongs I must fight. For example, as a man, I have a tendency to view the world from a male-dominated perspective. As a straight man, I have to be vigilant of any bias I have regarding my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. In other words, the demons of greed, cruelty, and fear must be fought from within as much from without.
The collective bystander effect– the heart that has become hardened — is both individual and systemic, both mine and my enemy’s. The moral outrage that sets me at odds with institutional embodiments of evil also sets me in conflict with my own greed and apathy. A person who does not know how to fight a just fight, first within and then with systems, has no values worth defending, no ideals worth aspiring to, no awareness of the disease of which he might be healed.
And nobody — at least nobody with some cojones — should be “OK” with the status quo.
We may not be heroes, but we all owe it to ourselves and to others to become warriors of the soul. And when we become warriors, we do so with the knowledge that the battle is never to be won intellectually or politically. There is no answer, no methodology, no way of understanding that eliminates the harm evil poses to the human spirit. We do not live in a world that satisfies our demand for moral explanations. But it also true that a few of us know what must be done, if not to eradicate oppression, at least lessen it, or not add to it. Perhaps we cannot prevent being in a world where the rights of our fellow human beings aren’t violated. But we must fight. In the end, I fight fascists not because I want to win. I fight fascists because they are fascists.
If you’re not feeling outraged today, you have lost your very soul, or whatever it is that makes you human.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…