Jump to content, Jump to navigation.

Amber Paulen

On Inhumanity

6 November 2009


I have no cheerful topic to report. Perhaps fault lies in part on the book Resurrection I’ve been reading. All the poverty and squalor, the peasants, prisoners and prostitutes that Tolstoy describes and contrasts with the dinning rooms and banquets and ballrooms of high society. Here is a quote thought by Nekhlyudov, the main protagonist:

… he was now, body and soul consumed with loathing for the social circle he had been living in, a circle where the suffering of millions toiling for the convenience and comfort of a small minority was so meticulously concealed that the members of the circle did not and could not see either the suffering itself or what it entailed—their own callousness and criminality. —Leo Tolstoy

And here we have the “first worlds” and the “third worlds” described justly. All of this blood on our hands, so that how do we and especially the more sensitive ones, put up with our own criminality? We can’t and we don’t. Most of us fail to take the majority of the world’s population into account when we make sweeping generalizations about humanity (I know I have) for we are very bad at admitting that kind of pain. It’s too painful. Most of us subscribe to “this is how it is”: Why would we want to give up our lovely disposable luxuries? We don’t.

It is not that this society is particularly more inhumane than past societies. Society is usually always corrupt, using the poor as a step ladder for excess—the have-nots allow for the haves. It is that as humans we are inhuman. Our own inhumanity is a poison that sits deep inside us. (And I am aware that this is a grim idea, but how can it be any other way?) Rare is the one who can completely outshine it. To outshine our badness one cannot simply make a series of gestures, giving money, volunteering, etc. but is in the degree to which one corresponds thoughts to action I think, something that reaches out, a leaping empathy, trying to feel what those who suffer feel.

Sometimes, instead of the poison remaining on the inside, it comes out at the top and begins to define who a person is. Are there people who are pure bad or was there some part of their past that has made them worse than others? Tolstoy would say it is a matter of being made, look at the prostitute Maslova whose sweet innocence would have never thought of selling sex if it wasn’t for her first seduction and pregnancy. Tolstoy says that people don’t want to be bad but have had to adjust themselves to the amount of badness they witness in the world. He also says that no one believes themselves to be doing bad, but that it is natural to make excuses—to rationalize the bad as good or no other choice—for simple self-respect.

Which brings me to the horrific poison that leaked out in Richmond CA the other week. Not that I keep up with the news, but there it was on my side-bar: Gang Rape. Before I even clicked on the article, my breath had been taken. The inexplicable violence those young men committed and some of them still boys (but what makes a boy here?), and then the vast number of onlookers who did not use their cellphones to call the police but instead took videos and pictures, reveling in brute hostility. Here is our humanity: the bloody, naked body of a still living 15 year old girl.

There follow more articles, some questioning who to blame. Which I have to find ironic, laughable even. Blame? As if pointing fingers takes the blame off ourselves, but that is not true. Not that I really think the streetcaller is a gang-raper, but he’s much closer than I’m comfortable with. Somewhere society failed that 15 year old girl, somehow our bad got beat all over her, which makes none of us innocent.

On another depressing note, last Saturday a young man my age threw himself off the sentinella, the lake’s overlook. Suicide is something I do not understand, but I think might have something to do with the absolute hopelessness of regaining that innocence in face of the overwhelming bad of the world. I don’t know what drove me to it but I peeked over the edge at his broken body. All I caught was a red sweatshirt filled by flesh growing cold. Family wailing in the background. A helicopter’s hearty whirl.

And so what keeps us in it, this world, is a hope. A fool-hardy, staunch hope in support of that favorite of all plots: Good will ultimately triumph over bad. Yes, I always root for the good-guys, it goes without saying, they must win. If it must be one act of kindness, it must come in ebullition from the heart.



Submit a Comment


·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·