Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Depths of Depravity

I did not start my life worrying about the depths of depravity of the human species. The truth of the matter has been forced on me by my now more than 80 years of study and observation. Reality has a way of reaching even the most innocent of observers.

Because of my academic interests, and especially my career in anthropology, I have been increasingly exposed to the behavior of humans both historically and contemporaneously. This has become more and more unpleasant. Learning about the inquisition and the colonial period that began in the 1500’s has not made me proud of our human history. The First and Second World Wars has not made things any better, nor have any events since then and up to the present. I would have liked to have thought that things were getting better, a la Steven Pinker, and that we are less violent now than at any time in history. Professor Pinker, who may not have been out of his Harvard office much, seems to argue that because we now can kill each other by the hundreds of thousands we are less violent than when we had to do it one on one. I gather his research assistants must have picked out the few most violent “primitive” societies they could find to establish the prevalence of violence in the “primitive world,” ignoring the many such societies in which violence was either pretty much absent or controlled by tradition and sanctions. There is nothing like Chicago in the “primitive world.” My personal experience in New Guinea did nothing to make me believe the world was just one big happy place.

In any case it is true that we no longer routinely cut off arms, legs, and hands for presumed misbehavior, nor do we try out our blades on helpless captives or hunt others with dogs for sport, and so on. Nor do we routinely bash infants’ heads against the rocks and mount their mother’s genitals on our saddle horns or hats. That kind of violence does seem to have diminished pretty much in recent years, even though in rare cases it does seem to survive. Certainly the cutting off of heads has survived. The depths of human depravity have apparently also survived in places like Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, in the Middle East and Africa, and even in the hearts and minds of a majority of our Congresspersons as well as the Executive Branch. Can you believe that Congress and the President of the the United States almost unanimously support what is little more than outright genocide in Gaza? The Israelis have forced a million and a half Palestinians into a small strip of land little more than an open air prison and are systematically killing them at will, including many women and children. This is being done under the guise of “protecting themselves.” Of course all people have a right to protect themselves, but this does not ordinarily mean by attempting to completely annihilate the entire population because of a few responsible parties. There is no excuse for the Israeli excesses in this case. It goes far beyond merely protecting themselves and into attempted genocide. The Palestinians are basically helpless except for some missiles, having no huge army, no sophisticated American weaponry, no Air Force. They are essentially “sitting ducks,” “fish in a barrel,” “blind mice,” “sacrificial captives,””vermin,” to be disposed of. They are uniquely the only persons on earth who apparently do not have the right to protect themselves. The Israelis, with their massive military superiority just picks them off at will, claiming to avoid innocent civilians, women and children, while killing them by the dozens. This is human depravity on a high scale indeed.

The Congress of the U.S., and the President of the U.S., have endorsed this genocide wholeheartedly. Not only have they done nothing to stop it, they have obviously encouraged it and provided the means with which to do it. What is far worse is that some Israeli citizens have pulled up their easy chairs to watch and cheer this horrible event, obviously pleased to see Palestinian children blown to pieces, their homes and parents destroyed, and misery everywhere.

The same thing is happening in Ukraine with our blessing. Neo-Nazi militias drive Russian separatists into a building, set it on fire, and hurl insults at the poor souls burning to death. These are militias “on our side,” encouraged to destroy people defending their vital interests they falsely label “terrorists.” Nothing we can ever do now will ever erase the blood on our hands. We may not have reached the ultimate in human depravity as yet, but we keep on trying.

“I get it. I haven't seen much of the real world yet. But let's say I do get out there... and it turns out that it's not even worth seeing? Or even worse.. what if it's so ugly and cruel that I can barely stand to look? What if I only meet idiots and the depraved? What's that going to teach me? What can I learn from that?” 

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