Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Unbearable Sadness and Cruelty That Is Life...

As I was watching The Undocumented, an Independent Lens documentary on PBS about those some two thousand people who have perished trying to cross the border from Mexico to the United States via the Sonora Desert since 1998, I couldn't help thinking about what I used to believe in in a time far, far away.

Once upon a time I believed that if you simply provided evidence to human beings about the cruelty of their or their government's actions whether in the streets or around the world, they would eventually be repulsed by their or their government's actions and do the compassionate and humane and right thing. I don't believe in that fairy tale anymore.

That human beings can support or stand by while their government lies about weapons of mass destruction, while the intentional policies of their government means that human beings will die in deserts when they didn't have to, while millions of American citizens don't have access to the health care that could make a difference in their lives and in their life chances, while the one percent on Wall Street do almost anything to enrich themselves even if they have to exploit, manipulate, and walk over others to do it, while a lack of background checks and the banning of assault weapons and semi-automatic magazines leads to human deaths every day, while the military tortures and brutalises those it regards as terrorists, has cured me of any naïve belief in the inherent goodness of humankind, particularly Western humankind. Humans I have come to see, are not only brutal and cruel to the environment, the very thing that allows them to survive and thrive, and to other species be they whales or bison, but also to their own kind.

I, of course, already knew this on some level even when I was a teenager and early twentysometing. I knew about how ethnocentrism and identity construction worked and works. I knew about the Crusades. I knew about the mutilation and genocide of the American First Peoples. I knew about the cruel treatment of the Canadian First Peoples. I knew about the brutal treatment of the Australian Aborigines. I knew about the Holocaust. I knew about misogyny and racism and homophobia. But I guess I needed to believe that humans were at heart compassionate and humane. I wish I could still believe all this pie in the sky. But I can't. And no amount of that comforting illusion that human cruelty is the product of rare human insanity will help me maintain the illusion or help me sleep at night. Nor will the fact that there still are some compassionate and humane human beings out there. What a disappointment life has been. I wonder if it would have been less disappointing if I hadn't lived through the sixties?

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