(Trigger Warning: all the triggers, seriously, don’t read this if you are not prepared to be upset.)
If I met you on the street, or at a party, or in a class, or at a job, there is a very, very, very good chance that we would get along just fine. Or at least would be able to refrain from cannibalizing whichever of us was unlucky enough to get knocked unconscious first. I’m “pretty sure” that I would be able to restrain myself from, say, getting a group of people together to gang up on you, beat you, and kill you. And I’m betting you wouldn’t find it too difficult to restrain yourself from doing the same to me. In fact, “restrain myself/yourself” seems like an absurd choice of words, doesn’t it? It’s not like it’s a battle of willpower, an internal tug-of-war to NOT brutalize the average passerby, co-worker, or neighbour.
But what if you were starving? I mean really starving, ribs-sticking-out, watching-your-children-die kind of starving?
Or what if people who look like me, my “race”, had just, a week or so before, murdered or kidnapped your family, taken everything you love from you, and now, there’s just you, alone in your rage and desperate insanity, tragically broken and reduced to a mere iota of the person you once were? Might you struggle then to hold back your Hate? Might you wish for my death, and the death of “my people”? What would stop you, at that point, from turning into a monster? How long would you be able to hold onto your decency, your higher values, your civilized nature, when thrust into a hellhole of violence? How long before you would simply hate, and hate, and hate, and hate?
I can’t say that I wouldn’t, if I was in that situation. Of course, I’d like to believe I’d be all heroic and stoic and compassionate and wise and ‘love your fellow brothers and sisters’ and all that. But seriously? How far would I have to be pushed before I would want nothing but revenge, before I would think no further ahead than the next day, the next hour, maybe even the next few seconds? How far away is my breaking point? How far away is yours?
These are terrible questions to ask. But I’m not asking them just to be dramatic. And I’m not making an “academic point.” I’m asking them because ALL THE REASONABLE EVIDENCE — from history, from scientific research, from clinical practice, from law enforcement, from war — points to the same conclusion: we all have “the Beast” inside. We all have our breaking points. And, if there ARE some truly noble amongst us, some who would not break, no matter how terrible life became, then let me assure you, but certainly not reassure you, that those people are the few. And in a tidal wave of human rage, those few luminaries will not be able to stand firm and hold back the surging masses.
Let me give you a few examples, although I won’t belabour the point more than is necessary, for this is truly terrible. I have cried while writing this. That’s the truth. But it WILL be far, far more “upsetting” if this becomes our reality. So please, take a moment, a few minutes, in the comfort of your couch or wherever you are sitting right now, and just contemplate this. Here is what history has shown us, a few examples, out of countless.
— New Orleans, 2005 — Within four days of a hurricane flooding a modern, 21st century city, in the wealthiest, most powerful, most technologically capable nation in the history of humankind, neighbours and peaceful citizens were reduced to cowering by the thousands in sports stadiums, many of them shitting on the floor, because they feared being raped if they went to the bathrooms. Helicopters trying to rescue critically ill people from hospitals, were shot at by automatic weapons from the broken shells of buildings below. Career police officers were turning in their badges, weeping, refusing to continue doing their jobs, while armed gangs roamed the streets. The veneer of society had cracked, flood-waters washing away two centuries of mostly-peaceful co-existence. The very bottom didn’t QUITE fall out of civilized humanity, but it came a hair’s breadth away for the residents of New Orleans. And this took merely four days.
— The Nanjing Massacre (often called the Rape of Nanking) — This is possibly the most terrible thing I have ever learned about, although it is meaningless to compare atrocities. The seeming-inhumanity of this event is unspeakably, unimaginably brutal. In a six-week period, approximately fifty thousand soldiers engaged in a mass-killing and raping of the majority of the population of Nanjing, then the capital city of Nationalist China. Most death estimates range from 100 000 to 300 000, with the number of girls and women raped numbering upwards of 80 000.
For a moment, pause and just think about these numbers. When you went to elementary school, there were probably a few hundred girls in your school. If you went to elementary school in Nanjing in the 1930s, then most of these girls would have been raped without mercy, mutilated, and killed. Those who survived would have become sex-slaves to enemy soldiers for the remainder of their short, terrible lives.
But this doesn’t begin to get across the actual horror of the situation. I hesitate to even put this into words. It is traumatizing even to seriously THINK about this. Because it didn’t matter who these girls were, what condition they were in, nothing. Young girls. Elderly women. Pregnant women. Buddhist nuns. Everybody. The soldiers, apparently, took great pleasure in this brutality. It was not uncommon for people to be burned alive. For males in a family to be forced at gunpoint to rape their own mothers, sisters. even daughters, before all of them would be killed. The soldiers had contests, keeping score of their victims, forcing thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people to dig their own graves before decapitating them. Even religious figures were not spared, taken out of their monasteries one by one, to be slaughtered in front of the heaped bodies of their fellow monks.
…..That’s all I can say. Writing this is brutal. I almost cannot believe it, my mind reeling at the seeming impossibility of it all.
But this IS the history of humanity. And not in some misty time of “long ago” when humanity was, we’d like to believe, different from now. My maternal grandparents were 17 and 18 years old, living safely in Canada, finishing high school while this was happening, separated from this hell by a mere accident of geography. A few years later, as Hitler’s gas chambers and ovens were opened to a practically endless line of innocent people, my grandma was baking pies while my grandpa milked cows and they raised their family. My other grandma was not as lucky, subjected to torture by SS guards, my grandfather incarcerated and lucky to survive Nazi work-prisons in order to eventually impregnate my grandmother with my father, which is the only reason I am even here, writing these words that unknown numbers of unknown people who never got to grow up, are unable to write.
— It does not matter that the soldiers who raped Nanjing were Japanese. For Americans have done very similar things to thousands of innocent Black people in the horrors of lynchings, without mercy even for children, while the majority of “community members” not only didn’t intervene, not only didn’t turn away, but watched and celebrated as people were similarly mutilated, and killed in public view. American soldiers did similar things in Vietnam. German soldiers did similar things in World War 2. Russians did similar things to Russians. The Cambodian killing fields were similar. The Rwandan massacre. These are not “exceptions” to the rule of human decency. These are reliable, repeated failures of the human psyche to resist hate and fear. We should not turn away from these horrors, for in doing so we turn away from the suffering of countless people who loved, and were loved, people who were once babies, suckling at their mother’s breast, just like each of us once was.
This is not “the past.” Similar atrocities against innocents continue in the 21st century. China. Saudi Arabia. Syria. The Sudan. Turkey. Iraq. Even the supposed leaders of the free world, the United States, have well-documented instances of torture and brutality, authorized by the highest levels of government. In Canada, you have only to listen to the stories of the thousands and thousands of indigenous women and girls who have suffered at the hands of “the authorities”, or worse, simply disappeared, not to mention the generations of children who were imprisoned in “residential schools” in our government’s attempt to erase Native cultures entirely.
Even today, while we are lulled into complacency by the assurance that the better angels of our nature are in ascension, there is a massive, thriving sex-trade operating world-wide, with girls abducted into hidden hells before they are even pubescent. There are ongoing genocides against indigenous people who simply don’t want their lands poisoned for the profits of foreign investors in mining companies and the return-on-investment hoped for by the rest of us who have given our money to mutual funds held by almost all of the major banks. This is Reality. This IS humanity.
The Milgram Experiment
In Psychology, the “Milgram experiment” is a staple of first-year university courses. And so it should be. For it showed us, in repeated experiments over three decades, that normal, psychologically healthy, regular folks, will torture and potentially kill an innocent person, simply because they are told to do so by an authority figure. Don’t get me wrong; they don’t do it lightly. It causes them great distress to inflict such suffering. They resist. They say no. They stand up and get angry. But, with no gun to their head, nothing on the line except the uncertainty and embarrassment they would have to go through to just-say-no to a pencil-necked scientist with a clipboard and a lab coat, with no real “Force” being applied, no threat, perfect freedom to leave whenever they want just by standing up and walking out the door, nevertheless TWO out of every THREE people follow orders, do what they’re told, while the innocent person they met so pleasantly in the waiting room just minutes before, screams in apparent agony and begs for their life.
Hannah Arendt, in her analysis of the Holocaust, called this commonplace nature of those who carry out atrocities the “banality of evil.”
The “Environmental” Movement
Succumbing to violence and hate, “or passively following orders,” is just-around-the-corner for all of us. Our civility will melt away, when we are faced with sufficient pressure to become demonic.
THIS is the largely untold story of “environmental activism”. THIS is the usually-unspoken purpose behind the marches, the petitions, the attempts to change laws, raise awareness, and shift society towards a “clean, green future”. Part of it is about loving trees, and whales, and forests and fish. But in conjunction with loving other species, environmentalists know that their struggle is for our fellow humans, for our love of song and art and babies and grandparents and hugs and smiles.
Because quite simply, when the world’s arable land continues to shrink, its rainforests continue to burn, its oceans continue to die, its water supplies continue to dry up, its coasts continue to flood, its cities continue to fall, its species continue to collapse into extinction — THIS is the eventual, not-far-away result.
While the “deniers” accuse scientists and those who read the science of being “alarmists”, the mountains of broken skulls and rivers of blood that are our History whisper their never-ending warning, their failing hands throwing us the torch to hold high, reminding us of the promises we’ve made, over and over again, to “never forget.”
Except we’ve already forgotten. The killings and rapes and brutality of the day-before-yesterday, have already faded from our collective memory banks to the point that we somehow naively believe that “this time, it will be different.” That “this time”, Human Ingenuity will save the day. That “this time”, dictators and sadists will somehow be prevented from seizing the reins of power, will somehow be stopped from compelling the armies of the willing into a tidal wave of carnage that will reduce humanity to screams and ashes.
THIS is the reason why I believe we need a global rebellion, imminently. I have not had the strength to continually find ever-more-creative ways to get this across to people. I fall, often. When eventually, I get back up and these truths are still here, I feel I have no choice but to try again.
World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity
Since before I was born, scientists have been doing the research, gathering the data, and for about 35 years now, have been raising the alarm, more and more loudly, more and more insistently, and being met with more and more resistance by the powerful few who worship at the altar of the gods of oil and money.
Most people somehow don’t know this, but in 1992, a huge body of the world’s scientists, including the MAJORITY of Nobel laureates in science, warned all of humankind that we had, at most, “a few decades” to avoid global catastrophe. We are nearing the end of those few decades now. They concluded their “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” with the following:
“We the undersigned, senior members of the world’s scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”
An “irretrievably mutilated” planet, becomes irretrievably mutilated people, nations, families. It becomes your, and my, irretrievably mutilated heart and soul.
This is the reason we need revolution, rebellion, radical action. This is the reason we need to get out of our comfort zones, to realize as the brave men and women of the wars of the past were forced to realize, that this is our time, that now it is us being called, by our ancestors and descendants, to join the struggle for humanity’s decency and kindness and love, and perhaps for our very survival.
I do not hate you. Not yet. I love, so deeply, this world. And when I die, I want that love to still be alive. I want The Beast to still be merely my worst potential, but the lived experiences of my life, my memories, I pray to whatever Powers there may be, that they remain loving. And I pray that for you as well.