Responsibility, neutrality, knowledge, ignorance, justice, law, act too early or too late, do something evil or be evil. These are things keeping me awake at night, for a long time now. Could World War II have been avoided? Can climate change or World War III be avoided? One of the worst features of humans as a species is completely opposed to one of the things that differentiate us the most from the rest of the animals.
Most animals, and specifically mammals (as representation of the largest brains on Earth), are only able to live and think in the present. Some of them remember the past best than others, and use that to their advantage (some call that ‘learn from experience’), but only a bunch can deploy in their minds the complex array of equations necessary to calculate possible futures, and act based on those calculation. For one, to be able to do this, it is completely necessary to have self-awareness, to identify one-self as an individual: you cannot project yourself into future scenarios if you are not aware of yourself. That makes a very short list: some primates, dolphins, elephants, crows and humans. And by far humans are the best at this: using intuition and intelligence we can predict very accurately things to come in the future, things very complex as motion of objects or even behaviours of other beings. By using the abstract light of Science, we can even predict events of all kinds with total precision that will happen tens, hundreds or millions of years from now.
But at the same time, we are still animals, and plenty of our brains has evolved as such, hunters or preys roaming the plains, forests and mountains, and as such, the now is too important. Surviving tomorrow is fine, but surviving now is paramount, and that is imprinted at the core of every living thing. But it also has become a dead weight in human society and politics. We become blind to any consequence of any act unless it affects us directly and it affects us precisely now. We use our large prefrontal cortexes to bypass that short-sightedness and our Science to overcome it almost totally. But only for natural events. Or maybe also market fluctuations (and only some people). But we don’t use it for our life in society, and worst, we don’t use it in politics. But that is no wonder, since politics is only a reflection of the society of each population. In the population of one country are especially frequent cheaters and thieves? Their elected leaders will be cheaters and thieves. In another country is common to be manipulative and to conceal all emotions? Their leaders will manipulate and conceal the truth. This of course is off-topic, but the next time you want to speak ill about the politicians of your country, take a look in the mirror, maybe not as an individual, but as a population.
So, there is a problem to solve in Science? We deploy all our best methods, algorithms and fact-based evidence to solve it and predict every possible outcome. We go to the ‘root of the evil’ with the best of our arsenal. Is there a problem in society? Not so much the same. Let’s look at the simplest scenario: some ‘human’ does something evil to another human, then the thought process of everyone around, 99% of the time, goes like this:
Of course, there is variation to this, especially between populations, but it is mostly true for about 90% of the people in my opinion in the western countries (more markedly so the more you go to the north). There are many problems with this, but one of the most severe ones is that when someone does something evil, if most people say “not my problem”, the message they send out is “what you did is fine, keep going champ!”. We make offenders, psychological torturers, liars, betrayers, and the people that weaponize sex, to name a few evil doers, feel comfortable and accepted, all in the name of “not my problem”, or “I cannot be bothered”, or “my life is already too complicated” or even just to maintain etiquette and politeness. Any coward excuse is good to do nothing in the face of evil as long as it not against us.
For this there also one very specific limit: physical violence. If the evil deed involves “punching” then some (most?) bystanders will do something about it even if “it is not their problem”, especially if one of the parties involved is a woman (sexism?). And I am not saying by any means that physical violence is fine. It is not. Any physical violence is ultimately destined to end a life, conceptually, and as such, is one of the evilest things that can be done. But there are much worse ways to inflict pain than a bruise, and much more painful ways to end a life than a broken neck. I see quite often lives being destroyed without the use of any physical violence to call that anecdotical, but with no bruises or no blood coming out of any wounds everyone goes back to their refuge of cowards: “not my problem”. Some even go as far as to say something in the order of “I don’t know the story”, well, when two people are about to kill each other with their fists and you do something about it, do you know that story? If there is something evil going on in your environment, at any level, it is your responsibility to learn from it, so you can do something about it. Ignorance does not exempt responsibility.
The direct and very present outcome of this line of behaviour is that we dehumanize ourselves by allowing the suffering of others in our environment by “remaining neutral”, by “not making any choice”. Well, I’m sorry to have to break it to you (and I am also amazed if you did not know this by now…), but by remaining neutral or not picking sides, you are picking a side, the winning one; and not making a choice is also making a choice, there is no such thing as neutrality or not making any choices. Not in human society, you don’t like it? Suck it, that’s the way it is, and every time you remain neutral or don’t want to make a choice you are just being, in the best of cases, lazy, and in the worst of cases, a coward or even an accomplice in hurting others.
And what happens over time when we allow this at any scale, large or small? That it increases, since this kind of people feel safe acting this way, they keep using it as a tool, since there is no punishment of any kind, and like small kids, they test the limits of what they can do each time, and each time their environment (i.e. YOU) respond in the same way: “did you do it to me? No? then by all means, keep doing it, not my problem”. Well, guess what, soon it will be your time, and it will be done to you, even if you are one of them evil doers.
Or what did you think? That Hitler started straight away tossing millions of Jews into camps and gas chambers? No, evil is always an escalation, an escalation allowed by the people around the subject in question each time he or she “tests the waters” to see how far he or she can go without punishment. If we took responsibility of evil even when it is not done to us, I am convinced that things like World War II (as an extreme example) could have been avoided. And the responsibility, and the blood, is on the hands of each lazy and coward the first time Hitler was walking some street in Berlin and insulted someone publicly because that person was a Jew, and all the ones around, the ones that are not evil, said “not my problem”.
And of course, this is all in the ‘small’ level of things, in your most immediate surroundings, but this translates very well into any level of human society, including the higher spheres of power in politics. As I said, in a democracy, the leaders are only a reflection of the people of that country, so if you want better leaders, you will have to change also for the better, if you want leaders that do something about the evil things that happen at the biggest scales, you will have to do it on your scale. And only when we all act against evil we will have leaders that do so, instead of doing and allowing evil, themselves and ourselves.
So, we live in a world in which anything goes as long as it does not affect ME and NOW, because people cannot be bothered with evil, because “that is not my problem”. So think if this is the world you want to live in. Think if this is the world you want your children to live in. Think of when someone does [insert here that evil thing that an evil person did to that friend/colleague/flat mate/whomever person from you environment and you did not do shit because it was not your problem] to you, or even worse, to your kids, and everyone around them do the same thing you did: nothing.
In case you are a sociopath, but you do realize it and you are in need of a moral compass of sorts for when to take action, please follow the following diagram instead of the one above:
Own your responsibility to make the Earth a better place, and do not expect others to do it for you. It all comes down to this modification of the very famous quote:
“The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing”
And this will bring me to my next question when I have another while to write: what and who is evil? The difference between being evil and doing something evil.
To those of you that cannot be bothered, enjoy your Switzerlands, cowards. And to the few that do bother about evil and can see further than two inches away from their noses, I bow before you. To those of you who pick sides, to those of you that stand for what they think is right and against those who are evil, even when they did nothing to you, I bow before you.