(Editor’s note: Saturday afternoon I posted this on my website. By Saturday evening, a good friend of mine published a response/supplement. This is a continuation of that discussion. Erik, if there’s more to come, keep it coming.)
I can still remember the exact moment that I came to recognize my responsibility to the world. I had been raised well by two loving parents. I understood responsibility. I understood cause and effect. But I don’t think parents can teach collective guilt.
For that, my teacher was Clint Eastwood.
In Unforgiven’s penultimate shootout, Eastwood’s Bill Munny shares a drink with his partner, The Schofield Kid, who had just killed a man for the first time. “It’s a hell of a thing,” Munny says, “killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”
The Schofield Kid finishes stammering through the circumstances of his first kill (a man using the outhouse). He concludes the man had it coming.
“We all got it coming, kid,” was Munny’s reply.
(View the full scene here, in all it’s low quality glory – More love for Unforgiven to come)
I recently posted an essay asserting that Americans are born to and born of a violent society. At my essay’s conclusion, I implored us, as a society, to change the culture and work for love.
My friend Erik (The only person I know whom I fear intellectually. I’m not joking. I got worried enough that I sent a panicked text to a mutual friend to burn off the anxiety of waiting to see what he would write) wrote a gorgeous response on his blog Behold the Sky. To him, the cause of violence is not hatred. It’s something closer to indifference.
I think Erik’s right. We could put an end to most of our problems with violence if enough people made a decision to do so. However, if indifference is the problem, “working for love,” my original solution, isn’t enough. Perhaps it’s too wishy-washy. Perhaps it’s too passive. And passive is the problem.
We see problems and we do not do anything or enough to solve them. It’s easier to bow to the inertia of the status quo than it is to push against society and against ourselves. I would know. My back creaks from the bowing and from the weight of my shame.
We all got it coming.
I’m not a philosopher, nor would I (often) pretend to be. Is there a difference between hatred and indifference? Is there a difference between killing someone and allowing someone to be killed?
I don’t think so. One can argue degrees, but I’m not sure it’s possible to be a little bit of a murderer. A slight rapist. Vaguely genocidal. You get the idea.
Inaction that permits evil is itself an evil action, as much born of a choice as the evil in question. As an extension, every injustice we do not try our hardest to remedy is our responsibility. Every product of our violent culture is a monument to our collective sins of omission.
We all got it coming.
The solution lies closer to what Erik describes as “making space.” To live, intentionally and consciously, in favor of our fellow human beings. Make a decision to ensure that both who we are and what we do are not resting on the backs of our brothers and sisters.
This is our collective responsibility. We’ve had more than enough warnings. The next Sandy Hook, the next Syria, the next Sudan, is on all of us.
I’m tired of having it coming.