What’s a human being?
What happens to human beings that makes them maim, torture, dismember, and otherwise brutalize their fellow human beings? What turns normal people into brutes ? Reading a story in today’s NYT about a 13-year old protester in Syria who was horribly tortured and murdered by Syrian “authorities” for taking part. What makes human beings do such things to each other? I think of the grizzly attacks in various parts of Africa like Liberia, the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and elsewhere. I think of our own brutality to prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram and who knows where else. It’s disquieting to think that the veneer of “civilization” runs just skin deep, and that we all have the potential to turn into monsters under the right conditions. It’s not me thinking “Why can’t we all get along?” because I know better. It’s more why do we always have to resort to violence against one another?
There was a time within my old memory when there was hope that we could put structures in place that would prevent the kind of brutality we have been witnessing for some 20 years. We built the United Nations and the International Court, and hoped for the rule of law to become universal. Exceptionalism seems to have cancelled those efforts out, our own among them. Yet we do not hang our heads in shame. We often do not even prosecute those who commit horrors in the name of our government. There are no consequences for those who are highly placed who violate laws. At least, not yet. The Bushes and the Cheneys of our country get off scott free, while we violate Pakistan’s sovereignty to “get” Ben Laden and make terrible messes in the Middle East.
Instead of adapting our own behavior to be less offensive to those of other cultures, we demonize the ones we do not like or understand and go to war. I’d like to know how this sort of behavior helps anyone.