March 15th, 2006 12:57 EST
Nothing Really Matters
First they came for the socialists,
and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
--Pastor Martin Niemoller, Nazi Germany, circa 1945.
I understand how easy it is to lose interest and not care about something when it doesn’t specifically or directly affect you, even a subject as vitally important as ethics to a nation aiming or claiming to be great. I’m admittedly and shamefully guilty of this moral indiscretion of disinterest, and I’m calling myself out on the issue. Politics bore and annoy me, and I don’t feel I have a real voice in policy making, so I tend to ignore related issues. But in promoting ethics, I don’t suggest a vague moral conception of some Christian, Jewish or Muslim variety which can mean anything we want it to mean and ends up ultimately meaning nothing. I refer to the sense of morality, nondenominational, we imply in speaking of inalienable human rights and from which the word “humane” derives.
When an injustice or indignity is done which doesn’t seem to concern us or those we care about, we-- as a society-- typically prefer to dismiss it as irrelevant, having nothing to do with us, as being someone else’s problem. Or we feel disconnected from it and powerless to do anything about it.
We pathetically and apathetically forgive and forget indecencies and insults not involving us, if we even realize or recognize them as such, as if it doesn’t really matter.
We compromise ourselves by making exceptions to the golden rule.
Truly, we are exceptional people.
In our misguided attempts at egalitarianism, we tolerate indiscriminately. We are too tolerant. Because these offenses and violations against (un)common human dignity have become accepted as routine, as the normal state of affairs. We don’t question them, don’t give it a second thought. What other people do is not our business, but maybe it should be. We are not our brother’s keeper, but maybe we should be. Maybe if we expected each other to adopt and encourage a standard of idealism, it would become the standard.
But not wanting to damage our calm, we generally don’t get involved, don’t criticize or condemn immoral behavior witnessed around us and within us, nor the irresponsible and inconsiderate attitudes that make it possible. And the silence is regarded as consent.
Nothing is true, everything is permissible.
We hold dear no particular ethical principles or code of conduct. Hypocrites, we say one thing yet do another. Do as we say, not as we do. Paranoid, our word has become meaningless, and we can’t even trust ourselves anymore, never mind each other, because we are immature and irresponsible. We don’t uphold or insist that standards of excellence and integrity be maintained and preserved… so that we don’t have to live up to anything. Nothing is sacred, not even ourselves.
We’ve gotten to a point where an American President can engage in sexual misconduct in the Oval Office or prevaricate on the reasons and means for declaring war… and there is no consensus demand for impeachment. We simply shrug, nod our heads and go about our business as usual, perpetuating that status quo.
There’s no public, collective outrage, disgust or embarrassment that such things routinely and nonchalantly occur in the United States of America. America! A name that should stand for, evoke and invoke great and noble ideals, shouldn’t it? America used to, didn’t it?
Should be ain’t what it used to be, and use to be ain’t what it should be.
Our discrepancies in moral fortitude are disgraceful, and we should be embarrassed.
Remember President Reagan’s glorious proclamation of America as a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere? What happened to that notion? Can we honestly and rightly claim that honorable distinction?
How did we get to this place? How could we have allowed it to happen?
Simply put, we’ve stopped caring. We don’t consider ethics important, or if we consider the matter at all as a society it is merely academic or abstract philosophical trivialities. And when that happens, when nothing really matters to us, we are surely lost; as individuals and as a people. We must care what happens to each other, if we care what happens to us.This is a story about a whale. No!
This is a story about four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it.
Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job.
Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.