In Jian’s case, you didn’t know, of course. But you knew. There was doublethink, a split consciousness. “Everybody” knew, so perhaps you had no special burden, not compared to his employers, for example.
We're hearing so much of this right now. The Ghomeshi case has cracked the lid on the Pandora's Box of our laissez-faire culture of selfish complicity. Everyone knew about Ghomeshi and did nothing. Except those who warned their friends, which did something - protect a few, perhaps - but left the lead in the pipe to contaminate others.
But many of those who could and perhaps wanted to do something knew all too well that their efforts would face serious personal repercussions without any change to the culture that enabled wrongs to be committed.
Since this story broke, I've heard countless conversations - among friends, on the subway, on Twitter and of course, through posts like this - that while perhaps an extreme case, Jian Ghomeshi is not unique. There are many, many people in positions of power who abuse their power and fuel their egos. There are many, many victims who have been told "this is just the way things are" and "it's a dog eat dog world."
Like Dorian Grey, the predators, narcissists and egomaniacs put others down to make themselves feel more powerful. Like parasite, they suck the energy and vitality of others and channel it into closing deals, wowing audiences or picking and winning fights. It has always been thus, right?
And yet I keep coming back to two stories - that of Ludwig Topf and Adalbert Lallier.
Topft was a businessman who found great success by working the existent culture to his advantage. He created superior products tailored to his clients needs and built the kind of connectivity that ensured him contracts.
It just happens that his clients were the SS and his product were ovens for Concentration Camps.
Adalbert Lallier was a Nazi. His words should haunt us all: "I pretended not to have seen, I pretended not to have heard because I didn't want to be responsible."
Everyone knew about Ghomeshi, or about some other person who abused power for personal gain. Everyone looked away because they didn't want to get involved, or because they gained personally from the successes of that individual, or because they feared consequences, or because they simply didn't care.
I have no interest in blame. We're all to blame. We all have a litany of active or passive sins, as many as we have rationales for why we committed them. I am often kept awake at night thinking of the wrongs I have committed or allowed to happen. I'm also haunted by the significant repercussions I have faced in trying to redress structural wrongs.
Blaming isn't the answer. Trying to wall ourselves off isn't the answer, because doing so implies the problem lies without, like seas of troubles lapping at our shores.
There are no shores, no silos, no us vs them. There is only us.
We are the progenitors of the problem - only we can present the solution.
It's been a long journey - and it's still going - but I've begun to see that concept of original sin which manifests itself in different ways through different cultures is a sociological metaphor for selfish, limbic behaviour. Ignorance, reactive instinct, a tendency to aim for the quick win or the low-hanging fruit - that's where we start. This is Plato's Cave, the Matrix of our own cognitive limitations.
Laissez-faire capitalism, the whole notion of "I want to be consequence free" and "live in the moment" are confabulated justifications for an abdication of social responsibility, for the need to plan ahead.
Political Parties that burn bridges in the long run as they focus increasingly on the next election or at most the one after that are examples. People who blow their leaves or shovel their snow onto the street, causing problems for everyone else are an example. Collapsed buildings in Bangladesh, poverty, crime, people like Jian Ghomeshi and his victims are an example.
The solution has always, always been the same - the recognition of a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, the acceptance of our role as part of something greater. Religion is, ultimately, about community. Society, Parties, trade organizations, etc. are all about community. When we see ourselves as part of a community, we feel individually empowered, individually loved and willingly support each other.
This isn't a bad thing - it's a good thing. Civilization is the product of collaboration - one idea builds on another, neighbours build houses together and share the fruits of their labour, problems are tackled with a "how might we?" attitude.
We have outgrown the social models that once held us together. Urban centres aren't one community, but a collective of communities that may or may not feel any responsibility or connectivity to each other. That's certainly the case in Toronto, as fractured an urban environment as any. The global village is the same - we are so far removed from the wars that are byproducts of choices we make or choose not to make. The people at the very top are so alienated from those at the bottom, they simply cannot understand why poor people don't just work harder.
Within this confused mass, we are lost. Ghomeshi has catalyzed his own downfall, as have so many big names in recent years. How many powerful people view happiness as a substance to be consumed? How many people in the middle practice "fake it 'til you make it" in perpetuity, unsure of what the destination looks like? How many souls feel completely alone, afraid and unsure of how to connect - and when they do, they are often targeted by predators seeking to take advantage of them?
The ultimate battle we face is one of biological evolution - culling the weak and constantly rewarding the most adaptable - against social evolution, the tool we have developed to gain control of our own destiny.
Social evolution is a product of consciousness; the recognition that we are not alone, of empathy, of a desire to add to rather than simply take away.
This is the challenge we face, the one being touched, elephant-like, in so many different ways. It's equity, it's power abuse, it's crime and poverty, corruption, mental health, transit, work design, communication.
Consciousness is a terrible privilege, an expulsion from the simplicity of being. It's is the responsibility to be more, to share the light with others.
You are special. That's your responsibility.
Accepting this burden is the only way to be free.
It's the only way forward.
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