Why do people do genuinely, shockingly, terrible things? I’d say it’s down to values. At some point in our lives we tie ourselves to principles and beliefs that matter to us (this is far from being a bad thing, at its heart it’s what makes human beings so incredible). We might not sacrifice our lives for these ideals but the vast majority of us will still happily sacrifice some of our own personal freedom/liberty in favour of promoting this ideal or belief. This can be as simple as giving up time to a religion, to a career, to the arts, or it could be a larger sacrifice where one steps away from the ‘average’ life path of others in one’s community entirely, instead choosing to dedicate oneself to something that feels greater than ordinary human existence.
The problem comes when some people start to value this ‘thing’ over the lives and liberties of others. When this happens other people become a means to an end, we will infringe on their liberty because we feel we are promoting an ideal that is greater then ourselves and these others, we might even say things like ‘it’s for their own good’. This can become so extreme as to offer an individual in this position a way of rationalising their belief structure, making it easy to use their own beliefs and ideals to permit disgraceful and possibly even inhuman acts.
It is possibly our greatest strength as a species that we can aspire to be more than meat bags on a rock in space, we can aim for the stars and appreciate the wonder that is inherent in human identity. We can hitch our wagon to something transcendent that could survive far beyond our life-span. However, alongside this beautiful feature of the human condition comes the possibility that some of us may pay such close attention to these lofty ideals and concepts that we neglect to see our brothers and sisters passing us by on their own journey, hitched to their own wagons.
Sometimes we simply disrespect their choice in ideology and, if someone is strong in their beliefs, this disrespect should have no effect on them whatsoever. Sadly sometimes we go beyond this, we think that our ideology is worth more than the life and aspirations of our neighbour, when this happens human beings demonstrate their capacity to be worse than animals. In these moments we can allow ourselves to destroy (or even take) the lives of our neighbours. All in one moment someone can display their capacity to rise above their animal nature, holding tight to hefty ideals, yet at the same time they drop so low in the way they treat their neighbours as to become more abhorrent than the lowliest pond scum. At it’s core acts like this remind us that we are far more complex than anything else we have seen, we can access this degree of barbarism but so too can we aspire to be more than that.
At least that’s how I try to get my head around moments like this. People are beautiful and terrible, we sometimes forget that we are the most dangerous and dominant land predator on the planet, we need to treat each other with respect but so too are we intelligent enough not to allow offence to be misinterpreted as a physical threat and we don’t have to fall foul of our baser reactions. This is the heart of being a liberal, we can accept differences in people but we don’t have to accept mistreatment and brutality as parts of those differences. We can, and should, be better than that. All the best to anyone reading this, feel free to add your own take on this in the comments below, Cheers, John