In a challenging new essay for Eudaimonia & Co., Umair Haque names 5 social pathologies of collapse. And I think they can kickstart a conversation around our culture’s greatest needs. This is my reflection of the fifth pathology: a predatory society.
In movies, an easy way to get the audience to connect with the characters on screen is to show a bully preying on the weak. We all recognize the conflict: a predator and prey. And we instantly recognize both an antagonist and a sympathetic victim.
And then, when a hero rises to defend them, intervening in the abuse, we find our protagonist.
Whether it’s Spider-Man stopping a mugger or Andy Dufresne stepping up to protect his fellow inmates in The Shawshank Redemption, the hero’s act in defense of another pulls us into story. And it draws our sympathies to the one in pain and the one protecting them.
We already know what is heroic and what is evil before we start. Heroes defend the weak and villains take advantage of them. This is a traditional archetype of storytelling. We all naturally get the dynamic. We see it and know it.
But we often struggle to make those same connections in real life. And we’re really struggling to see them in ourselves right now.
Heroes and villains are harder to diagnose in our culture. Not because of modern cinema and the rise of the antihero. And not just because we’re far more complex than the characters of the screen. There’s something else. We’ve begun to see exploitation as inevitable. And the victims; the stupid and deserving.
We are actively building a predatory society. Not just because we condone predatory behavior, but because we encourage the exploitation of others. And we justify it by splitting humanity into predators and prey and saying the prey deserve it.
While it may be tempting to expect our neighbors to be more responsible, it is startling that the same expectation isn’t placed on the one exploiting their neighbors! Responsibility, it would seem is only for the weak and the poor.
It’s like the user-end license agreement, which you often encounter after you’ve purchased the product and are expected to read its 12,000 words before leaving the store.
“You knew what you were getting into!”
we like to say.
But we didn’t. Not really. We didn’t know that was going to happen.
Like we didn’t know Equifax had our data. We didn’t give it to them. Then they exposed it to the world. No, we literally didn’t know that was going to happen when we got a credit card 18 years ago.
We didn’t know that when we listened to politicians swear to protect us and our freedom, they would endanger us.
We didn’t expect this. So why are we tolerating it?
A Sickness of the Soul
This fifth pathology is different than the others. Haque says “it is one of the soul, not one of the limbs”.
It takes us to the root.
“American (sic) appear to be quite happy simply watching one another die, in all the ways above. They just don’t appear to be too disturbed, moved, or even affected by the four pathologies above: their kids killing each other, their social bonds collapsing, being powerless to live with dignity, or having to numb the pain of it all away.
“If these pathologies happened in any other rich country — even in most poor ones — people would be aghast, shocked, and stunned, and certainly moved to make them not happen. But in America, they are, well, not even resigned. They are indifferent, mostly.”
The recurring theme in all of these pathologies is how uncentered the American experience is from the world.
This doesn’t even include our most extreme place in the world: our use of capital punishment and mass incarceration. That, until a few years ago, we were the only country executing minors. Still the only with juveniles given life (or near life–51 years in Tennessee) sentences.
How far we are from normal!
And yet, how far we have regressed from the mean is only half of the conflict.
When we are exposed to that truth: how do we respond? Are we embarrassed and horrified by our cruelty? And therefore moved to act? Or do we chalk it up to politics as usual? “Nothing we can do.”
A Predatory Society
“So my last pathology is a predatory society. A predatory society doesn’t just mean oligarchs ripping people off financially. In a truer way, it means people nodding and smiling and going about their everyday business as their neighbours, friends, and colleagues die early deaths in shallow graves. The predator in American society isn’t just its super-rich — but an invisible and insatiable force: the normalization of what in the rest of the world would be seen as shameful, historic, generational moral failures, if not crimes, becoming mere mundane everyday affairs not to be too worried by or troubled about.”
This willful ignorance and pathological insensitivity to our neighbors is horrifying. There is nothing “understandable” about it. But we try anyway—to understand it away.
Here I hazard tripping your Godwin’s Law sensors, but the extreme comparison to Nazi Germany is just too tempting to resist. But we’re not comparing our country to Germany in 1933. We’re wrestling with it’s disturbing and still unresolved question.
The real question in history was never “How can there be a Hitler?” but “How could the people go along with what Hitler was doing?” A question which isn’t about Hitler at all—but about the millions of people who allowed the Holocaust.
How do we go back to this extreme example—the one which causes us to repeat “never again!” And continue to say “never again” and prove we mean it?
So we’re not wrestling with the example of “the good German” who was swept up by Naziism or who so feared for their life, they couldn’t stand against it.
We’re talking about knowing its wrong and doing nothing because of other cultural forces.
In the full article, Haque names our passivity, tolerance for the hurt being thrust upon our people by this predatory society. That we are literally watching our neighbors, brothers and sisters murdered in schools, drugged up, searching for work, and breaking families to survive. And still we just watch. it. all. happen.
For this isn’t forced upon us at the end of a gun or the threat of the jackboot. It comes from our neighbors, our media, and our public servants telling us to keep quiet. Pray after tragedies. This cruelty is none of your concern…if you’re one of us. The good guys.
There’s always a them—over there. They did this. Or they shouldn’t have let them do it.
Always it’s Focus on something else.
What are we saying to one another? Why are we stopping one another from making things right?
“Man’s inhumanity to man is not only perpetrated by the vitriolic actions of those who are bad. It is also perpetrated by the vitiating inaction of those who are good.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
Inaction is an Action—
If we are to name any action which best characterizes our predatory society, it is our constant reinforcement to do nothing.
Like the parent who discourages the assault victim from pressing charges, we justify every police shooting and condemn every public outrage. We allow our politicians to entirely ignore our calls and demand nothing more than for our president to stop tweeting mean things.
Ultimately we are reinforcing inaction in one another in the midst of cruelty and deep suffering.
- In light of the murder of our children in school shootings, we are doing nothing.
- Our families, friends, and neighbors are trying to escape hell through opioids and we are doing nothing.
- Families are being torn apart for work and we are doing nothing.
- The wealthy are exploiting the poor and the workers are being driven harder than ever and we are doing nothing.
Isolating us into inactive MEs makes us an inactive WE.
Done with Doing Nothing
This isn’t a partisan problem. The economic and social exploitation of workers has been an ongoing toleration by both sides of the aisle. Even as one side has encouraged it more, the deep need of our poorest citizens have been mocked, bullied, and tethered to indignities by both parties for decades.
We’ve chosen punish over productive.
This deep cruelty, brought on by a predatory society must be unnerving to those servants of freedom who long for justice. It must be. There is no excuse or justification for silence in light of this evil. There is no justice in indifferent judgment. Or in blaming victimhood on the prey rather than predation of the predator.
There is no justice in splitting all of us in two. And then all into hundreds of millions of isolated individuals.
For those of us called to reconciliation, this wounds us, but doesn’t stop us.
We are not to be mere passive viewers but active participants in a revolution of love. A love which has no room for tolerating such cruelty.