Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Ultimate Horror Show

Ever thought about our fascination with vampires, werewolves and zombies? They strike a visceral fear into us, far deeper than any other kind of monsters, because they threaten the loss of what many of us regard as the essence of our humanity – our capacity for thoughtful connection with others. What makes it so precious to be human is that we can deliberately cultivate caring relationships: empathise with other people, think through the consequences our actions could have for them, and choose with due care what should therefore be done.

Unlike other monsters, which can at best destroy us physically, these creatures can rob us of our moral thoughtfulness. Once bitten by them, one would be condemned to become like them - consumed by a mindless and destructive craving, discarding any consideration of how others’ lives could be ruined by one’s reckless behaviour. Vampires, on some interpretation, might still in some instances struggle to reclaim their humanity. Werewolves, in between their ghastly transformation, might try to use their temporary rationality to lock themselves away. But unless the process is reversed, they would ultimately slide towards a similar fate to the zombies’ – losing all sense of reason and sympathy.

What makes it all the more horrific is that these are not alien entities from another planet or dimension, they are/were humans who had become thoughtless beings, and they would infectiously turn us into replicas of them. And the most frightening thing about this is that beyond the fiction of vampires and zombies lies the reality of the contagious spread of thoughtless behaviour.

Every day there are people who promote the cult of thoughtlessness. They tell people who have the most to lose from irresponsible business practices, pollution-driven climate change, oil-related environmental destruction, redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich, and countless other harmful activities, that they should switch off their minds and go with the flow. Question not what these practices are inflicting on the world, the mantra goes, but embrace the wrecking of lives as the norm. The venom passes to a few, a few more, and soon enough, the zombies are everywhere threatening to wipe out any sign of thoughtful independence.

Look at poor John McCain. A decent man who once stood out in a deranged crowd which included one President who joked about bombing Russia out of existence, another one who actually ordered the large-scale bombing of a country when he had no reliable evidence that it was necessary, and now a presidential-hopeful who’s proud of her all-round ignorance. John was thoughtful once, reminding those who had not yet succumbed to the horror that climate change had human causes and needed to be tackled by collective action, that campaign finances must be reformed if democracy was to be saved from dominance by the rich and powerful, that immigrants should be treated as human beings too.

But like so many others who had been overwhelmed before him, that John McCain is gone. Forget about climate change, never mind using collective resources to save the vulnerable from losing all their savings with the irresponsible banks, but demonise immigrants instead, and blame the powerless for their own plight.

Every minute of the day, this is happening. For every McCain, there are hundreds, thousands of Tom, Dick and Mary, surrounded by beings hell-bent on eradicating every last trace of thoughtfulness in them. This is the ultimate horror show.

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