Monday, February 07, 2005

The Roots of Cruelty

by AJ/Skald

A large beautiful mutt charged through the open gate... his owner running behind him and calling his name. The dog glanced over his shoulder and kept trotting. The man huffed, stopped, and then walked briskly towards the dog. Seeing the man, the dog shot off again... stopped to pee.. and then kept trotting. I smirked as the man cursed.

As I walked past, the man finally caught up to the dog. He grabbed it roughly by the neck and hit it on its flanks. It yelped. He then grabbed its two rear legs and dragged it back to his house while the animal yelped pitifully.

"Here", I thought to myself, "lie the roots of cruelty and war". It is that simple. Gandhi recognized it. He stated that a person's and nation's "morality" can best be judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable inhabitants: its poor, its children, and its animals. He stated that violence, war, and "evil" all have their roots in common everyday occurences. Thoreau emphasized this point as well-- noting that we are faced with moral decisions every moment of every day.

Why was the Thai man so cruel? For one, he desired control and power. He wanted to control the dog. He wanted it to conform to his wishes. This gave him a sense of power. When the dog ran away instead, the man became angry and vengeful. He struck out cruelly. Of course, from a rational point of view he was being counter-productive. The only thing the dog learned was that if it comes to the man it will be hurt. The smart thing to do, as any dog trainer will tell you, is to REWARD the dog when you catch it.

But that was not the issue. The man wanted to feel in control. He wanted to feel powerful. When these wishes were challenged, he became violent. The same thing happens in every school in every part of the world. I did it myself in High School. I can remember being picked on by bigger kids. I hated them and their cruelty. They made me feel powerless. But when I came across a kid weaker and geekier than me, I turned the tables. I made fun of him and tried to assert my power and control.... to give myself some feeling of worth.

Looking back, I am ashamed of that. And I realize that those same "strong" kids who picked on me also suffered. Many had abusive or neglectful parents. Most did horribly in school and felt stupid. But they regained a feeling of control by putting me down.

We come to accept these things as normal. Child abuse is commonplace (especially if you consider non-physical forms such as emotional abuse and humiliation). We shake our heads and shrug. We shrug off bullying. We willfully ignore the cruelty inherent in eating meat. We accept the bullying of bosses at work.

And so we are well positioned to accept these things on a much larger stage.. the bullying of small nations by weak ones,... the bullying of the poor by the rich. We shrug off 100,000 civilian deaths. After all, victory for us (Americans) helps us feel powerful and in control.

Many of us will condemn the ultra-violence in Iraq. Many will condemn torture in faraway places. But how many will condemn it in their own towns... in their own homes? How many will extend the logic of non-violence to their eating habits? How many will extend the concept of democracy to their workplace?

How will we, in our daily lives, treat the weakest and most powerless among us: the homeless, the poor, children, and animals?

No comments: