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Imagine You’re Responsible for Everything

Whenever there's an outbreak of evil among us, we seek to understand what could have possibly caused it. One reason we do this is to figure out if anything can be done to stop that particular thing from happening again. The other reason we do this is to build a wall between us and evil. Evil is circumscribed and isolated, it's labeled insanity, it's called completely uncivilized. This wall allows us to make sure that we're untainted by evil, that our innocence is preserved.

The victims of evil want us to know that this isn't an isolated case. Evil has a broader purchase than is generally acknowledged. We hedge, and say that some, but not all are evil. And the “evil ones” — they're readily identifiable. This allows us to keep evil on the other side of the wall.

Imagine that you're responsible for everything. Imagine that I'm responsible for everything. The racism, the sexism, the hatred, the stupidity, the insanity, the crime, the violence, the addiction, the bigotry — all of it. Every time there's an injustice, it's not the “other” who acts. It's one of us. It's me. When my country commits atrocities, those are mine too.

The quarantine of evil allows us some measure of safety and assures us that we don't have to change our ways. But as we're learning with the garbage that our civilization generates, there is no “away” to which it can be sent. There's just here. We behave as though our individual speech acts could be separated out from the language we all share. Prisons and other facilities are where you go when you're sent “away.” Prisons aren't on another planet or hidden in another universe. There is no “away.”

We look in the mirror and imagine we're something good and pure. Sure we have our problems, but they're inconsequential. We're nothing like that nut-job who unleashed evil and death. In fact, it'd be a good idea to arm ourselves against people like that. The wall that keeps evil out should be outfitted with lethal defensive weaponry. Our place in the afterlife depends on maintaining a certain level of purity.

Or imagine this. Imagine that you have a skin in the game. Imagine that you're responsible — that you're both the perpetrator and the victim. Imagine that you can't build a wall around evil. Imagine that the last mass shooting, this mass shooting and the next mass shooting are simply expressions of who we are. It's not a war that belongs only to the other political party. It's not a cruelty that other people are inflicting on the poor. I'm all these things, and I'm not comfortable with all the things that I am. How could I be? Own all the the good things, own all of the bad things, and then decide whether we need to change.


Published in culture desire difference identity politics value