Selfishness Is Killing the World

Those of you who’ve been with me for years know that I’m not usually one to get overly political, but with the way current events are unfolding, I can’t stay silent. I see so much hurt and pain in the world, and particularly in the United States where I live, and the longer I think about it, the more I can only come to the conclusion that this is the result of jealousy, greed, and selfishness.

Let me explain why.

COVID-19

Let’s start with what the world started 2020 with: COVID-19. As news about a novel, highly infectious and deadly virus spread, so did a lot of fear about exactly how to deal with this new disease. Later, rather than sooner, the United States chose to shut down to try and limit the spread of the virus, and millions of people found themselves without work, income, insurance, and possibly even without homes.

This isn’t an easy decision to make, of course. Being laid off by something invisible, something intangible, that you can’t see or feel, might well feel like a personal attack, and I can understand the resistance, the frustration, and the anger that would likely arise in these scenarios.

But those with the loudest voices against the shutdown have not been those who are suffering. It hasn’t been those who are without a job. It hasn’t even been those who are critically ill and dying of this new disease. It’s those who think that no one should be allowed to tell them what to do, how to work, and how to interact with their fellow human beings.

What infuriates me about this is that the mandate to wear masks, to stay home, to not go out to enjoy yourself, is about protecting other people. The biggest argument I hear against these precautions is that ‘it won’t affect me’, or ‘I need to get a haircut’, or ‘I lost my job’. How freaking selfish can a human being be? It was never about you! It was about keeping people you don’t know, people you’ve never met, from dying.

People have chosen to ignore these restrictions, have protested, have taken up arms and defended businesses from law enforcement to show that they aren’t going to be pushed around. For fuck’s sake – no one was trying to! We were trying to stop millions of human beings from dying, you selfish pricks!

Sorry for ranting there. But the point is that the spread of COVID-19 has been largely propagated by pure, utter selfishness, a complete absence of basic sense and care for our fellow humans. In countries where it is endemic to care for each other, where people actually look out for one another even if they don’t know them, the spread of COVID-19 was reduced significantly sooner, and significantly faster. Nowhere is perfect, but in the United States, it is simply appalling to consider that we have such disregard for other people’s lives.

Moving on.

Karens and the Age of Self-Entitlement

A recent meme that has been popularized across the internet is the concept of a ‘Karen’ – a middle-aged, self-entitled white woman who believes that the world should revolve around her. I think this is a grossly unfair assessment of this demographic, but the concept – that of someone who truly just doesn’t understand that there are other points of view in the world – is becoming increasingly pervasive across the country.

I also don’t believe this to be a generational device; I’ve seen Millennials, Gen Xs, Baby Boomers, all equally guilty of this sort of behavior. It’s at the root of everything I wrote about COVID-19, frankly – the idea that your personal wishes, desires and needs are somehow more important than those of anyone else. It’s easy to mock and make fun of the genders, the haircuts, the look and feel of a ‘Karen’, but the truth is that this sickening attitude is visible at all levels.

Perhaps one of the reasons that it’s become focused on the middle-aged white woman is because of the stereotypes involved; when a man pushes forward his own agenda without regard for others, he’s usually considered ‘strong’, or a ‘leader’ (look at our leader today). When a woman does it, she’s a ‘bitch’.

Regardless, the belief that is at the root of this behavior seems to be that if you want something, no one is allowed to stop you from getting it. I want that double-mocha frappucino; I want that haircut; I want that man to leave me alone.

I think this stems from a deep misrepresentation of what it means to live in a ‘free’ country. Freedom does not mean freedom to act like a selfish toddler; it does not mean ‘me first’; it does not mean I’m more important than others. In fact, I think a great deal of this behavior stems from a bizarre jealousy of the attention given to those who, ironically, don’t enjoy those same freedoms.

Think of it this way: when a parent favors one sibling over another, the other will often act out – not maliciously, but out of a desire for equal attention. This happens when the siblings are on equal footing, of course, but if one genuinely requires additional attention – perhaps they are ill, injured, or have special needs – the remaining sibling can begin to actually blame the other for their own deficit in attention. If allowed to continue, that sibling can eventually come to believe that they are the marginalized party – even though they have literally every option open to them, when their brother or sister may not.

This is one thing to expect this in children; however, to see this in grown-ass adults is, frankly, sickening. When a man complains that women are taking all the good jobs because of ‘egalitarianism’, he’s ignoring the thousands of years of marginalization and inequality that women have only begun to crawl out of – often with little to no help from men at all. When a white person argues that ‘nobody cares about the whites’, and that ‘all lives matter’ (god how I hate that phrase), they are willfully dismissing the centuries of slavery, persecution and cultural destruction that black people have suffered – and, clearly, have not yet escaped.

George Floyd and Black Lives Matter

This is where things get truly, devastatingly enraging for me – and should for you too. This sense of jealousy, this cultural selfishness and retaliation that is at the heart of phrases such as ‘blue lives matter’ and ‘all lives matter’ is like poison injected straight to the heart of society. Let me break it down for you:

All lives do not matter equally in the eyes of society.

If they did, Black Lives Matter would not be a thing. If all lives were truly held equal, from the streets to the highest level of government, no one would have to argue that their own lives matter. This problem would not exist.

When I see someone reply on Facebook to a Black Lives Matter comment with ‘all lives matter’, what I see is someone who is willfully or ignorantly blind to their own racism. You just don’t get it, do you? Claiming ‘all lives matter’ in response to Black Lives Matter is literally minimizing the horrific injustices that black people suffer every single day.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the most recent egregious act of police brutality that killed George Floyd. An unarmed, unresistant black suspect was pinned by the neck for over eight minutes by a white cop until he passed out and died. Anyone who can wholeheartedly argue this didn’t happen because of race is at best an utter fucking ignoramus, and at worst a cruel, evil-hearted outright racist. If George Floyd was white, he would still be alive.

What makes this worse is the fallout from the act itself. Rightly so, black people the country – and world – over took to the streets, in some cases with fully-justified rage in their hearts – to protest. To say ‘enough is enough’ (isn’t is sad how often we hear these words – racism, school shootings, police brutality – it never ends), to make their voices heard, to demand justice, not just for George Floyd, but for black people everywhere.

And then, just as these people step forward with their earned right to rage and anger, white people appropriate the protests. White people begin riots. White people step in and say hey – you’re not allowed to protest without us. ‘What about the whites?

Jesus Christ – shut the fuck up! This isn’t your day. This isn’t your time in the spotlight, it’s not your fifteen minutes of fame. The president of the country calls the original protestors – the black ones, mind you – thugs. I’ve heard no equal condemnation from anyone over the white rioters, the ones who are arguably causing the most damage – both physically and societally.

For fuck’s sake, white people – can’t anybody else have something without us coming in and sabotaging it? Can’t black people have a moment – just one fucking moment – to have their voices heard uninterrupted?

This is the time for white people the world over to shut their mouths, silence their complaining, and just listen. Listen to what we’re being told. Listen to black people about the injustices they suffer. Listen to the fear they live with daily – to how when they’re pulled over by a cop, they fear they won’t see their family for dinner. Just. Fucking. Listen.

And yet, I just know we won’t. When Trump called Floyd’s brother, he spoke. He spoke, and spoke – and didn’t give the man even a moment to speak in return. The highest power in the country isn’t listening – how can we expect anyone else to?

This really isn’t hard, people. Please – for the sake of George Floyd, for the sake of black people, for the sake of gay people and women and minorities the world over – just shut the fuck up and listen. I know it’s going to be hard to hear – no one wants to learn they’re an intrinsic part of a cultural system that abuses power and privilege, where being born white gives you a real, tangible advantage.

But if we don’t take even just a moment to hear others out – and take to heart what they say – this world can never heal from the damage that has been wrought to it over decades, centuries, and millennia. This isn’t about apologizing; it isn’t about making things right. There is no making things right. The past will never be changed, and nothing could ever be done to atone for the centuries of persecution and violence done to so many.

This is about moving forward in peace. And that peace can only come through an acknowledgement of what we have done – every one of us. Don’t sit there and think your exempt because you’ve ‘never had a racist thought’, or because you ‘have black friends’; this starts with you. It starts by every single one of us privileged whites, us privileged men – we who run the world – taking a knee, a step back, a seat, and saying: speak, and I will listen. I will not judge you, but myself. I will answer for the sins of my forebears, and I will give you the spotlight, because you deserve it.

So please, I implore you – shut up. Just … shut up. For once in your life, listen to what’s being said, to what’s being asked for. I think you’ll find that, once you get past the fear and the violence and the hate, you’ll find that actually giving black people an equal voice isn’t so hard.

The Mind of Violence

I wish I could say this was a happy post. I wish I had good tidings to bear, or that perhaps I could recount the extensive traveling I’ve done in the past week, from Toronto to the Grand Canyon. I wish I could talk about anything other than what I’m going to.

But I can’t. This week there were three mass shootings in the United States: Gilroy, Dayton, and El Paso. Between them, at least thirty-two people were killed. Coincidentally, it marks the thirty-second shooting this year in which at least three people died. For all I know, by the time you read this there will have been another.

The worst part, though, is not the shootings. It’s not the deaths. The worst part – of which I’m guilty myself – is the crass, apathetic reaction of the country, the total lack of surprise, and the disaffection that accompanies these tragedies. Even as it crossed my newsfeed, I couldn’t stop my own thoughts: “Guess it happened again.”

I just kind of switched off. I didn’t want to, couldn’t, internalize yet another instance of senseless violence, of brutal slayings and now-childless parents. I couldn’t react in horror … because there was no horror left.

This kind of violence has become so frequent and commonplace that I’ve started to become completely desensitized to it. It’s just part of the background of living in the United States. Of course, many of us continue to go about our days, saying it could never happen to us, but the truth is that the odds are stacking against us, and one day it will be you under fire at a concert, or a Home Depot, or at your school.

But until that day comes, we all just continue to sit back, watch it happen, and condemn the shooters on one hand whilst continuing to silently approve the system that allows these things to happen at all.

By system, of course, I don’t only mean the ease-of-availability of firearms, or the payouts to the NRA, or the heavy-handed police brutality that leads to so many unnecessary deaths; it also includes the indoctrination that violence is a part of free speech; it includes the incessantly hypocritical reactions from politicians and leaders; it includes the simple fact that no other developed nation has anything close to the level of outright violence that has become second-nature to our country.

Violence has become something less than a tragedy; human life commoditized. It’s one thing to suggest that society is desensitized to violence through TV and popular media – realistically, I think most people are aware enough to know that TV violence is not a suggestion that such things are okay. It’s the frequency of real-world violence that desensitizes the masses to just how horrific such things actually are. And when we look at the culprits of the most recent mass shootings, none of them were ‘foreigners’, or ‘immigrants’ (I use these terms loosely, as we are all immigrants at some point or another) – there were young, disaffected white men who somehow came to believe that it was within their right to end the lives of other people.

It’s difficult to learn why these people do such things, as they are often killed themselves during their rampages. We talk to their families, interview their friends, and learn that they were ‘good people’, and that ‘no one suspected a thing’.

I call bullshit.

There are a lot of angry people in the world, and a lot of reasons to be angry. I get it. I’ve been filled with fury, with anger and with hate at times in my life. I’ve sought to place blame on everyone other than myself. I’ll readily admit that I’m far from a perfect member of society, even if I can’t imagine hating so much that I’d want to actually kill other people. The mind of violence is hard to understand.

But the biggest problem is that these people – disgruntled, prone-to-violence, hate-filled people – are allowed to purchase weapons whose sole purpose is to kill other humans. A lot of people argue that guns don’t kill people, people kill people – but people without guns kill far fewer people than those armed with them. Perhaps we can’t change how or why these people think the way they do, but there’s absolutely no reason we can’t stop them from accessing devices intended to end life.

Weapons of any kind are a holdover from a medieval culture where feudality and territorialism were the law; when if you didn’t have a sword or an axe, your neighbor might steal your sheep and murder your family.

Aren’t we past those days?

Aren’t we supposed to be living in an enlightened society, one where understanding and tolerance are meant to be the gold standard to which we aspire? If so, then what purpose do weapons serve at all? I can understand the desire to hunt, the desire to kill food for yourself – there’s a deep-rooted instinct in some of us to see and taste the blood of a fresh kill. But there is no reason in the world to need to kill another human being – even under threat, if that person has no weapon to threaten you with, you have no reason to kill them in self-defense.

The worst of it is the people marauding around proclaiming weapons as a part of free speech – that taking away their weapons takes away their freedom.

Again – I call bullshit.

We live in a society with tens of thousands of rules – laws, as they’re called – imposed upon us. These laws are entirely arbitrary, save for the concept that by enforcing these laws, we create for ourselves a safer, more tolerant and livable society. I’m not allowed to drive faster than 65mph on the highway – if I do, I get punished. I’m not allowed to steal from my neighbor’s house – again, I would be punished.

So then why do we continue to provide access to things that allow us to break the laws imposed upon us by our society? Why do we make cars that can drive at 130mph? Why do we sell lock-picking kits, when any conceivable use for them is illegal? And why on earth do we sell handguns and automatic rifles when anything you could do with them is against the law?

Free speech can only extend so far. It cannot be allowed to extend to hate speech; it cannot be allowed to extend to discrimination and bigotry. And it cannot be used as an excuse to provide access to dangerous, violent weapons. It isn’t a violation of your freedom to take away your guns; it’s a violation of our human rights to allow you to keep them.

Tell me I’m wrong.