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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Do-gooder v Do-nothing: Activism v Apathy

The most dangerous people in the world are those too apathetic to speak up against injustice and evil. They take the 'Doris Day' approach to the suffering of others: 'que sera sera' - 'Whatever Will Be Will Be'. They are the 'do-nothings' and they give evil victory through their inaction:

'all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'. 

Why are the apathetic more dangerous than the perpetrator? Evil has manifested itself since time immemorial and while there are people in the world, there will be people who perpetrate it. Evil resides in the heart of humanity, so it important that we as a society ensure that evil is controlled and not given licence. The apathetic give evil licence through their silence, which in turn encourages and empowers evil-doers. Silence is complicity and the do-nothings are complicit in the worst crimes against humanity because of their inaction.

Sometimes it is easy to identify injustice and tyranny, while similarly nefarious activities masquerade in a cloak of decency, 'justified' in the name of democracy, capitalism, or God. It's almost as if the right marketing can legitimise evil, making it harder to identify the perpetrator as evil. Yet no matter how evil is presented, it is still evil and the perpetrator and the do-nothing are guilty of it.

Albert Einstein stated, 'The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it'.

These days people who speak up for the rights of others are labelled as 'do-gooders'. The term being used as an insult to imply that such people live in a Utopian fantasy world. Is it Utopian to expect that everyone is entitled to justice, respect and freedom from tyranny and evil?

The do-nothings criticise do-gooders, believing that social justice threatens their freedom. Yet, what sort of freedom allows injustice and tyranny? The apathetic criticise those who stand up for others, while doing nothing themselves to defend the victims.

The do-nothings take the 'Doris Day' approach to life: 'que sera sera - whatever will be, will be', as if they have no control over what happens in the world. This approach is for the lazy, cowardly or those who don't understand the power that they wield. Do-nothings are driven by fear and hate.  They certainly don't care for others. Leo Buscaglia stated, 'I have a feeling that the opposite of love, is not hate - it's apathy. It's not giving a damn'.

Desmond Tutu once said, 'If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality'.

For centuries 'do-gooders' have campaigned against injustice in its various forms, whether it be human rights abuses, slavery, apartheid, equal rights.

What have the do-nothings achieved, other than to benefit from the actions of others? A prime example of this is those who oppose unionism while benefiting from all that unionists have achieved, such as the end of child labour, and all they continue to achieve, such as pay-rises. Many do-nothings complain about refugees coming to their country while doing nothing to end the issues that have caused the refugee crisis in the first place. In fact, many of those crises have been caused by wars that the do-nothings have tacitly supported through their inaction.

Plato said, 'the heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself'. This has been paraphrased as, 'those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber'. Government must be held accountable, so it is imperative that every member of society be active in the political process. At best, the do-nothings facilitate the rise of inferior politicians; at worst, they facilitate tyranny.

The history of the world resounds with the results of successful activism by 'do-gooders'. For instance:
  • workers rights achieved through left-wing agitation in the 19th and 20th centuries, bringing an end to child labour in many countries and providing workers with the 40 hour week, overtime, leave entitlements, sick-pay.
  • Mahatma Gandhi undertook non-violent civil disobedience to end discrimination and racism in South Africa, British rule in India, tyranny, human rights abuses and poverty. Gandhi opposed mixing religion and politics. He also opposed the British-led partition of India which had resulted in massacres and the displacement of millions of people and worked to help the victims of this violence. India was eventually granted its independence because of the work of Gandhi and others like him. Gandhi has inspired millions of non-violent activists throughout the world.
  • the suffragette movements in the 19th and 20th centuries resulted in women being granted the right to vote in a number of nations, including the USA, UK and Australia and inspired women's rights movements decades later, that resulted in equal rights for women.
  • civil rights movements in USA, resulting in equal rights for African-Americans.
  • aboriginal rights in Australia, which resulted in indigenous people being given the right to vote, recognition of land rights and overturning the principle of 'terra nullius' (land without a people). 
  • the trade union movement, Solidarity, in Poland, led by Lech Walesa, resulted in the Gdansk Agreement between striking workers and the government, and eventually to free parliamentary elections that saw Lech Walesa became President of Poland.
  • ending of apartheid in South Africa, resulting in freedom for 20 million indigenous South Africans and the election of prominent anti-apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela, as President of South Africa.
  • the U.N. vote for Palestine on 29 November 2012 because of the agitation by millions of human rights activists world-wide, resulting in de facto recognition of Palestine after decades of genocide and ethnic cleansing by Israel.
  • letter-writing campaigns by Amnesty International which have resulted in the release of thousands of political prisoners across the world.
  • the Protestant Reformation movement led by Martin Luther, which ended the 'indulgence' system in which Christians bought their forgiveness of sin by paying the church. It also resulted in the bible being translated into local languages, rather than only in Latin. Essentially, this brought Christianity to the masses, rather than concentrating it in the hands of the Pope and priests who were using it for their own corrupt means.
  • the Magna Carta which was demanded by feudal barons to limit the power of the King. This led to our modern system of Constitutional Law and various Bills of Rights.
  • Jesus, a Palestinian Jew who spoke out against corruption in the temples, giving ordinary people the power to communicate directly with God rather than by paying priests for the privilege. His activism resulted in a religion dedicated to love, peace, forgiveness and caring for the poor and downtrodden.
The world will never be perfect, however this should not stop us from speaking up when we identify exploitation or tyranny in the world. It may be like putting out bush-fires, with some burning while others are being doused, however, it is better that some fires be put out than the whole world burns.

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