By Basil Fernando –
Now, I want to talk with you about another matter on which I cannot find any human being interested to talk to. It is about a peculiarity of us human beings which I think your species has no experience of which is the capacity, as well as some kind of willingness, to kill. Killing one’s own species is one aspect of human uniqueness. I know that in your species you also sometimes, quarrel. I have seen that in my early days of youth, how some of you have a small quarrel,on a branch of a tree or sometimes continuing to quarrel from tree to tree. However, that kind of fight is often to expel another from one’s territory, and it does not go beyond to the extent of killing another.
There have been times when human beings tried to create abhorrence, a moral disgust, against killing and such a killing would lead to a moral outrage. But what I have observed in the recent times is that this sense of moral outrage against killing, seems to have been subdued or virtually lost – has simply disappered. It may well be that people privately are against the killing of one person by another but, these days, they do not try to publicly demonstrate that disapproval. There is some kind of incapacity that has developed among human beings to express disapproval even of such things as murder. Instead, what seems to have developed is an increase in taking precautions, to try to avoid becoming the victim of a killing, a victim of some evil thing that everyone knows is quite widespread now. We human beings have become the sort of creatures whose success in survival seems to depend on the extent of precautions that we take for our survival. The precaution does not take the form, as perhaps it did at one time, of being armed or being prepared to defend oneself from being attacked by another. So, each person intimidates the other and thereby prevents the other from attacking.
Nowadays, what happens is that people withdraw from society as much as possible, so that they do not become the target of a killing. People find that disassociation from other human beings brings greater protection than association and cooperation. People fear each other so much that the idea of cooperation is less and less relied upon. Perhaps associated with this is the idea that the distrust of others is a better attitude to have than trust.
All this is quite the opposite of what we have been claiming about ourselves, and about our social arrangements, including our political organizations. We have claimed that we have come to some kind of a social contract to cooperate with each other. The idea of cooperation is at the very heart of the idea of humanity itself. We have claimed to be creatures capable of cooperating with each other for the benefit of everyone. However, instead of having that attitude and a belief in cooperation, which naturally leads to the other virtue of trusting each other, today we have given significance to the idea of not wanting to cooperate and withdrawing from cooperation as much as possible, and keeping what some may even call a healthy distrust of others. The moral implications of such a distrust is that we do not care about – nor do we consider ourselves capable of caring – about the wellbeing of others, to the extent that we do not even think ourselves capable of preventing the killing of another. Instead of the idea of keeping an open mind so that we notice others, today’s thinking is, that even if we meet eye to eye with others, it is best to avoid eye contact and not to get involved so that one does not come to any harm. The belief that others can harm more than help is so deep and so widespread that we have created a kind of culture of withdrawal, thinking of it as a culture that suits us and which will work well for us.
Unlike in your species, in our species we used to have people called heroes. A hero was somebody who did something great on behalf of many others. Something that many others would be afraid of doing. One of those heroic things we used to admire was the courage of those who come forward with the hope of reforming all of us and creating habits among us which will discourage violence, and help to create attitudes in us to abhor things which are bad for others, such as killings, rape and other forms of harm to others. For example, we had in the Jewish civilization a man called Moses who proclaimed ten commandments that everybody should obey. The first of which was ‘Thou shall not kill’. This shows that there were efforts to create some form of collective agreement on the fact that we shall not kill and that we will not allow others to kill. Killing other human beings thus became something that we disapproved of, and we expressed disapproval even by the infliction of severe punishment for those who did such things that was collectively disapproved of.
However, what has been happening now is that we are losing that sense of active disapproval, and therefore killing for one purpose or another is considered a kind of heroic behavior by those who pursue some cause. It is not only among some groups that this has developed, but also in our forms of government. Nevertheless, Our governments do not primarily consider themselves as agents who are supposed to strengthen the cooperation of people and thereby increase trust, confidence and even generate love and compassion for each other.
Instead, the State develops its own secret machinery for killing. People are trained to be extremely efficient in killing, and to create that efficiency the States use a lot of resources. There are things called commando units, special task forces and many other para-military groups who are given long periods of training to become efficient killers.
Part of that efficiency is to leave no trace of the killings. Governments provide vehicles, communication facilities and salaries and financial rewards for running such efficient killing mechanisms. And the State, in order to facilitate the functioning of such mechanisms, also discourages judicial institutions, which were in the past considered as the guardians of civil liberties of individuals.
Nowadays, methods have been developed to reduce these courts to the same situation as that of individuals who think that it is better to withdraw from the society than to engage with it. Through many methods, courts are prevented from engaging in order to prevent and punish killings and other forms of harm that people inflict on each other. Judges who are capable of being silent are rewarded. Sometimes the Judges themselves preach a new message, about the wisdom in not interfering while the Government maintains killing squads. So what I am trying to talk about with you is something that human beings do not want to talk about amongst themselves, in the recent times. We have begun to approve of killings as quite an essential part of maintaining our civilization. That idea of civilization is also no longer one of people cooperating with each other in order to pursue the common good of all, but rather of individuals and groups withdrawing from the rest of the society and pursuing their own interests while taking precautions against being harmed by others.