Josh Heath | On the Evolution of Cruelty

Commentary

The English writer Martin Amis was profoundly wise when he wrote, “Probably human cruelty is fixed and eternal — only styles change.” 

His point — that wickedness is an essential part of the human condition, it merely evolves over time — is proven with a cursory glance at history and remains an essential truth for interpreting the world today. 

Take the issue of what to do with society’s vulnerable, or those incapable of supporting themselves through work. 

During the Nazi era, Adolf Hitler solved this question by sentencing them — the mentally ill, the physically handicapped, the disabled — to grisly deaths by lethal injection and poison gas. Germany was not to be tainted with their baggage, rather, the nation would celebrate and prioritize the “productive” classes.

With the modern acceptance of human rights and the dignity of the individual, such barbarism is seen to us in 2018 as downright evil. However, the central ache that drove Hitler’s madness — a complete and utter disregard for the vulnerable — lives on in American society, but in revised form. 

In our country, if someone is unable to support themselves economically, we do not send them to concentration camps, but we let them suffer miserably and do little to alleviate the burdens that come with not having enough income. It’s their own fault, the argument goes. At root, this dynamic is caused by the American far right, who view our suffering neighbors not as dignified children of God, but lesser beings who are victims of their own inferiority. 

These extremists get great joy from anointing their ranks as the “maker” class, the productive backbone of the country, so much more virtuous than the “takers” struggling to survive. As a result, they pursue and implement incredibly mean-spirited policies to destroy the safety net as much as possible and make the rich richer.

It is social Darwinism plain and simple, all too similar to what overtook Nazi Germany in the 1940s. Except our new cruelty substitutes income for race as a means of determining who deserves life’s blessings and who gets a boot on their neck.

However, one must accept that the ultimate result of both ideologies is a holocaust. The tools of  destruction merely differ. Instead of breaking bodies in gas chambers, we now destroy them on the streets, where nearly 600,000 homeless each night endure the existential torment of life on the margins. 

At Auschwitz, children watched their fathers wither and die, victims of Hitler’s  anti-Semitism. In America, the same act occurs when a parent passes away from cancer as a result of not having health insurance.

Any rational being should view this status quo with contempt. It is the essence of second-rate men — the foot soldiers of every social Darwinist movement — to build their egos on the suffering of others. Such nonsense animates the spirit of bully boys everywhere, be they cruel teenagers or graying members of the Senate.

Humanity’s greatest minds, from Christ to Lincoln, have long recognized a much finer way to live: finding one’s value not in the pain of our brothers, but through our capacity to liberate them.

We can do so much better. Our allies around the globe, from Germany to France to Denmark, have much less human misery in their countries because they make a serious effort to provide care for the sick, a liveable income for workers and meaningful opportunity for children. And they have far less wealth than we do; thus there’s simply no excuse for our current condition.

It is common among the far-right to say that America is a divinely inspired country, blessed by God. Whenever I hear such arguments, I think of the following verse from the Bible.

In Matthew, Christ speaks of those who, on judgment day, will try to curry favor with him and ascend to heaven, even when their records on Earth were decidedly unsatisfactory. The fate of such people, scripture says, shall be as follows: 

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’

“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

If our nation follows down its current path, and the social Darwinists continue to enact their policy prescriptions into law, we will have become the hypocrite of Christ’s teaching, no more likely to receive blessing than a common criminal.

Josh Heath is a Santa Clarita resident.

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