You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid... You refuse to do it because you want to live longer... You're afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you're afraid someone will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.
Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you're just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.
Modern Western culture seemingly has entered a failure-mode unprecedented in history, where we have nobody willing to go first, to stand out, to do what needs to be done, to enact the changes everyone else wants. We've run out of empathetic iconoclasts—people who see the suffering of distant/distributed others, and for whom that aggregate suffering outweighs the risk that might come to the comfortable-life-in-obscurity of all their closer companions. The people with hearts that bleed for their fellow citizens, but then don't shrivel back at the thought of their companions being the ones who end up bleeding.
The real damage is done by those millions who want to 'survive.' The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn."Sophie Scholl - The Last Days"
Most civilization is based on cowardice. It's so easy to civilize by teaching cowardice. You water down the standards which would lead to bravery. You restrain the will. You regulate the appetites. You fence in the horizons. You make a law for every movement. You deny the existence of chaos. You teach even the children to breathe slowly. You tame.
Those who lead the country into the abyss
Call ruling too difficult
For ordinary men.
Ah, what an age it is
When to speak of trees is almost a crime
For it is a kind of silence about injustice!"To Posterity" (1939)
Seeing the Tea Party protests as oligarch theater was the easy part. What we didn't bargain for was how different the American ecosystem is from Russia's: Here, if your reporting causes some serious butt-hurt on powerful interests and they fight back with their PR machine, you can be sure that you will be abandoned by all your journalist "colleagues" and your liberal "comrades." One whiff of gunpowder, and those folks are like peasants melting into the countryside.
Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love.