John G Bell


Fall '03 - Gomez & Unsel

Week 2 – Critical Integrative Comment

The Early Republic: Sedition, Rebellion and Economic Dissent

This week, we've had the opportunity to think critically about a minor few of the vile things that have gone on in the history of this country. We've gotten a tiny sliver of the prejudice against anyone other than white European males, the economic and political class warfare. In the movie Jefferson in Paris we had further an example of abuse of power to commit rape painted as sexualized, consensual and acceptable. The topic of the dispossession of the native population in this country this next week will be just another example of egregious legalized murder and abuse of power against humans by other humans.

People's behaviour is determined by the context and conditions in which they've lived. Experiments in authority and behaviour show how completely people perform the roles in which they are placed. The infamous Milgram experiments of 1974, published in Obedience to Authority, show that normal, everyday people given instructions by an authority figure will commit atrocious acts against fellow humans, even when it's only for a few bucks at college. Imagine then the kinds of acts that people, normal people like you and me, are capable of when there's something we believe to be serious on the line. It's essential to realize that any one of us would have been just as monstrous and immoral, when compared to our conveniently distant perspective, because we'd be a product of our times.

It is the most sinister and seductive reasoning to think in retrospect that we would behave differently. There will be the future perspective that looks on us and sees the abuses we decide to ignore. I'm sure the future perspective will have just as much incentive to view themselves as superior and immune to our current lapses in the kind of humanity they think they have. To tell ourselves this is just a convenient lie, an illusion we are capable of due to our not being in the same place and time as those we so freely condemn. We are just as capable and just as actively monstrous as anyone in any other age. Claiming that these acts are somehow inhuman and monstrous is an excuse to divorce ourselves from the worst parts of our own natures. If we allow ourselves to ignore this shadow part, it will forever dog our minds and hearts as hidden, unresolved potentials for what can truly be called evil. That we live in the modern era is no excuse to imagine ourselves, being untested by those conditions, to be virtuous.

Divorcing ourselves from the horrors of which we are capable is the same mechanism that allows ourselves to divorce others from humanity, from ourselves in order to commit such atrocities on them. We must try to never forget that we're all human, and we must try never to forget what horrors our humanity includes. If we forget these things, how can we ever honestly claim to be virtuous? The horrors of our age will be different but eerily similar to any other age, and we'll have been just as culpable for our times as other generations were for theirs and the worst horror of all will be the brutal logic we used to justify our actions.

It is through rebellion, sedition and economic dissent that we hear time traveling echoes of future condemnation for our actions in the present.