I am discouraged that it seems necessary to say “don’t kill Palestinians” or “don’t kill Christians in Iraq” or that there is outcry over the plight of the Yazidi. How about “Don’t kill people”? It isn’t the Palestinian identity, the Christian faith, the Yazidi culture that makes it important not to kill people: it is their humanity. I struggle to understand why this isn’t obvious, but apparently it is hard work, not killing people.
Of course, I know I’m tangled up in it too. It’s basically impossible not to be complicit in the arms trade, for example, or in industries that deny people food if they don’t happen to have money. I could try to separate myself from that sort of evil, but purity is maddeningly elusive. I’m simply not self-sufficient enough to not pay others for some of my food, clothing, shelter; and I cannot control how those other people spend or invest the money I give them in exchange for goods and services. Separation from evil isn’t really an option.
So, while I’d love to say that we who are “good” or “aware” or something could change the world by never investing in arms dealers, I don’t think we have that much control over indirect investment. That’s capitalism for you.
Capitalism and its money-is-power dynamic also means that the majority of the people in the world couldn’t be ethical consumers even if they wanted to. I’m reasonably privileged — white, educated, have always had a roof over my head and food on the table — and I would struggle just because of the time and effort involved. The reality is that for many, “ethical consumption” would mean not eating, not having shelter or clothing, not having access to medical care: most of the time the only options available happen to include some dodgy investments.
So: we are all complicit, to some degree, in the slaughter that’s going on today, and we can’t really separate ourselves from it by staying in a middle-class white Western cocoon and only spending money with the companies who manage to present their products as ethical or responsible. I’m not saying ethical consumption is of no use whatsoever: I just recognise it isn’t actually the whole solution.
That leaves us back at “How can we try and convince people not to kill other people?”
I don’t have an easy answer. I don’t even really have a difficult answer: not in a “Do thing X and result Y will follow” sort of way, not anything I can ask you to count on.
What I do have is a shred of a sliver of hope; a faint glimmer of light, the sort I can only see out of peripheral vision.
I have this hope that somehow, if we truly treat one another with compassion, it will be harder for people to kill one another. I hope that one person at a time, solidarity will make a difference. I hope that by learning to look for one another’s humanity we will see the similarities, the common cause, which we so often now overlook. I don’t mean wishy-washy being nice to one another, either. I mean concrete actions that heal the fearful and the wounded, challenge the powerful, comfort those who mourn, forgive the sinner, loose the bound. I mean visiting the sick and writing to prisoners and helping at the foodbank or shelter and giving to the Disasters Emergency Committee and writing to your MP and, yes, shopping ethically, but not because we think these things somehow mean we get a free pass but because we love other human beings, or what we see of good in them, so much that it’s worth doing all that and more. Jesus said “whatever you do unto the least of these, you do it to me” — and to me, that speaks partly of the inescapable interconnectedness I was writing about earlier, which means we are all complicit in systemic violence but also that we are all subject to the contagion of compassion.
I still love the way Hafiz said it:
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men’s hands
even at the height of
their arc of
because we have finally realized
there is just one flesh
we can wound.