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[S]instinct, Part IV: Lust

Continuing my series on the evolutionary morality of the 7 Deadly Sins. 4/7 of the way there… perhaps by 2011 we’ll be finished.

Popularly termed “every man’s battle,” lust is probably the most oft confessed sin by men everywhere. It’s common. It’s hardwired into men as a gender. The desire for sex is biological, the reward both psychological and neurochemical. Beyond this, it is the drive of all genetically reproducing organisms to “sow their seed” as one might say. Why is it wrong? Why deny such a basic instinct? I believe it is the first instance where what is deemed beneficial to the species (greater population) is deemed immoral and wrong for the individual.

"Birth of Venus" the Roman goddess of love, beauty, and sexuality

What we understand as lust is very different from the world our ancestors grew up in. With prostitution being termed the “oldest trade”, men (or women) could satisfy their sexual desires. Later developments were sexual displays and theater. However, even these do not compare to the world in which we define lust today. Multiple factors exponentially increase the opportunity for lust. The internet is by far the greatest revolution in distribution. The ability for anyone to produce and distribute photography, print media, and video recordings as meta-products (those which go beyond the tangible product by not necessitating physical hard copies for consumption) greatly expands the sheer volume of published material. Beyond simply a lust of the eyes, advancements in contraception has made it simpler to indulge in the lust of the flesh with less probability of impregnation and, thus, less chance of financial and relational liability to actions. With all of these advancements, it is no wonder that one sees such a rampant industry and why men find it such a difficult “battle” to fight. (That is, if their moral conviction leads them to avoiding lustful indulgence.)

Why, if it’s so wrong, is it so natural? Evolutionary psychology bases itself upon the principle that the neuroanatomy of an organism is what dictates its psychology. However, the neuroanatomy of the organism is dictated by the genetics of the organism. These are then held to the same genetic principles of other traits: the ones that help you survive and procreate are, thus, the ones most likely to be passed on and become most populous in a species. If a gene codes for heightened sexual desire in neuroanatomy, it seems likely that this gene will be passed on. It dictates a greater chance for its survival by increasing the likelihood its possessor will have sex. The stronger the encoded desire becomes, the better chance it has of continued survival and spread. So, as you can see, the chances of a gene for sexual desire continuing to spread and mutate toward stronger desire is obvious. Especially in the male of the species who has more seeds to sow. For the female, her gametes (eggs) are limited to a precious few, and if one is successfully impregnated, she is then taken “off the sexual market” due to the incapability of her to become pregnant again for the next 9 months. In this explanation, I hope you might also see how infidelity can become the strong temptation for the male. If the drive tells him to have as many offspring as possible, it seems a more feasible goal if one has as many mates as possible. (Interestingly, women are more forgiving of men for having extra-relational intercourse than men are of women. Another example of evolutionary psychology, in that a male values the loyalty of his partner to spreading his genes as opposed to a woman valuing the care and emotional satisfaction of the relationship.)

None of this is an excuse for infidelity or all-consuming lust by men everywhere. It simply is a reason for why those desires exist. We are not completely controlled by our psychological/biological desires. If you can skip a meal, you can skip some extraneous sex.

So why is it wrong? In many cases, as with gluttony and laziness, it is over-indulgence in the flesh that causes the religious institution to find it wrong. It is against the idea that the actions of the body do not affect the soul, and, strays toward the ascetic approach to maintain purity; that is, that the flesh is evil and indulgence in its desires are, thus, evil. However, does this run deeper? There has been a social impact of all previously addressed sins, is there one here?

In the modern era, one could make an argument that, provided it remains a private indulgence, consuming pornography has no impact on social life whatsoever. The problem with consuming pornography is its degradation of the humanity of those depicted. If it is not right to publicly oggle another human being, is it right to do it privately? One might argue that these women are degrading themselves by posing for the photo initially, and this may be true, but, just because there is a product provided does not mean consumption of it is ethical. Is it right to think racist thoughts regarding another human being as long as you’re cordial in your interaction? Or do we see a problem there? It’s a matter of equality.

We are a functionally monogamous species. The amount of sex that takes place outside monogamous relationships (and the number of monogamous relationships that an individual might have in their lifetime) shows that this is not our natural state. One of our close genetic relatives, the gorilla displays more primitive sexual behaviors. There is a tendency for a patriarchal society in a group of gorillas with one male designated as the leader (typically the “silverback”, denoted by the gray hair covering its back) and the females mating nearly exclusively with him. In a similar manner, in the more primitive societies of human culture, polygamy is a relative norm. Why do more “advanced” civilizations have these monogamous stipulations? My hypothesis is that it relates to equality, respect, and rights. While women have not had the same rights as men for what could be considered a “long time” respective to the existence of “advanced” civilizations, in some sense, I believe this shows some tier of rights that they might have possessed. The idea of female equality is not necessarily new. It is one that has been wrestled with by many civilizations over history. I would submit, if a female is perceived as “less” than you, it is easier to feel justified in your perception of her in a lustful manner. It is not then degradation, it is acknowledgment of truth. Over time, I believe history has progressed toward a generally accepted equality of both genders.

The question still remains, is there social consequence to lust? Obviously, there is an element of social consequence to the action of unwanted public degradation. However, the private action does denote a power element. Rather than work to gain the right for a sexual relationship, one simply finds another outlet for the biological need. In any form, this is not consensual or equal. One party either receives payment for deeds or simply has their image used for sexual stimuli. One might argue that it is better done to an image or a person who gets some sort of recompense for the action, but in the culturally progressive view of equality, respect, and rights it is, rightfully, taboo. This, I believe, is why it is unstated and viewed as a “skeleton in the closet.”

Bio: Josiah is a graduate of North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. His thirst for knowledge is only surpassed by his thirst for coffee. Thus, much free time is spent in the quest for the next fix.

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The other day, a friend asked the time-old question “Why does God allow suffering?” to which multiple people responded with their various opinions on the subject. One individual responded with an argument of contrast. That is, suffering exists to show beauty through contrast. So, if suffering shows beauty, why do we speak of its eternal end with regards to heaven?by majaFOTO (sxc.hu)

My (roughly edited) response was as follows:

The things we cannot, by their definition, conceive of are the very things we are being asked to put words to. If we acknowledge the existence of and attempt to describe such persons and places, it is and must be the loosest of metaphors. For all we know is our experience. All we know is ourselves. The impossible illustration without imperfection or brushstroke is the task at hand.

Is their suffering in heaven? Although it is, by definition, a place where “no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, and no mind can imagine what God has prepared,” then truthfully logic fails to some degree to argue. We are told by scientists that physical laws and constants may theoretically vary from universe to universe, yet we cannot conceive of an existence outside of our context. Any attempt to imagine a world in which these forces are different becomes automatically contextualized by our own for understanding. It is similar with ideas of heaven. We create a world in the looking glass. A world that is the same, yet different and idealized; like a work of fiction gives flesh, tension, and movement to a philosophy.

Please note, I am not suggesting heaven is some alternate universe or post-universe, because the timescale one would have to operate on to suggest such a thing does not account for the probability of extinction for the human race or the billions of years it would take for even our own sun to expand into a red giant and consume the earth (and still the universe would continue). But I am speaking of the incapability of man to conceive of what he has not experienced without shaping it as something he knows. We must anthropomorphize personality and we must shape metaphors to understand a world outside our own.

It does not prove its existence in anyway. A “restoration” or “rebirthing” of existence with the elimination of things like disease ignores the fundamental nature of such things. Disease is not demonic or malevolent. Disease is essentially packets of data doing, like a microscopic, simplified, and unconscious form of “us”, their best to procreate efficiently. What you call disease, is them hijacking you to help them. So is this part of refinement? The elimination of any creation deemed unfit to be of aid to the human being? Or is this rebirthing in essence the capstone of creation in its elimination of continued creation (and procreation)? Is it the sustained final chord in grand culmination of the symphony?

For myself, with my doubts and questions, it has often been a question reduced to what I know in the here and now. It is a question of suffering reduced in the here and now. I can seriously hope for such a final note, but may my uncertainty drive me to take hold of the here and now, both in light of that hope and in respect of the possibility that this will cease and be the only life and experience any man gets, and thus, to responsibly strive that each man’s suffering is lessened.

Bio: Josiah is a graduate of North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. His thirst for knowledge is only surpassed by his thirst for coffee. Thus, much free time is spent in the quest for the next fix.

[It’s a little overdue, but, yes, the series continues!]

greed

–noun

excessive or rapacious desire, esp. for wealth or possessions.

en·vy

–noun

a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc.

What are envy and greed? These sins surround the subject of resources, consumption, and desire. They are inter-related and tangled together; one man’s greed provokes another man’s envy. In essence, I either desire more goods or I desire your goods.

Dissatisfaction, the root of envy, is the result of our desire for self-preservation and equality. On the sexual playing field, if someone has more or better resources, looks, etc. it is likely they will gain preferential advantage for their survival. If we all desire our own survival, we will naturally desire the things that allow others to survive. There is an invisible game of King-of-the-Hill going on in which all organisms are competitors. Why are we not all consumed by envy? Because we have found enough existential satisfaction in other elements of our survival. We have found companionship, employment, excitement, happiness, etc. Yet, we are still quite prone to dissatisfaction with our present circumstances in light of the success of others. This is envy.

Greed might be more difficult to define. Is it the hording of possessions and unwillingness to altruistically share? Or is it the desire for more resulting from dissatisfaction with present levels of success? Whichever it is defined as, greed is rooted in the same act as envy: possession.

Greed might be considered generalized, disembodied and non-directed envy. I want money.

Envy might be considered greed with an indirect object. I want his money.

When you look at the things we envy, I would submit that you find a pattern of interest. At their core, humans desire only a few things; things concerned with their survival and things concerned with genetic proliferation. That is, humans desire power, resources, and sex. With reservation, a man typically finds that these things are not detrimental to simply desire. It is when these desires go unchecked through a lack of satisfaction that mankind begins to find moral qualms with such ideas. Channing Pollock is quoted as saying, “Calm self-confidence is as far from conceit as the desire to earn a decent living is remote from greed.”

This brings us back to my original hypothesis about what determines moral wrongness regarding these subjects. It is the inter-relational element of our actions, the social outcome, that determines what we define as wrong. My desire for something is not wrong. Desire that is divisive or all-consuming is what we define as wrong. If I am unwilling to give out of my abundance to help, I am greedy. My desire to have overcomes the socially right action of altruistic giving. With envy, if my desire to possess what you possess drives a relational wedge between us, we find it wrong. If it doesn’t, we don’t. We would consider it to be a “mutual interest in the same things.” Just because my friend has a nice car and I want a nice car too does not mean I envy his vehicle. If that’s the reason he’s my friend, we might have an issue in that I’m exploiting him for what he possesses. If I harbour bitterness because he has the financial ability to get a new car, and I don’t, then I am envious.

Fable after fable tells us of the all-consuming power of Greed and Envy. Midas loses the things he values to the treasure he desires most. Faust loses an item of eternal value for temporary gain. And, in another example tying Greed and Envy together, Avaricious and Envious find themselves granted what they desire on the condition that their neighbour receives double. Avaricious lets Envious go first, knowing he will ask for treasure, thus doubling Avaricious’ wealth. Contemplating the possibility of his neighbour’s joy and benefit, Envious requests for one of his eyes to be plucked out.

“What joy it gives to the petty and tarnished to have companions in their ills and misfortunes!” – Aesop’s Fables

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

– 1 Timothy 6:10

Bio: Josiah is a graduate of North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. His thirst for knowledge is only surpassed by his thirst for coffee. Thus, much free time is spent in the quest for the next fix.

Featured on NBC’s ‘Chuck’:

Lyrics:

“When I wake up with the morning light I can always breathe
Somehow that never has meant much to me
And I can’t say I am thankful for the things I have
I’m a hell of a guy
Living a hell of a lie

And if I gave it all way I’d expect something back
I’m never sure that I could tell you where my heart is at
Cause every good thing I do is a selfish act
And I’m a hell of a guy
Living a hell of a lie

That’s why I don’t understand where you come in
Showing a son of dirt how to be a man
I tried to refuse your name, still you love the same
Singing hallelujah
Singing hallelujah”

(Mp3 available for purchase on Daniel Zott’s website)

Published!

Check out the article I wrote for Relevant Magazine!

If you follow this blog, you have essentially read it already in the form of Tragedy and Responsibility: The Subpoena of Fate. The version posted was edited and trimmed by Relevant. Be sure to leave comments!

It is as though all life is continually working towards relationship. We are not designed to be individuals co-existing, but individuals co-operating; a symbiosis of free, untethered wills.

Bio: Josiah is a graduate of North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. His thirst for knowledge is only surpassed by his thirst for coffee. Thus, much free time is spent in the quest for the next fix.

Further Reading: Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel

I am not from east or west

not up from the ground

or out of the ocean

my place is placeless

a trace of the traceless

I belong to the beloved

– Rumi

His identity was subdued by crisis common to unnumbered droves of young people across the globe, an unbelonging draped like chains on the motivations and orientation of young lives like his. Where tradition tried to welcome him, he saw first the unoriginality of repetition and the boredom of which “old things”, like religion, often stink in the noses of youth. His name is Eboo Patel, and he began his exit from adolescence with myriad realizations.  One: as a second generation Indian American, from a family of devout Muslims, his youth and ascension toward manhood in America had obeyed the guidance of the privileged, of the white, and somewhere in his growing up he’d been handed the heritage of someone else, to believe it was his.  Two: to have your identity impressed upon you by anyone, let alone a culture that does not understand or appear to want to understand your people’s actual history, is unacceptable if not criminal. Three: radical things happen in the world everyday, and those events are perpetrated by those, and only those, who decide they will be a piece in the machinery of revolution. Somehow, the keystone supporting the edifice of self for Eboo remained service to others – not hatred, not intolerance or cultural totalitarianism – and as a result, Patel was able to write Acts of Faith:  The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.

Patel opens Acts with a recounting of the young and terrible reign of Eric Rudolph, whose accolades include the detonation of a nail bomb in the New Woman All Women Health Care center in Birmingham, Alabama as well as the blast which rocked Atlanta in the ’96 Olympic Games. As a soldier in what he called, “the Army of God”, Rudolph represents the alternative to religious pluralism in Patel’s thesis.  Human’s grow ever better at impoverishing themselves, through the consumption of things that dilute personal identity and a lack of vantage points that gently look outward. Patel argues that, whatever the reason, young people want to be involved with what’s changing the world and so far, the precepts of intolerance and violence have put more effort into recruitment and mentorship than the peaceful and inclusive.

Patel’s chronicle is essentially the story of his Interfaith Youth Corps (also seen as “Core”), a growing movement of religiously diverse youth around the world who gather to learn from and encourage each other’s religions in order to better understand and internalize their own, all while serving their communities. They seek commonality, affirm particularity, and achieve plurality. In reading it, I have no doubt that with the right fiscal fuel and a generation of leaders to follow Patel’s, the IYC can absolutely revolutionize the place of pluralistic relationships in the religious world.  For this reason alone, I encourage anyone interested in the interface of religions or the mobilization of young people or the potential future of religious totalitarianism to read Acts thoughtfully and reflectively.  I tried, and that’s where the rest of this comes from.

——

Frankly, what overwhelmed me as I read through Eboo’s story was envy.  Not for his hardships or the wisdom they later endowed, or for his experiences unto themselves, but the identity that he rediscovered through his religion and its tradition. I am a young atheist, and though I am confident in my atheism, I realize that my fellow non-believers and me belong to a group impoverished in some unique ways. While I hold firm to my nonbelief, and readily defend it, I am not an atheist in the Dawkins/Hitchins/Harris camp. I understand their resentment for the religious world and share their frustrations over the elements of religion that defy unity, tolerance, stability, and too often, logic itself.  But more than I empathize with them over these things, I pity them in their inability to prioritize those things appropriately.

There exists a magnificent beauty in the development of true community, no matter the name under which that community gathers.  Patel’s exploration of spirituality, society, and self as a young man led him dangerously close to the doctrines of ugly theology, theology which violently rejects the prophets at the heart of so many religions and the central tenets of selflessness and community they ushered into the world. To the apostle’s of such ugly theology, the camps of Dawkins and Harris emphatically raise a single finger, and I completely understand why.

But there is a reason that Patel’s volume is not dominated by accounts of violence or repulsive transgression by zealots, but of his own religious enlightenment and the progress of others along side him. As I see it, the reason is this: if people, atheists included, focus on the inferiority of other groups and expend most of their energy scoffing at their ignorance, they have resigned themselves to the lesser treasures of our mortality. What drives my envy is that my community has yet to reach for our greater treasures, my community has yet to witness and experience the relentless desire for the betterment of others on the scale that Hindus witnessed in Ghandi, that Muslims still observe in the Aga Khan, that Christians treasure in figures as timeless as Christ or as contemporary as King. I certainly don’t mean to insinuate that atheists can’t admire or emulate these people – by no means – but the question is posed to us, can a devotion to others as radical as Christ’s exist and proliferate without a distinctly religious identity? I want our answer to be yes.  And like belief in any god, I think it is entirely a matter of choice.  But in reading about the mobilization of young people who readily pile their religious differences on the table, discuss them, learn from them, reshoulder them, and get to work transforming a broken world, I feel as though atheists risk missing the boat by writing and rearticulating The God Delusion.

On the flip-side, I’ve started asking some of my theist friends, mostly Christians, what they talk about in church, if their pastors ever mention other sects of their own religion. The answer, so far, is unanimously in the sentiment of silence toward their religion’s violent appendages: the Christian Identity movement is unmentioned; the Church’s missionaries continue to preach profoundly bigoted agendas which have started to grow roots within the law in places like Uganda; Pat Robertson continues to make an ignorant fool of the evangelical masses and the most serious response he receives from centrist believers is an eye-roll and a channel change. Movements as revolutionary as the Interfaith Youth Corps demand that those who desire peace and cooperation commit to their vision of the future as adamantly as the young men and, increasingly, young women, strapping bomb-belts to themselves and wandering into Marine bases or London subways. Bombs must be dismantled from the inside; and so must the doctrines of explosive religious sects be refuted by voices within the fold.

I see Patel & Co.’s project as a contender for the most hopeful idea currently circulating worldwide. It represents a vital dialogue, a summit on peace to which young people can be invited before the sewers of jihad or crusade can begin their demagoguery and the escalation of our parents’ wars. One might go so far as to say that its model, the heart of its existence, provides insight to possible solutions for calamities as serious as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (whose solution or mitigation certainly depends on the young generations) and hope for countries whose international political relations have reached an impasse, like Iran and the United States. Theirs is a revolutionary idea, one that no person should pass over light-heartedly.

Bio: J. Erik Peterson is a graduate of Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict’s Biology department. Samples of his writing can be found at jonerikpeterson.blogspot.com and beholdthesky.blogspot.com

The Question of Violence Pt. 1

This morning, as I was sitting at my local Starbucks, staring groggily at my computer screen, and attempting to sift through a torrent of emails, I came across a message from Christian Peacemaker Teams giving me an update on the ongoing violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians. Over the past two years, I’ve grown more interested and concerned over the situation in the West Bank over Israeli settlements.

The focus of this particular update was on the struggle between the small town in the South Hebron hills of At-Tuwani, Israeli outpost of Havat Ma’on, and the settlement of Ma’on. (For a brief history of the conflict and CPT’s involvement, please visit this website here.)

http://www.cpt.org/hebron/documents/Tuwani_media_packet.htm

Throughout the conflict, Palestinian natives have generally responded through nonviolent means, despite the constant harassment, violence, and crop burning that has occurred over the years. Unfortunately, let’s be honest here, in spite of the international outrage at these events the violence continues.

It’s all nice and dandy for us to discuss non-violent resistance to oppressors, celebrate the lives of the leaders of such movements, maybe even to show videos to elementary school students of members of different races and socio-economic backgrounds marching together. It’s uncomfortable to discuss the plight of the colonized in today’s age of liberal democracy; especially when the occupiers are seen as a bastion of said democracy in a land of religious fundamentalism. I’ll let you figure out the irony in the fact we are talking about Israel.

What is one to do when non-violence really just doesn’t work? Did the revolutionary message of Jesus really overthrow the Roman Empire? What about the nonviolent revolution in India? What of the bloody separation of Pakistan resulting from the new found freedom?

It’s legitimate to ask the question whether or not the Palestinians should heroically go on the offensive against the Israeli settlers, especially after the devastating Gaza Strip invasion.

As a Christian, I want to so badly identify with Christ. I want to believe that the best way to overcome violence is through love and self-sacrifice. Unfortunately, I know that some people simply do not care whether or not they are called out in there violence. The system is for them. In the case of a dictator, there are times when the country they oppress has no strategic value in the long run; therefore, no real reason for the heroic powers to intervene. I refer here to the crisis in Sudan in which there is, at this point, an arrest warrant for the current president, Omar al-Bashir, as well as to the atrocities committed by Hitler and Stalin in the mid-20th century. It was not until we in the United States were threatened that action was taken.

The topic of non-violence is not an easy one. It is not a topic that can be based off of an abstract ethical code of sorts and applied to any situation.

I am a Pacifist. I do affirm that using violence to overcome conflict is not a good idea. However as Richard Beck pointed out “If I saw a man raping a child and I had a baseball bat in my hand I know I’d hit him with it. And if I had to hit him in the head to get him to stop I’d hit him in the head. And if I had to kill him to get him to stop then I would kill him. I know myself, despite my intellectual sentiments and pontifications I know how I’d act in that situation.”

Unfortunately, this is counter to the teachings of Christ to love one’s enemy. I want to see restoration, wholeness, and salvation in the life of even the most evil of men. However at what cost does it come? Should there be limits to violence? How can one empower and affirm the humanity in the oppressed people of At-Tuwani as well as bring reconciliation with the Israeli settlers?

While researching the conflict I came across an article written about the conflict which described an event where the possibility of Israeli forces seizing Palestinian land, declaring state property, and then handing it over to the settlers was imminent. What did the villagers do? They found a non-violent solution. A way around the seizure. They could plant trees and declare the land agricultural. So they went out and planted trees in the area under threat. The risk here is that the trees will probably go to waste seeing as the Israeli settlers have repeatedly burned crops. Yet, I believe that it is a start.

Walter Wink points out in his monumental work “The Powers that Be” that Christ’s command ‘turn the other cheek’ does not mean to simply submit to the violence that is being inflicted. The interpretation that Wink points to in this passage is that Christ is specifically referring to a strike on one deemed to be of a lower class’s face. Essentially this was a back handed slap across one’s face to remind them of their lesser standing within the social sphere. To turn the other cheek was to invite another blow, this time openhanded, as a challenge, countering the social domination and forcing the the one who struck the blow to admit the equality of the one struck. The choice one would face in this situation is pick a fight or back down, either way admitting the humanity of the one receiving the blow.

Today it might be planting trees.

These solutions start us on a journey to counter the subjective violence threatening individuals and communities; yet, what of the systemic violence of racism or global captialism? How are Christians, or human beings in general, to respond to such unsympathetic systems and dictators?

This brings us back to the question “what about Hitler?” What does one do when faced with no other choice but violence in order to save lives? Does one hope for a magical way out? I cannot offer a passive solution to the dilemma of a bully . Here I am left haunted by the words of Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek.

“The true ethical test is not only the readiness to save the victims, but also – even more, perhaps – the ruthless dedication to annihilating those who made them victims.”

Bio: Nate is an aspiring science fiction writer and Starbucks Barista typically found on his off time at his Starbucks reading, writing poetry, and talking with various passerbyers.

Tragedy and Responsibility: The Subpoena of Fate

Creative Commons - Attribution License

image by Vox Efx

Faced with recent events, we may easily understand the pangs of compassion, concern, and confusion that are felt within the wake of such tragedies that befall mankind. News reporters speak of the urgency and fear felt by those closest to the situations. Televisions and computer monitors, like the panes of glass in a window, are all that seem to separate us from the victims of tragedy. The 1960’s futurist, Marshall McLuhan, termed this “the global village,” the inevitable culmination of connection technology that would cause mankind to bear witness to all the going-ons of the planet.

It is at times like these, we unconsciously become aware of the unspoken truth: Once we have seen, we feel responsibility for the triumph of Truth in the matter. We do not celebrate the men and women who have ignored the horrors that passed in front of them, knowing them to be wrong and refusing to act through sheer lack of courage. This generation knows this truth far and above others through sheer connectedness. Human crisis and violation of rights meet underground masses when not addressed by public media. We do not truly hear the cries or see the pain of those in Haiti, Indonesia, Darfur, Uganda, Rwanda, or China. Yet, when we hear of the events in these areas, we are driven to act, or, rather, feel some guilt for not acting on the compassion we feel. Do we sacrifice as much as we can? Do we truly conceive of the gravity of the situation? With contorted and confused souls we sit, digitally watching from afar, trying to grapple with the suddenly juxtaposed emotions of helplessness and responsibility.

For thousands of years, mankind has cared only for those he could see, those he could provide for, or those he had direct contact with. Are our minds capable of understanding the sheer gravity of global depravity and ungoverned, natural tragedy? These victims are not part of my community. They are not one of my own. We might think, “if this were but a man who came to my door, a neighbor who needed taking in, I could do something.” But as fellow members of the human race, their pain resides in the collective subconscious of all who witness it. Whether McLuhan foresaw or understood the near unbearable weight of responsibility that comes with this act of global witnessing, I do not know. What I do know is that, a few times a year, we stare into the eyes of a refugee, a sick child, a displaced citizen, a victim, a person who has lost a son, a mother, their home, their livelihood, and we are called upon to respond.

If there is but one thing our primitive minds unceasingly ask and yet fail to grasp, it is the question of “Why?” Why did this happen? Why was this allowed? Why do people act this way? Why was I here instead of there? Why not me? We develop mythos. We try to explain. But stories and logic cannot free us from the cold, harsh grip of responsibility one feels when he asks these questions or the momentary guilt we feel when we turn down an opportunity to give. Christopher Hitchens, for all the things he might say that I would find disagreeable, recently said this of tragedy and response: “It isn’t my idea that these capricious catastrophes strike the just and the unjust with such regularity, or that they are soothingly explained away by the pseudo-compassionate. Of all the great cosmic questions, WTF still strikes me as one of the most pressing, relevant, and ultimately humane.”

It is coincidence that, a few weeks before this, I would write on laziness as a refusal to act with responsibility towards the well-being of those who bear responsibility for your own. In a recent conversation with a coworker, we discussed the nature of global responsibility. What requires me to act besides image-induced guilt and emotional response? I might submit, in harsh, reasonable fact, you bear no responsibility for those outside your immediate and tangible control. However, we do not look through the annals of human history to make note of those who did what was required of them, but we define as heroes those who did what was needed when Fate handed them a subpoena.

Bio: Josiah is a graduate of North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. His thirst for knowledge is only surpassed by his thirst for coffee. Thus, much free time is spent in the quest for the next fix.

Keep updated on (a couple of) your contributors!

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Top 3cast analyzes and discusses the most interesting and important news stories from the previous week. Join our rotating crew of panelists each week as they discuss their top 3 stories and why they think they are so important.

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My first contributing episode will enter syndication the Feb 1st, but check it out before then for more highlights and opinions from highly interesting people!

Bio: Tone Hoeft is pursuing his Master’s degree in Communications from Eastern Washington University. To learn more about him or his thoughts, visitwww.inproximity.org.


Bio: Josiah is a graduate of North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. His thirst for knowledge is only surpassed by his thirst for coffee. Thus, much free time is spent in the quest for the next fix.