in post

Complacency and its antidotes

Richard Stallman's Political Notes is a superbly curated timeline of horrors that lie just under the surface. It should be read every morning as an inoculation against complacency.

There are a few people who perform a similar service around specific issues. In Israel/Palestine there's Amos Gvirtz, who for years has been publishing and sending to a small email list his "Don't say we didn't know" in Hebrew and English (the Hebrew version is collected on Blogspot). It details the evils of the Occupation and the abuses perpetrated against groups like the Bedouin.

Such journals are intended as calls to action, but I think that is not necessarily the result. A lot of people would simply murmur "too much information!" and stop reading. It's as if, on hearing faint cries for help under the rubble of a collapsed building, we shrug and say what can I do; I don't have a shovel. Or, when a beggar tugs at our sleeve, we say that we can't feed all the hungry people in the world.

I too no longer know what to do with this information. I don't have the mettle of an activist. Rather than rail about or fight against injustice, I'm just as likely to purse my lips and think that these are merely the rumblings of a civilization in its death throes. What I know is that I don't want to participate in perpetuating the evil, so these notices help me to limit the consumption of goods, the seeking of entertainment, the number of journeys made, so I gradually live more and more as a kind of recluse. In early China, if one fell out of disfavour with the emperor, it was best for dissidents to take refuge in the mountains. That was probably a comfortable arrangement for the regime. But some of these exiles went on to write books of poetry and philosophy that had a lasting influence.

Even today, in the Zhongnan mountains south of Xi'an there is a revival of hermitism.