Some of the concepts, ideas and thoughts tossed around in these pages are sometimes regarded as highbrow, elitist, and/or sophisticated in nature. That isn't to say that I am any of those things -- especially sophisticated -- but some of these aforementioned concepts refer to self-determination, the contemplation of the individual's role within modern society, and the difficulties inherent within a world defined by more than one world religion and the willingness of each, if not both, to fight until the other is no more. Throw in the increasing proliferation of technology and nuclear material and the tenuous balance that was struck sometime in the mid- to late-80's has slowly unraveled, not merely evidenced by 9/11 but every day since.
However, after one manages to make it through the Big Politics pages -- the internation section, where we read about new US soldiers killed in Iraq, where we read about Hamas continuing its efforts to destabilize the so-called Peace Process, where we read about President Chavez's latest efforts to entertain the world through his bucket-headed diplomacy -- we deign to review the local sections and read about our fellow man. We read articles like this.
First and foremost, anytime one comes across a story like this, it can't help but leave some sort of scar on the soul. Reading about man's inhumanity to man, at least to me, never fails to repulse. As I get older -- and I suspect this applies to most -- it takes more to repulse me. Of course, the above-linked article was far more than sufficient.
The fact that children were participating in this disgusting exercise in the first place doesn't anger me as much as it reminds us of the bumper-sticker wisdom of the cliche "Stupid people raise stupid children." Frankly, I don't know much about Alton, Illinois (except for an episode of "Good Eats" when host Alton Brown visited that particular town strictly based on its name, natch). However, this type of incident, I am certain, could occur anywhere there are cruel, inhuman, pathetic, unworthy human beings -- if one is to refer to the perpetrators as such -- and geography, citizenship, nationality and/or ethnicity draw no boundaries around such behavior, cruelty or despicable, inhuman activity.
In an interesting parallel to the "Movies You Never Saw" piece which appeared herein within the past week, in the movie "Thank You For Smoking," William H. Macy as a senator from Vermont asks Aaron Eckhart, Big Tobacco's most gifted lobbyist, about how he'll react when/if the latter's son turns 18 and decides to smoke cigarettes. His response was "If he decides he wants to smoke, I'll buy him his first pack." The assembly groans, and his response is "Look, there's no point in putting a poison label on cigarettes. Everyone knows they're dangerous, so labeling them, at this point, is ludicrous. It's not about labels, it's about education. If I've done my job as a parent, then my son will not be interested in smoking cigarettes. It's my job as his father to look after his well-being, not a label or a Senator or the government." I've taken some liberty vis-a-vis paraphrasing here, but I believe my rendition of same is accurate. If you'd prefer, visit Drew's Script-O-Rama and read through the script yourself.
Now, while comparing these examples -- one absolutely real and the other completely fictional -- to one another isn't quite appropriate. My point in doing so is this: this type of behavior is a by-product of stupid, inhuman people. The children involved in this incident -- younger than 18 years of age categorizes them as such -- will not grow up to be compassionate, caring people. They will grow up as felons, a product of the penal system. They will not be products of intelligent, compassionate people. That isn't necessarily a fair statement, by the way; intelligence and compassion are not mutually exclusive. However, the adults within the construct of this particular situation are neither intelligent nor compassionate. And their behavior -- cruel, despicable, repulsive, downright inhuman -- merit equally repulsive treatment by the penal system.
On some level, should one even question why this type of behavior occurs? Exceeding the speed limit by, say, three miles an hour is a violation of the law, but at some point we as a society move past the violation of law and into another realm entirely, which is the violation of human behavior. Running into a bank with a gun and stealing money because a desperate man or woman has no food with which to feed his family is one thing; shooting someone merely for entertainment or as a result of the power that comes with the wielding of a gun is another.
So in this particular situation, treating a mentally-disabled woman -- a woman who was carrying a child, inexplicably -- as a human being never occurred to these individuals. Stealing her state benefits was not sufficient.
They threw things at her for entertainment. They poured chemicals on her which burned her skin, sometimes to the bone.
They fired bb guns in her direction.
They forced her to eat little or nothing. They fed her less frequently than most people feed their family dog.
They took her clothes from her and, in doing so, they robbed her of her dignity.
And by continuing to do these things to this woman -- this human being -- they let her die. Naked, hungry, alone and as less-than-human.
It seems to me that we as a society and as a world need to focus less on legislating proper behavior, policing our language and not violating each other's "civil" rights and more on actually being human beings and educating our children accordingly. It's easier to laugh, denigrate or attack that which is different from us, but while the post-Imus world chides people for referring to black people -- some black, some white -- by the word "nigger," why is it that we worry more about the use of that word and less about its cause, or, even more importantly, its effect? How can a word -- nigger -- be so awful that we refer to it as the "N" word and yet hear its intended recipients use it without a moment's thought or after-thought? The hypocrisy is deafening in its silence. Why do we worry more about some scraggly, aged white man using that word -- or a similar one -- and ignore its use by young urban black men in entertainment and their every-day lives?
It's not about behavior or proper, appropriate conformation to rules and ascribed beliefs. It's about treating each other with dignity and respect, as human beings, and not needing laws or rules or guidelines as to how to go about doing that.
This incident shows (sic) just how far we've come -- and, more appropriately, just how far we have yet to go.