Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.--Graham Nash
William Golding wrote a novel called Lord of the Flies (LOTF) in which a group of English schoolboys being evacuated from home to escape an unnamed war crash land on an island. With all the adults killed in the crash, the boys must fend for themselves. Control of the group descends into a power struggle between Ralph who represents order and the better parts of civilization, and Jack who represents anarchy and our base desires run amok. I thought about LOTF today when I heard a horrifying story on the evening news.
In Richmond, CA, a young girl, age 15, left her homecoming dance at 9:30 pm to go home. She never got there; instead she was gang raped on the school grounds. According to the police, as many as four to seven people assaulted the victim while a dozen or more watched. Some of the spectators took pictures. No one called 911. The young woman was found after someone who wasn't present at the ongoing assault overheard people talking about what was going on and called the police. They found her severely beaten and semi-conscious, her injuries so severe that she was airlifted via helicopter to the hospital. According to the police, the attack lasted more than two hours with direct participants and spectators coming and going throughout the assault. So far there have been two arrests, a 19-year-old ex-student and a 15-year-old student at the high school.
Like most people, I am horrified by the actions of the perpetrators who physically assaulted this young woman, but I'm perhaps more disturbed by the spectators who watched, commented, and took pictures as if witnessing some carnival side show. The perpetrators, once apprehended, will suffer the consequences of their actions, but it is not likely that anyone who "merely" observed will be punished. According to legal experts offering an analysis of the events, there is no affirmative duty under California law to undertake being a good Samaritan.
It's easy enough to shake our heads and ponder what has become of our young people; however, I think a better question is what have we taught our young people?
The message that we communicate to our youth is muddled and hypocritical. We give lip service to values--love thy neighbor, be truthful, be responsible--but our actions are totally disconnected from those values. Dishonesty reaps rewards until you get caught, then you may go to prison but when you get out, you go on the speaker's circuit and/or write a bestseller about how you managed to be a cheat for so long. The homeless, the poor, those who speak with a foreign accent, aren't our neighbors and we don't have to love them. Hell, we don't even want them in our neighborhood. Rehabilitation has nothing to do with our prison system; it's all about vengeance. Much of the opposition to a public option in the health care plan rests on the ideology that we have no responsibility to ensure access to health care for all who live within our borders.
The underlying theme among those who are opposed to health care reform is a belief that some people are undeserving of health care. Topping the list are illegal immigrants. Elected officials demanded and received assurances that no health care reform program would include providing care to illegal immigrants: Love your neighbor as you love yourself unless your neighbor is an illegal immigrant in which case they're on their own. There is also an overt concern with allegedly undeserving poor people getting health care at the expense of the rest of the hard working people otherwise known as, I am not my brother's keeper if I don't find him worthy of help.
We are engaged in a struggle for the soul of this country. This isn't a battle in which you can afford to be neutral, playing the role of spectator like those young people who stood on the sidelines watching and doing nothing. Our youth are us, stripped of the veneers of polite society. If we give them no sense of real values, of ethics that aren't situational, of a belief in the collective responsibility of us all to be our neighbor's keeper, then what can we expect except that they will become like LOTF's Jack, an amoral wild child without conscience, relentlessly selfish and cruel, willing not only to perpetrate violence but to stand idly by as if the brutalization of another human being is a spectator sport.