Feeling guilty about your total lack of heroism in the face of increasing hatred, racism, and anti-Semitism? Us too. An op-ed in today’s New York Times by philosopher Rivka Weinberg mines historical lessons from the Holocaust to provide a to-do list for bystanders. “Bystanding is not the problem,” she writes. Phew. “What we need to guard against is hate and collaboration with hate.”
This is doable:
- Skip the heroism. Most of us are not heroes, and never will be; extraordinary measures are both dangerous and an exception. And that’s fine, because it’s often a misguided notion anyway: the idea that large-scale racism or crimes against humanity will be stopped by individuals who stand up to hatred or violence is a historical fallacy; so is the idea that doing nothing is a moral failing. “The fact is that perpetuating vast crimes and violence requires lots of help by many.”
- Just don’t cooperate. At all. Many scholars have noted that in countries where locals did not collaborate with Nazis, such as Bulgaria and Italy, most Jews survived. Don’t help; don’t communicate; don’t do anything. A few crazy people in charge can’t do much without you.
- Really, really don’t work for the troubling regime. Weinberg explains how utterly commonplace it is for people to work for problematic regimes in an attempt to minimize damages. The reality is that they become manpower for hate-filled leaders. “Terrible things happen when people collaborate with terrible perpetrators.”
- Educate about hate. “People of average moral fortitude”–that’s us!–“should be educated against collaboration with hate and taught the reality of how widespread, repugnant and powerful that is.” Hatred is the underlying problem here, not your failure to save the world.
In short, it’s okay to be a non-cooperative bystander. Just don’t help hatred along, and aid others whenever you can.