“For more than 40 minutes, a woman was harassed by a stranger on a public transit train in Philadelphia and then raped while bystanders held up their cellphones, seemingly to record the assault,” NBC News reported last week. “The assault was observed by a SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) employee, who called 911, enabling SEPTA officers to respond immediately and apprehend the suspect in the act.” A few days later, another video surfaced, depicting a crocodile pouncing on a fourteen-year-old boy, whose remains were found several hours later.
While some readers’ comments expressed shock at the bystanders’ unwillingness to intervene, I think it is their natural instinct to preserve themselves that prevented them from doing so. What is anything but natural, however, is the fact that they documented the events on their phones and posted them on social media. This is a testimony that we are not only worse than any animal, we rejoice in, and exploit the suffering of others, even when that other is a woman or a child.
On the face of it, the bystanders committed no crime, yet we are appalled by them even more than we are appalled by the sex-offender or the death of the child. There is a good reason for it: The bystanders could have been each one of us. They were not sick people; they were regular folks commuting to or from work, or perhaps traveling to visit a friend or a family member. They represent the true face of society, of which we, too, are parts.
Our sages defined indifference as “Sodomite Rule,” the principle for which the Biblical city of Sodom was destroyed. They called that principle, “Let mine be mine and let yours be yours” (Mishnah, Avot, 5:13), meaning that no one interferes with another person’s life; each one keeps to him or herself. For this carelessness, Sodom was destroyed. How far are we from that trait? Judging by the filming bystanders, we have gone beyond it.
This is why our society is disintegrating. We can already see that we have no feeling for others, other than the desire to exploit their misfortunes or use them for some selfish pleasure. Is it not time we did something about who we are instead of waiting for a Sodom-type fate?
Enjoying people’s suffering is nothing new to humankind. In ancient Rome, for example, a common punishment to the worst of criminals, runaway slaves, and Christians, was damnatio ad bestias (condemnation to beasts), in which condemned people were killed by wild animals, such as leopards or lions, before a cheering crowd at the Colosseum. These days, the Colosseums are Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks. The arenas might be different, but the joy of the spectators indicates we have not changed.
I think we must begin to seriously contemplate correction of our core nature. We are on the brink of destruction. A race whose nature is so corrupt, a race that has taken over the planet and imposes its wickedness on all beings, will not be allowed to live for long. I think we must reroute not just our behavior, but the cause of our behavior, its engine, namely our own nature.
I have no doubt that in the end, we will come to the resolution that we must do this, but I am afraid of the price we will have to pay until we get there. If we make a conscious choice to change now, before nature forces us to do so, we will avert the cataclysms that clearly await us. If we choose inaction, nothing will stop them from coming.
The relics of humanity will still have to make the necessary changes and reform human nature, but there is no reason whatsoever that there will be such disasters. Earth is rich enough to provide for everyone abundantly, but it depends on whether we change ourselves for the better or maintain our diabolical nature.