Our collective wrongs

It has been said that every generation and every culture harbour a collective wrong. When we read through history, it is easy to find cultural attitudes and actions which violate the rights of a group of people. These attitudes are often couched in pseudo-scientific terms, and dehumanising phrases are commonly used by the proponents of these attitudes. Societies’ leaders would use moral imperatives in support of their arguments. In some cases, these wrongs were even perpetuated by well-meaning people with a sadly misguided world view.

Those who spoke out against what they saw as grievous wrongs were marginalised, or even hunted down.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

– Martin Niemöller

These injustices have ranged from the tragic (stolen children) through to the terrible (slavery), right through to the monstrous (Nazi genocides).

It is easy to look back at our ancestors and condemn their actions. But are we as a society, today, ready to examine our own motives, understandings, and prejudices?

What are our collective wrongs? What injustices do we not see, or see, and not speak out against?

5 thoughts on “Our collective wrongs

  1. Try this one for size:

    Allowing the capitalist / technological-industrial complex to make us into virtual robots, only doing the thinking required for our job specification, only thinking or doing when paid-to, being exploited beyond the human right to a family life (including let’s say an affordable home) and generally ignoring the lessons of the past.

    Especially those of George Orwell, but also those of the original Labour movement that preceded him. Here in the UK, we’re still ruled by Normans, basically (I live in London, England, the front-line for many social abuses – and envy you kindly down there).

    The spying that technology enables on us, that has happened in THIS generation, is our collective crime. Orwell and many others show us what such great power does in the hands of mere humans. Ignoring THAT is our collective crime. Enabling Big Brother. When we had fair warning.

    1. Thanks for your comment — interesting thoughts. I’m not sure I would classify those as a collective wrong in the same way as, say, the treatment of Aborigines in Australia in the past that continues in less blatant ways today, or the obvious World War II examples from which Pastor Niemöller’s quote arose.

  2. Hi there. I’ve seen that Martin Niemöller quote for 25 years now, in a few different forms, but this was the first time I’ve ever seen it omit “the Jews” as one of the groups. I did some research and found some interesting info, which is:

    1) This particular version of the quote is almost certainly incorrect and should include “the Jews” as the 4th group, just before the “Then they came for me,”

    2) There is no documented original version of this (i.e. the poetic rendering of a segment from a sermon he used to give post WW2).

    3) This version seems to exist mainly on what is, ironically, the “official” Niemöller Foundation website ( http://martin-niemoeller-stiftung.de/martin-niemoeller/als-die-nazis-die-kommunisten-holten ) and is likely the source of this version since they admit to deriving it from an answer to a question in a 1976 interview (see next item).

    4) The justification given by the Niemöller Foundation for using this version ( http://martin-niemoeller-stiftung.de/martin-niemoeller/was-sagte-niemoeller-wirklich ) is incompetent at best:

    a) it is derived from a long-form answer, given in a 1976 interview, in response to being asked about the origin of the poem (not the “true” or initial formulation of the poem)

    b) Niemöller never mentions _not_ including “the Jews”

    c) The Foundation states that, “He could not name the Jews because the great wave of persecution only started when he was already in a concentration camp.”, referring to Niemöller saying that he was in solitary confinement when Kristallnacht occurred. This is a sad excuse of a “reason” in two ways:

    i) Waves of persecution were happening well before Kristallnacht. The Nuremburg Laws were passed in late 1935 (among other pre-1937 examples).

    ii) Whether or not he knew about Kristallnacht when it happened is irrelevant. He didn’t formulate this into his sermons until 1946, after the war, at which point he certainly did know about it (he knew about it before the end of the war). Besides, he was expressing an idea, not a historic chronology.

    d) The Foundation even states that Niemöller’s second wife wrote: “In his ‘Confession of Guilt’ the Communists came first, then the Trade Unionists and then the Socialists and then the Jews.”

    You can find even more information at Harold Marcuse’s “Niemöller Quotation Page” ( http://marcuse.faculty.history.ucsb.edu/niem.htm ).

    Take care, Solomon…

  3. > What are our collective wrongs?

    1) Valuing political power over political process.

    2) Prioritizing money / wealth (even potential and/or perceived money / wealth) over, well, pretty much anything else.

    3) Not accepting that other people / cultures / societies will do/say/think things that we don’t agree with, and that’s ok (as long as nobody is actually being harmed, and doing/saying/thinking things that we don’t agree with does not qualify as being “harm”).

    Take care,

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