Oblique Villainy

“But you became a villain. ‘Cause that’s what villains do. They make themselves happy at the expense of others. But it just makes them more unhappy….. That isn’t something to idolize. It’s something to pity.” Snow White… “Once Upon A Time” TV show.

I see this quote often, usually in the context of “being a better person.” The first time I saw it without attribution, so I did not realize it was from a tv show. And even though I know I am over-thinking it, I think it is cognitive dissonance to relate meaningfully on a personal level to the above type of statement and fail to relate it to a larger scale.

To me, though, I can only see it on a large scale, and instead of related it to individuals, I think of societies, our planet and huge groups of people. The villains are those consuming and exhausting resources disproportionately to their size. Some are robbing other groups and countries and people of their equal ability to live and thrive, through which happiness (or at least peace and human comfort) becomes possible. If we are indeed our brothers keepers and stewards of our planet, we are willingly playing the villain on a large collective scale. Our role is so deeply entrenched into our way of life that we even recoil at the mere idea of being complicit. We use our beliefs and religions to move our attention away from an unavoidable conclusion: we are villains. Capitalism is fed through consumption and consumption is evidenced in large houses, sections of yards, investments and savings instead of real-life food and shelter for the homeless, helping those who have served and helping future combatants by demanding our respective societies stop waging war. Instead of large stone pillars to our lofty creator whose sole message apparently is “love thy neighbor,” let’s build houses for the less fortunate, provide medicine for anyone who needs it, and an arm on a shoulder to pull someone toward us instead of using it to push away.

I know, I’ve heard the reactions to my crazy line of reasoning. But let’s face the fact that only through geography do many of us owe our success in life. Whether you were born in a time that fostered education, or had a great family, the reality is that you were probably born white in the United States of America. Yes, you were probably motivated, worked hard, and did your part of the equation to help ensure that your life would have a better chance to yield the correct result. Underlying all that effort, however, is the simple fact of your equation have fewer variables and more favorable factors. Catastrophe, death, illness – anything could have toppled your house of cards. The same holds true for our cities, states, and nations. We cannot invalidate the mutual interaction of all the moving parts. You are lucky, no matter how you examine your life. I know some of you can and must believe that you are special, that hard work ‘deserves’ reward. Many on our planet work incredibly hard every day of their lives without the opportunity to excel, be creative, or even eat meals that can sustain them. Our personal fulfillment must seem like an impossible fantasy to so many in the world – because it is.

Many of us didn’t make it this far, even when they played by all the known rules. It is a problem of ours that we so often see the “lesser” in our world, whether they are people or entire societies, then jump to the untenable conclusion that they must be unworthy or probably failed to act according to their ability. As Picard said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.”

Taken on a greater scale, we as a nation are lucky, despite all our hard work and intelligence, that factors beyond our control haven’t eliminated many of our chances to allow one another to grow, love, and prosper.

That ability should translate toward a fierce dedication toward our fellow man. Not just those in our house, yard, or country, but those all across the globe. We should be desperately trying to figure out to help. All the lofty ideals we espouse push us toward that very goal.

We are the villains Snow White was railing against. Just because we don’t see ourselves in that light doesn’t diminish the possibility of it being true. Most villains don’t recognize themselves in that same harsh light, either. Through our eyes and in the context of the choices we feel we’ve had to make, it all makes sense. This is also true for us as a country, too. It’s easy to believe otherwise as our hand reaches into the ever-present bag of hot popcorn, warm and comfortable.

We are hoarding resources and ability, things which would do tremendous good in the world. Yet, we prefer to buy our athletic shoes from factories employing children for dollars a day. It’s easy to bomb people who don’t look like us or who don’t live next door. We can justify these things easily, because we have carefully practiced the art of oblique villainy.

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