Thursday, October 20, 2011

A crisis of conscience and social trust

A mother distracted at her stall; her precocious two year old wanders onto the street outside; a van driver distracted runs her over with his front wheels and stops briefly; either not wanting to know what he hit, or perhaps fearing that he hit what he knew he hit, he continues running her over a second time with his back wheels; the CCTV records numerous passers-by having a glance some even stop or slow their vehicles; her mother has already realised she has disappeared but has headed up the street instead of down; another mother, walking hand-in-hand with her child, walks around the bleeding, crying, crushed little body on the road; another vehicle runs her over for a second time; an old lady, who spends her days pulling plastic bottles from rubbish bins for recycling, is the first and only person to do anything for her; she pulls her to the side of the road and gets people's attention; the mother finally comes over.


This is a what you could see uncensored on Chinese internet (TV clips of course are censored) of a very real event from earlier this week. It makes for brutal viewing - the first time I saw it I cried. It sent this country into a frenzy of blame and a gnashing of teeth about the sickness of the society. There are of course the two drivers who ran her over; they're in police custody. But the eighteen apparently normal people who didn't so much as call an ambulance on seeing a run over still living two year old infant boggle the mind. From the life of an outsider in China, it's the worst possible consequence of several factors which become increasingly apparent. This may have always been coming.


China is abound with the fear of all kinds. One of the fears is that of extortion. A pertinent example is the case of a good Samaritan who stopped to help a fallen elderly person. The elderly person was thankful at first but as soon as the authorities came suddenly changed their story to the good Samaritan having knocked them over and demanded they pay the medical costs. This is one of a huge range of "tricks" that exist in society. Most children from young are told to not pay attention let alone, consider believing, what they see and hear of people in need. Gangs do disfigure people so that they become better beggars. And there are those the prey on the basic goodness of people. Avoiding the bother that helping could entail is the consideration beyond the simple moral equation. We can ask how this justifies ignoring the cries of a mangled child whose life hangs in the balance, but it does if one considers that a mother could come out of the sideroad screaming to high-heaven that it was you who hurt her child, that if you don't pay up she'll go to the police and then even if you can prove it wasn't you, you've had terrible bother. It's an easier thing to just keep going.


Even the drivers' behaviour can be understood to an extent. In some small towns, drivers who hit people might be dragged out and beaten by family members (as some people can escape justice through their connections, villagers taking justice into their own hands is often common sense). This has been used to explain hit-and-run cases here. Drivers will often turn themselves in shortly after on their own terms straight to a police station, as is also the case here.


Every country has its outrages. Outrage is good. It would be a lack of outrage that would be truly evil. With outrage let's hope that it settles into introspection: those eighteen weren't deviantly amoral, insensate; they were just like all of those carrying outrage. Let's hope that those outraged notice and in themselves seek to change the way they react to the hurt and unfortunate.


It is interesting to know that the only one to do something was poor and uneducated, yet showed instinctive care. It took no moral courage to act. She was given money by the city representatives and gave it straight to the young child... who regrettably is likely to die soon or become a vegetable.

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