May the Indifference of Yesterday be the Conscience of Today

By Gerardo Gorodischer (El Mostrador)

HAVANA TIMES – As the German Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoller, said: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

This universally known text speaks of indifference.

The indifference shown by most of the 32 countries that at the Evian Conference (1938) expressed their regret for the situation of the Jews in Germany but refused to admit them. The indifference of millions of people who did not want to see the concentration camps being built near their cities or the smoking crematoria ovens.

Long before the Second World War, in 1915, Sigmund Freud said it very clearly: “…Where the community abstains from all reproach, the control of evil impulses also ceases, and men commit acts of cruelty, malice, treachery and brutality, the possibilities of which would have been thought incompatible with their cultural level.”

The Holocaust is the most obvious example of the association of these variables.

To refrain from the reproach to which Freud alludes, means—again–indifference. But this Jewish psychoanalyst makes a triad, adding cruelty and cultural level.

Today we face a phenomenon that, from another dimension, threatens human life and causes the disappearances of species daily. Climate change –which is the sole responsibility of human beings—threatens life as we know it. Freud’s words resonate.

Do we reproach ourselves for what we, our children, our families, our friends do in relation to the care of natural resources, water, land, forests? All this has the effects that we know…or that we prefer to ignore.

Do we reproach our inaction in the face of human drama or the role we play in the fight against inequality, gender violence, dictatorships, attacks, lack of justice, denial, the culture of dissolution or denial of the other?

In all this, indifference generates destruction, evilness, and hatred.

If Freud had witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust, he would have said that the cultural level of Europe, its noblemen, its architecture, met with the lack of reproach: the indifference to which I am alluding. And we already know its consequences: brutality, the cruelty of a regime that created the Final Solution almost without counterweights.

Judaism mandates that we take care of ourselves, and that this also allows us to devote ourselves to others: What am I if I am not there for others, the sage Hilel asked himself. In this way, he transmits us a fundamental message: we have a responsibility towards others, and for that, we must stop being indifferent.

Let’s look around us, let’s take action on so many situations that can be improved with gestures of conscience. May our cultural development allow us to reproach, as Freud says, because this is the way to control the cruelty of the world, we live in.

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