While in London recently, my family and I went to see the musical Hair, a remake of the groundbreaking Broadway musical of the 1960's. With close-up seats at center stage, I can say unequivocally that it was the most impactful musical I have ever witnessed.
It brought back all of the emotions and social problems I experienced in the turbulent sixties, still very relevant today with two wars as meaningless as Vietnam. But there was one thing said in the musical that really got me to thinking. It was something that my parents told me back then that I always thought was good advice:
'You can do anything you want, as long as you don't hurt anyone.'
I always felt this one sentence summed up how we should behave in the world. Now, I'm not so sure that this is even possible. Bear with me as I try to explain what I mean.
- Our government kills thousands of people in war, including many innocent men, women and children, under the guise of national security. We elect the government officials who approve and fund these wars. Are we not - each of us - hurting people by doing this?
- To make a living, we are forced to drive automobiles to work, to the store and to visit friends, injuring and killing many of us in car accidents in the process. Our food and clothes are also brought to us in trucks, trains, planes and ships, polluting our environment, causing health problems, bringing climate change and triggering extinctions. And how about that oil spill in the Gulf? Even though our involvement in the oil and transportation economy is involuntary, Is this not hurtful?
- Electromagnetic radiation (from our gizmos) and food additives present significant health risks and are the most likely cause for increased cancer rates. Our purchases provide profits to the companies that make and sell these things. We have little choice but to directly or indirectly fund at least some of these companies, again hurting many.
- Our global economic system has caused millions to lose their jobs and savings, negatively impacting the wellbeing of them and their families. We have little choice but to participate in and support (even a little) this system, again indirectly hurting others.
I could go on and on providing similar examples of how the social systems we were all born into makes it nearly impossible to avoid hurting others, even as our individual behavior may be 'whiter than white.' Public policies always prioritize individual injury or death below the need for economic prosperity.
Beyond this, how are we supposed to even know what it means to hurt someone when 'injury' is being redefined by new laws and technology almost daily.
For instance, when I was growing up, air conditioners did not exist in the schools and children were not required to ride restrained in the back seat. Nowadays, this would be considered dangerous and hurtful. We can only wonder when it will become considered hurtful to not allow a child to own a cell phone for their 'personal safety,' even as its EM radiation might make them ill.
I write all of this not to be a Debbie Downer or try and make some point about 'relativistic culture,' - but, to turn the lens toward our institutions and the inhumane philosophy (and laws) that defend them. As long as these macro systems continue to operate for profit and power without regard to how it affects individuals and the ecosystem, how can any of us hope to live a life that doesn't hurt others in some way? How can a 'new age' of elevated consciousness even begin?
Maybe the Hair remake should have said:
'You can do anything you want, as long as you first change the institutions so you won't have to hurt anyone.'
It reminds me that sometimes a little social activism can be inspirational, too.