Sunday, July 06, 2003

Well, even more evidence that Western civilization in general and American civilization in particular is corroding in an inexorable slide into collapse.

Over the Fourth of July weekend there was a "boat rage" incident on Lake Minnetonka. For those of you who don't live in the Twin Cities Metro Area, Lake Minnetonka is a rather large lake in the eastern suburbs famous (or infamous, as you prefer) for the price of the homes on its shores (some are worth tens of millions) and the hauteur of many of those who boat there. Lake Minnetonka has many coves and bays and this incident occured in one of them.

Well, this weekend a boat seems to have either bumped another boat or rocked it with 'excess wake', causing the man in the receiving boat to lose his temper. Shortly thereafter, the man in the boat that did the bumping threw the other fellow in the lake - and drove his boat (including outboard) over him. The man thrown in the water is probably dead.

I hear you now, "Probably, Deep Thought? Aren't you sure?" No, no one is sure he's dead, and that is a more terrifying story than the one about how he probably died. A much more terrifying story.

You see, within a few moment sherrif's boats with deputies arrived to clear the area and get divers in the water to search for the missing boater. Eventually there were 35 deputies in 9 boats screaming through bullhorns to clear the area so the divers could start looking. Here's the beginning of the scary part - no one moved their boat. Nobody. A man is probably dead in the water, but maybe injured and needing help, and no one moves their boat to allow the police to try to find him.

Here's the scarier part - they didn't want to move becaue they were afraid they'd lose their prime 'fireworks watching' spots in the cove. That's right, the motivating force behind all of these people ignoring the police as they perhaps left an injured man to drown (and at least left his dead body in the water) was a fear that they wouldn't have a prime view of the upcoming fireworks.

And the scary finish to this story is the added fact that the police had great difficulty in getting statements about what happened from the eyewitnesses. Now, were they afraid of the man who probably killed a fellow boater? No. Were they ashamed of their callous disregard of the welfare of another human being? No. You see, the police were taking their statments during the fireworks show and people didn't want to "ruin their fourth" by giving the police a statement about the murder they witnessed instead of watching the fireworks. Other witnesses left immediately after the fireworks show despite the pleas of police to make a statement. Despite this, enough evidence was gained that two people are in custody and the investigation continues.

Let's sum up - in Minnesota, a place that prides itself on being friendly, a man is hurled from a boat and probably killed and the many observers refuse to either make room for divers to either save the man or retrieve his body or make statements as to what they saw because they wanted a good view of the fireworks.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, but I bet a lot of the people there got a little misty-eyed when they heard the National Anthem on the 4th of July. I bet many more of them get teary when they saw Bruce Willis' speech in the movie Armageddon. And I bet a whole lot of 'em get upset about the Holocaust and wonder how Germans could just stand by while 12 million people were purposefully executed in gas chambers.

Newsflash! Many of those Germans didn't want to get arrested, too. And some didn't want to risk losing that really good job they finally had. Or the nice house, social connections, whatever. Essentially, they didn't want to risk losing their place for the really good show.

If you think I am being too harsh in drawing a comparison between the boaters who wouldn't move and complacent Germans under the Nazi regime, let me respond with this; The boaters are probably far worse than the majority of WWII-era average-joe Germans were. Most Germans were just careful not to connect the dots; they didn't turn and look full-on at the truth. These boaters knew the truth and turned their back on a man's life and probable death. They weighed a man's fate against a fireworks display and found compassion wanting. They compared letting another man's family know whether their husband and father were alive or dead with their own family's opportunity for a really good view of fireworks and decided in favor of the red starclusters.

One of my first posts was about the separation of compassion from the rest of our lives and how this is a sign of moral corrosion. My example then was how the Nazi high command could order the Final Solution one day and cry at the opera the next. I am afraid that this is a new example, a new indicator that many members of society are placing empathy for their fellow humans in a box that is only opened for movies and family reunions.

And in the end, what is civilization but formalized empathy for others?

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