The Choice

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You are at the edge of a canyon. Below you is a procession of thousands upon thousands of gagged people marching forward, their hands behind them in steel handcuffs. The sun mercilessly beats down on you and on the marchers causing real pain and distress. From your vantage you can see that they are marching to a cliff and to their certain deaths. You have been yelling and screaming to warn them, but your voice is distant and it is growing hoarse. It is never completely hopeless because occasionally people look up. Sometimes small groups together follow the gaze of someone who has heard you yelling. You wave frantically.

This has gone on for hours that seem like centuries.

When people see you their reactions vary. Some shrug in disbelief or denial. Others panic. Those who panic understand that they face death but instead of giving them salvation, all you have done is add more suffering to their last moments of helpless torment. Some manage to scramble out of the press of bodies to outcrops or scraps of shelter that vary in their levels of discomfort and precariousness. Some of those who stop try to gesture warnings to marchers with head and eyes. Others try to shield themselves from the merciless sun. After a time of watching hundreds marching by, many of those you warned decide that you must be wrong, or at least that all the other people might be right. They rejoin the death march, relieved to once again be going with the flow. The marchers have been promised that shelter and freedom lie ahead of them. They may be sceptical about that, but all you can offer is struggle and suffering.

There seems little hope. Your skin blisters and your voice is nearly gone.

There is a pool of water. Sometimes you leave the cliff edge to quickly drink. If you didn’t your voice would already have given out. There are also materials around to with which you could build a shelter. You would love to just build that shelter. You could even build a shade that kept the sun off the marchers as they pass your section of cliff. One time you splashed water on the marchers and they loved it. It was genuine joy. You could be sheltering yourself, alleviating suffering, and providing genuine happiness instead of giving only the bitter curse of impotent truth. It is the obvious thing to do.

The problem is that the pool of water gives the best view of people dying.

When they reach the cliff people try to scream through their gags. Some marchers turn on others, kicking and butting. Some are simply paralysed with fear. Many, perhaps even most, secretly thought that this might come and they go to their deaths hating themselves for not having fought back. They fooled themselves and now they realise that they should have paid any price to avoid this fate – for them and for their loved ones. No one at the cliff will thank you for having once splashed them with water.

You could build a screen to block the view of voiceless death and suffering, but you couldn’t live with the screen.

If you close your mind, then your acts and the choices you make will be part of the concealment of the truth. If you can’t bear to bring joy or alleviate suffering without denying the truth, then your acts will perpetuate the lie that sends people to their deaths. You will be complicit in mass murder.

The only answer to the cliff, is to keep screaming.

You know that there is just a small chance that enough people will stop marching and will accumulate at the sides of the canyon. Or maybe enough will look up and see you at one time. Enough to make a real difference. Then….

…Things could go very badly. It could create a stampede. The death might be worse than the cliff itself. Maybe that might be worth it if it ended the death march for good, but there is no guarantee that the march won’t just start again after the stampede. Marchers will go right over the bodies of the trampled if they have to. It only makes them more resolute and narrow-minded in going forward.

On the other hand….

…If the marchers can fight fear, if they can hold firm despite the discomforts of the canyon, a ripple of refusal might travel back right through the march. The marchers aren’t stupid. Most harbour serious doubts about the march, but they have no access to other voices. They have no access to each other’s voices – except for incoherent grunts, tweets, status updates, and moans. That is the only thing that gives power to the distant shouts of a lone lunatic.

They don’t like the source, but deep down many marchers feel that the screeching wierdo might be the only one who is being honest with them.

Once they stop the death march, they will realise that they have no choice but to bear the sun while they work together to get rid of the gags and handcuffs and try to find or make ways out of the canyon. Not easy tasks, but better than marching enslaved in the blazing sun to certain death.

It is not much hope, but it is hope. So you can’t quit.

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