Some philosopher once presented a view of life as short and brutish. He argued that it is in the nature of human beings to look out for their individual interests, and if left to themselves they would destroy each other. They thus needed a strong state – what he called the Leviathan – to regulate those brutish instincts. The nature of Western societies came to be organised around this cynical concept of human beings.
I’m a solid, hardworking, taxpaying citizen with a sense of responsibility. I drive dutifully to work every day, suppressing my irritation in the tyrannical traffic. I try to be a considerate driver. Occasionally I wave an idling blonde from a side-street benevolently into the queue.
I drive alone.
Uh-oh. Do I detect a trickle of discomfort, lingering like a bad odour? Not only does my vehicle emit poisonous carbon, but I stoically ignore dozens of carless ones thumbing lifts along the road. I look the other way and mumble inanities like, “Sorry man, providing public transport is the government’s job. It’s the Leviathan thing, remember. And, anyway, I just can’t risk it”. Does that make me a selfish misanthrope?
Three or four decades ago, hitch hiking was part of our culture. Sadly, those days are gone. There are compelling reasons for not picking up hitchhikers nowadays. In fact, if you’re active in the corporate jungle and driving a company car, company policy will explicitly prohibit you from picking up any hitch hikers, for fear of hijackings, muggings and third party claims.
But I can’t help thinking we’ve lost some degree of human kindness and goodwill in the process. I don’t think we’ve become careless or indifferent to the suffering of the carless ones. Let’s face it, most of us do experience empathy. In fact, some days it downright depresses me. It’s the sheer scale of the problem that gets to me. Much the same as with global warming.
So I rationalise. I’m not going to save the planet by joining the carless ones and not driving my car. Equally, there are thousands of carless ones standing on street corners every morning and I can’t possibly make any difference to their plight by picking up one or two of them.
Like most Africans with cars, I have learnt to cope with my feelings of guilt by switching on my SEP field, because as a Leviathan man, it is Somebody Else’s Problem. You may argue that my SEP field is fictional technology, but believe me it’s as real, relevant and inevitable as global warming. In case you missed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, SEP is a generated energy field that affects perception. Entities within the field will be perceived by an outside observer as “Somebody Else’s Problem”, and will therefore be effectively invisible, unless the observer is specifically looking for the entity.
All this is rather heavy so early in the year. Perhaps the most apt conclusion one can arrive at in following this dense trail of disconsolate thought is the following:
Before criticising someone, walk a mile in their shoes. Then, when you do criticise them, you will be a mile away and have their shoes.
There is something beautifully African about this playful axiom.
By Zander Heeger
Zander Heeger is a freelance copywriter. If you’ve followed the Leviathan drift of this article, it will be abundantly clear that we can only save the planet – and humanity – by not wearing shoes