The news reports out of Aurora on the sacrifices of some who died saving girlfriends or those who helped plain strangers, reminded me of Steyn’s great piece lamenting the absence of valor, dignity, and common sense during the Costa Concordia sinking in January of this year. Back then, I wondered if the cowardice of the crew could in any way be explained by Europe’s cultural dialogue, or if the European educational system was anything like ours, where tutorials in citizenship, self-sacrifice, or social manners have long been overthrown in favor of a homogenized feel-goodism unanchored to any traditional virtues. Decades of being taught that we’re all victims (well, most of us) may make everyone that much more determined not to become an actual victim when the time comes.
But as Aurora showed, I don’t think we should give up hope just yet. Bravery (and chivalry) isn’t entirely extinguished, whether it was three young men shielding their girlfriends from bullets or the indelible images of hundreds of the NYPD and NYFD running into the burning Twin Towers on 9/11. In both cases, who could have blamed any of them for trying to save themselves or coming up with some excuse to shirk their duty? How about the thousands of Americans signing up to fight the enemy after 9/11, which they clearly didn’t have to do when the president was telling Americans to get back to their shopping and travel?
Bravery shines through in moments large and small: Last December, half a dozen passersby jumped into an icy river in Utah to save three children trapped in an overturned, submerged car. In Japan, after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, thousands of Japanese patiently helped rescue their neighbors and maintained social order for weeks in freezing, devastated, isolated villages. And don’t forget the Fukushima 50 — who chose to stay inside the radioactive power plant in a vain attempt to control the meltdown.
If anything, the spirit of sacrifice seems to still be there –a primordial part of our species. But, it is battered daily by the technocrats, nanny-staters, and utopianists, who assure us that the individual didn’t build anything, that we’re all dependent on the state for our individual grace. Is it too much to think that such thoughts, pounded into our collective heads year after year, may slowly lead us to believe we’re all so unique and special that we have no responsibility to the rest of society? Or, just as damningly, that the individual shouldn’t act on his own without the state’s guidance or permission?
No matter what the state preaches, the thin line between civilization and anarchy is still there. Luckily there are many still willing to defy chaos on their own, unprompted, without thinking of themselves — because they know in their hearts that chaos wins if they don’t.