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Well said, mr. president.

July 17, 2009

Quoth Obama on CNN during his visit to Ghana (link here ), making a very important statement regarding slave-traders, the slave-trade in general, and our own ability to do evil :

“You try to explain that people were willing to degrade others because they appeared differently,” Obama said. “You try to get them to engage in the imaginative act of what it would be like if they were snatched away from Mom and Dad and sent to some place they had never seen before. But you know, part of what you also try to do with kids is to get them to imagine themselves on the other side, as being the slave merchant.

“That slave merchant might’ve loved their children and gone to that place of worship,” he said, pausing to point to a church on the grounds, “right above the dungeon. And [I try to] get them to make sure that they’re constantly asking themselves questions if they’re treating people fairly and whether they are examining their own behavior and how it affects others.”

That last paragraph simply cannot be said often enough. Those people we see as evil today were human beings like us. Human beings who did horrible, horrible things, but human beings still (I have written a past entry touching on the same about Hitler, which can be found here . No, Hitler and the slavers and everyone else (down to and including Osama) were not alien monsters from outer space, or demons, or whatever Always Chaotic Evil race you can conjur up. They did not have an evil gene. They were humans, like you and I, with the same capacity to harm others you and I (and Sasha, and Malia, and Obama himself, and Dubya, and…) have.

And this is why we can’t dismiss them: by dismissing them, by telling ourselves they weren’t really people like us, but evil incarnate, or madmen without a shred of humanity, or otherwise demonizing them, we implicity tells ourselves “They were not like us, and we can’t become like them.” And that’s just a load of bullshit. They were people like us, and we can become like them. I could have been Hitler. You could have been a slave-trader. Any of us could become the next Osama. And the one best way to guard against it is to keep firmly in mind, at all times, that we can, in fact,become so, and to judge our own action in that light.

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