It wasn’t Joseph Stalin but rather the German satirist Kurt Tucholsky who wrote, “The death of one man: this is a catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of deaths: that is a statistic!
”. Whatever its provenance, the phrase lingers because it contains a real truth. We overlook lots of terrible things because they happen in large numbers, but can be driven to concentrate on other terrible things when they happen to just one person.
■ But we, as people, shouldn’t mistake that aggregated exceptionality for being all that different as people. We’re phenomenally fortunate. The incredible good luck of either birth or successful immigration that makes a person American shouldn’t be discounted. But the things that animate us don’t really differentiate us from others; they ought to bind us closer.
■ People everywhere have these things in common: Most of us want to be good people, to do well by our families, and to go about our own lives making decisions untrammeled by the overreach of authority. And those aren’t just true of people in the present; they’ve been true of human beings for as long as we’ve been building something that looks like civilization.
■ History is full of stories of slave revolts
and freedom narratives
. It isn’t exceptional to want freedom; it is perfectly normal. From east
, it is entirely normal to demand agency in the course of one’s own life.
■ What is happening in Iran could well turn dangerous, and indeed it already has
. The rest of the world owes the people there goodwill and support. We also owe them solidarity: They do not choose their oppression
, and like us (all across humankind), they have every right and instinct to want liberty from arbitrary and unjust
oppression. They are only human, and so are we. And the more we see ourselves the same, the better we see why they’re right.