To say "no more"
On the mirage of exceptionalism, the things human beings have always wanted, and why 86 million people deserve some solidarity
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.
■ In Iran, just such a case is unfolding. 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being arrested by the state's "morality" police for breaking their rules on what women are permitted to wear outside the home. Iran is a very large country; with 86 million people, it is more populous than Germany, France, or the UK. And the "morality" police have troubled many of them -- probably millions.
■ But this single case -- transparent in its cruelty -- has ignited vigorous protests not just in one or two places, but all over the country. Many people have had enough. Their contempt for their oppressors is boiling.
■ Americans like to talk about how exceptional we are. And the American system has indeed proven to be -- quite literally -- exceptional. 4% of the world's population produces 24% of its annual economic output, holds profound cultural and technological hegemony, and buys 40% of the world's armaments.
■ 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 to west, 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.