Why should we care?
On the duty to care about matters that don't directly affect us
Reporters from Reuters say they observed first-hand as security guards and workers dismantled a statue at the University of Hong Kong. But not just any statue: A piece of art called the "Pillar of Shame", erected to commemorate the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. It's not a matter of changing aesthetic tastes; it's an exercise of power by the increasingly controlling authority of the Communist Party 1,200 miles away in Beijing.
■ Russia has around 100,000 troops menacing Ukraine -- including some in places that Russia took from Ukraine in 2014. Ukrainians are practicing for guerrilla warfare to protect their homeland and turning to the US for help as they anticipate being attacked with the tools of cyberwarfare.
■ The 2.7 million people of Lithuania are weathering diplomatic and economic aggressions from the government of China, which is retaliating for Lithuania's decision to treat Taiwan as more than a subsidiary state.
■ One might wonder why Americans should care about any of these developments, as none of them affect any large number of Americans directly. We have our own political fights, our own domestic worries, and our own health to worry about.
■ We ought to care, at the most high-minded level, because the ills that befall our fellow human beings are a part of the state of humanity. For every American, there are another 23 people on Earth. Stuck in a lifeboat with room for 24, one ought to have concern for the welfare of all the rest -- and Earth is a pretty tiny lifeboat in the vast sea of space.
■ But we also ought to care because we have leverage. Like a county sheriff or the captain of a football team, we're capable of rallying others toward worthy goals -- and others expect us, as a country, to be more aware than most. Vast diplomatic and intelligence networks are supposed to be useful that way, and it is no small thing that America possesses the overwhelming first class in tools like aircraft carriers.
■ If all that mattered were what happened within the walls of a tiny city-state, that might be one thing. But we value the freedoms to think and speak, to come and go, to trade and invest, all of which combine to have made America a vast intellectual and economic powerhouse. But like a potluck dinner, things get better when more people show up and bring more to the table.
■ Deep down, most Americans know we're extraordinarily fortunate -- it's an incredible prize to have won the Rawlsian lottery and have made it to America, whether by birth or by choice. But a small cost of that good fortune is that we have a higher duty than that of the average Earthling to be aware of the injustices of the world and the trampling of freedoms. And while we shouldn't always step in with guns blazing, we can't risk our silence becoming thunderous. Our choice to engage with the world doesn't always require our weapons -- but it does demand that we see the plight of others, and for them to know we are watching.