As I delve deeper and deeper into trying to understand the roots of injustice and to uncover various avenues to try and promote social justice, I am left pondering if in order for progress to be made, whether some people need to die? In order for the wickedness and tragedy of a situation to become evident, do lives need to be extinguished so that the rest of humanity can finally get the message that if we don’t care and if we don’t act, people, including children, will be killed?
In Small Worlds, the Torchwood team is confronted with fairies who take pleasure in killing and torturing others. Gwen, at the beginning of the episode scoffs at the notion of fairies, to Jack’s annoyance.
GWEN: Anyone could have made this circle.
JACK: Why do you keep doubting me? I spell out the dangers, you keep looking for explanations.
GWEN: That’s what police work’s about.
JACK: This isn’t police work.
GWEN: All right then, science.
JACK: It’s not science.
GWEN: I know. You told me. It’s that corner of the eye stuff.
While Gwen does begin to sense that she and the others are being watched as they walk about n the forest, it isn’t until people begin to die and until her very home and sense of safety is threatened that she begins to take seriously the danger that these magical beings pose.
GWEN: In the whole of my working life I have never had to bring the bad times home with me. I have never had to feel threatened in my own home. But not anymore, because this means these creatures can invade my life whenever they feel like it and I am scared, Jack. What chance did Estelle have? What chance do any of us have?
In a similar way, when it comes to speaking out against injustice, many react as Gwen first did. They mock those who are suffering from injustice, assigning blame to the victims while ignoring or protecting societal norms that aid in the subjection of others. When women are beaten or raped, the response is “well they deserved it for not being more careful, for dressing like sluts.” Instances of brazen racism are denied. The poor are vilified and accused of being lazy. And those who die and suffer outside of our western reference? Well to be blunt, their lives don’t seem to matter. People don’t care.
And why should they? It is easier to live in a world where we can say pretend everything is ok and mock those who talk out against evil. In the Torchwood universe, it was easier for Gwen to mock the existence of fairies or for Estelle, to ignore the evil that lurks in them, than it was to believe that they could have such disregard for the lives of other living beings. Until of course, a moment arrives where ignoring or deluding oneself is no longer possible. And in many cases, humanity has a tendency to wait until a major catastrophe occurs to awaken from its stupor. And even then, we need to have a personal connection for us to really feel something. For instance, how many children are suffering in the Middle East as a result of our foreign policy? How many children are starving because we endorse trade agreements that make it harder for their parents to make a living or we give companies incentives to create sweatshops in third world countries? And we don’t notice until a particularly heart wrenching story catches our attention. It’s as if, as a society we require people to die in order for us to pay attention, for us to care.
In the episode, the fairies demand a little girl in exchange for sparing the world:
I often wonder, if as a society we play a similar game or demand a similar sacrifice. The fairies demand their “Chosen One.” In some ways, society demands that others pay the price for our comfort and for our empathy. Our economic system is based on the exploitation of other people. Our empathy is tied to suffering that is able to awaken us from the haze of modern consumerism. It’s as if we demand the deaths of other people in order to keep our economic system running or in order to get us to care just long enough to maybe talk about doing something before the next new catastrophe catches our attention. But what is the alternative? Trying to keep track of all the various instances of injustice can be exhausting and mentally unhealthily. Exploitation and apathy are not just a part of the American way of life-but are global realities.
JASMINE: A dead world, is that what you want?
JACK: What good is that to you? There will be no more Chosen Ones.
JASMINE + VOICE: They’ll find us, back in time.
JACK: Take her.
GWEN: Jack, no.
JACK: You asked me what chance we have against them. For the sake of the world, this is our only chance.
As a society, we demand that other “less important lives” be expended in order for us to live comfortably or alternatively we wait until we hear horrific stories of death before we intervene, usually for a short amount of time.