Silence gives power to our moral tragedies, whether people in chains or climate change
History is full of examples of individuals allowing unspeakable things to happen rather than acting out against them. Slavery, which existed in the United States for more than two centuries, fits this categorization. Before the abolitionist movement in the mid-1800s, there was little popular anti-slavery momentum, and successful demonstrations – particularly black-led slave revolts – often led to a tightening of restrictions. This was because most people were afraid of the reaction they would get if they did or said something opposing slavery. In that era, the majority of white Americans supported it, and the minority that disagreed could have been overpowered easily or targeted for opposing it publicly. People were worried for themselves, and because their self-interests were stronger than their morals, they chose to do nothing. This reality helps to explain why slavery existed for such a long time, and why it was so difficult to defeat; the silence of the masses was what gave slavery its power.
Unfortunately, passive acceptance of a moral tragedy is not confined to pre-Civil War America. There have been other issues, including climate change, in which silent acceptance was much more dangerous than individual protest. The crisis known as climate change has only been truly perceptible for a short time. Because of this, it has been difficult to rally massive numbers against it, which is part of the reason the United Nations and climate organizations are arguing that the situation has spiraled out of control. People chose to accept silently that nothing was happening because it was easier than working against the warming of the planet. Humans ignored the fact that climate change existed because it was easier than having to realize that something was wrong and – more importantly – that they specifically had to change their lifestyles to combat it. They accepted silently that climate change wasn’t real and overlooked what was going on, which condemned everyone. Many others assumed that climate change either wasn’t something to be concerned about or that someone else would take the first step necessary to fight against it; they simply couldn’t comprehend the scale of the issue. Unfortunately, because everyone who actually cared thought someone else would take the lead, no one took action until the consequences were much more dire.
Ultimately, an activist protesting against something will be standing up for what they believe in, and fighting for the change they want to see, while a bystander does nothing. Bystanders don’t solve problems or make change, and do nothing in the grand scheme of things. Protesting allows the mind to be free, and helps society as a whole fight against an injustice. When people go along with whatever content is being fed to them and don’t take the time to form their own opinions, they aren’t contributing to global progress. Instead, they’re following blindly along. Silent acceptance is another way of submitting to control and allowing injustices. The future of both the planet and the entirety of humanity depends on a massive awakening and a pivot away from silently accepting seemingly hopeless situations.
Nali Gone is a sophomore at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School.