Doing nothing in the face of evil…

From Reuters:

A Chinese man who hacked to death seven young children and two adults in the latest in a series of deadly assaults on schools lashed out after an argument over a kindergarten lease, neighbors and state media said.

Bystanders fled and hid from the man, armed only with a cleaver, as he exploded in apparent rage over a rent dispute with the kindergarten:

Wu Huanming, the owner of the two-storey building with a walled, concrete courtyard, wanted the kindergarten to vacate the property when the lease ran out in April, Xinhua news agency said. Wu Hongying wanted to keep the school running until the summer.

In rural China, villagers often have the same surname, but may not be closely related.

Wu Huanming ran back into his home to grab a cleaver and onlookers were too afraid to stop him, said one villager.

“I saw him holding a cleaver up in his right hand. I ran out, there was shouting everywhere,” Li Yufen, a resident of rural Nanzheng county, told Reuters.

“Then a few women came out, but we were not enough, so I went back into the house. The killer walked straight past me. He glanced at me but walked on and I closed the door and stayed inside.”

Wu Huanming hacked five boys and two girls to death with the cleaver, and also killed Wu Hongying and her 80-year-old mother. He returned home and committed suicide, Xinhua news agency said.

It’s tempting to draw facile and presumably superficial conclusions from events like these — I just erased a couple hundred words of the beginning of one — but I find myself with the nagging notion that even beyond the all too typical human fear to be the first to act in such circumstances — something we’ve seen the perplexing, seemingly perverse evidence and tragic results of here in the west — the Chinese state apparatus’ carefully maintained image of social control and ultimate omnipotence has further hobbled the impulse of individual bystanders in such cases to break the ’social surface tension’ to act out to protect themselves and others.

And it may also be overly facile to point to the incidents aboard Flight 93 on 11 September 2001 — the heroism of those who, even knowing they themselves were doomed, banded together to attack the hijackers and bring down the plane, ending their own lives but saving countless others on the ground — as a turning point, a moment of sea change.

Yet as I look back on the US’s own history of terrible public attacks, mass-shootings and attempted massacres, I can’t help but see the effects of new attitudes and a greater willingness to initiate action, even in the face of very real and menacing danger. 20 years ago such an event often went the gunman’s way — people cowered, unwilling, afraid or simply unable to act for reasons they couldn’t express — today, on the other hand, while we still, sadly, have far too many such incidents, many of them are stopped early rather than late, when bystanders overcome what some researchers have described as a form of social intertia to act against the attackers. The impulse to act is presumably individual — but quite often, as we’ve continued to see, others immediately follow suit and, while good samaritans are sometimes hurt or killed, greater tragedies are often averted.

We all must balance pure self-interest with various social or altruistic impulses in many instances of our daily lives.

But there *is* an enlightened self-interest in many of these seemingly most dire circumstances in the impulse to do the right thing.

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