A few days ago it was a beautiful day outside. Blue skies, cool but not too cool temperatures, and I didn’t have any immediate work I needed to get done so I decided to go on a walkabout of Changsha.
The walk lasted nearly 3 hours, and I went through areas I had either only been through on a bus or in a taxi, or had never been in at all.
I was struck by how much construction was going on. I didn’t actually count how many square blocks of buildings were torn down and in the process of being torn down, but it felt like TEN SQUARE BLOCKS in one particular area. It was staggering to consider how many people must have had to move their businesses and homes–I have to wonder how that was managed . . .
Anyways, In the last part of the second hour of my walk I was in an area full of small shops for repairing scooters, supply shops, and other small independent shops for industrial type products. The people looked pretty low income and while I didn’t feel like I was being stalked or anything I also didn’t feel safe walking around as the only white guy with an expensive camera around his neck. The mild feelings of anxiety I was having probably had more to do with how I had never been in the area before, and didn’t know anything about the kind of community and people there . . . but I still felt a little anxious.
Just as I was telling myself I should pick up my walking speed and get back towards my part of town I noticed a crowd of about 40 people in a circle around some kind of performance. I walked over to see what was going on.
I saw five monkeys all on chains being led through different role plays and stunts with a guy holding the leads to their collars . . . I snapped a few pics and then began walking away.
A man standing ten feet or so away from the crowd yelled at me in Chinese and gestured towards the performance. I’m guessing he was telling me that I couldn’t just take some pics and not put some money down–I looked at him with disgust and said, “Right, I’m going to pay for animal abuse–I don’t think so.” And I kept walking.
I imagine the look in my eyes, my shaved head, and general demeanour communicated that I was in no mood for him to try and force me to pay, and he said nothing in response.
As I continued to walk back towards home I thought about how powerful a role culture plays in what groups of people think is ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ and how monkeys performing in chains would get a horrified reaction of disgust and outrage from most if not all Canadians, and yet receive reactions of delight and appreciation from the crowd watching . . .
Are human beings really so malleable that without the influence of institutionalized ethics and values that we don’t know what is right or wrong?
I’m beginning to think that there is no such thing as an innate moral compass in human beings.