Finding Hope for Empathy via Kiki’s Delivery Service
Last weekend my boyfriend and I were watching Kiki’s Delivery Service.
If you’ve never seen the film, you should, it’s a lovely story about a young witch who leaves her home at the age of thirteen to train and find her true calling. She eventually stumbles onto the city of her dreams, a large metropolis by the sea, and decides to open up a delivery service, as she figures her flying prowess an ideal trait for express shipments.
But she’s low on funds, has no place to stay, and no business acumen. She’s facing some pretty steep odds against her, but right when all seems lost, a kind woman by the name of Osono offers her room and board while she gets on her feet. She’s saved by the kindness of a stranger. Later on, her first delivery goes awry, and another stranger by the name of Ursula helps to save the day, ensuring that her small business can survive this first setback. And then again, later in the film, additional strangers come to her aid, asking nothing in return, even as she sulks into a depression that threatens to take her livelihood away.
Kiki’s entire existence and eventual triumph comes at the help of those around her, selfless individuals who give what little they can so they can help a stranger.
And that, in this film about a witch in a magical land who delivers packages by broom, was the most unbelievable thing in the film.
Have you noticed that people are really shit? I mean, even more than usual. In the past 10 years or so we as a people have really nosedived and become a rather awful sort. The kind of people who put themselves first, ignore others in need, and bury their heads in the sand even when it means hurting ourselves in the long run.
Turn on the news. There’s an entire nation worth of people in need, an overwhelming number of people out there would rather they rot than offer them a hand in this, their most dire of times.
Kiki is, in many ways, a refugee at the start of her movie. While she left her home by choice, she quickly finds herself completely overwhelmed in a land that is alien and scary to her. The difference between her plight and that of the real world, modern day refugee is that those around her choose to selflessly help her instead of throwing her to the wolves while suspecting she’s a secret terrorist trying to kill them all.
I don’t know if I was taught to show empathy toward others or if it’s just a natural personality trait. I know that it’s not a trait that’s openly shared by some members of my family. Maybe I picked it up by watching too many overly optimistic Saturday morning cartoons or Spider-Man comics. I don’t know. I’ve just always thought that, when the chips are down and when shit is really on the line, you help others around you because if the situation was reversed, you’d expect them to do the same for you.
When I express such thoughts now, I’m attacked for naivety or ignorance. Helping a refugee is to let a terrorist in your home (despite all intelligent evidence pointing the contrary). Sure, there are always assholes in the world and views like theirs aren’t exactly new, but for people to see bodies of toddlers wash up on a beach and say “served them right,” I don’t know, I just can’t understand it.
I can’t tell if it’s a lack of empathy or a girth of ignorance. Maybe it’s both. Maybe that’s why the world is still careening towards a climate apocalypse despite the overwhelming evidence that shows not only that it would be incredibly easy to prevent, but profitable as well.
I touched upon this in a post I wrote last year, but sometime in December of 2013 I literally was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I unfortunately discovered some rather dire articles about the state of the climate and how bleak the future could be unless we acted soon. Thankfully, those articles were slightly off base in the severity of their claims (the death of mankind within 20-30 years) but it did set me on a path to find the truth. And while I don’t think mankind is on the verge of collapse by any sense of the word, it’s easy to see the writing on the wall if we don’t change our ways soon; massive droughts, food shortages, even more extinctions, die offs from floods and heat waves. Will we pull through it? I have no doubt in my mind we will. But along the way hundreds of thousands or more will die.
And they’ll die needless deaths because we could easily prevent the worst of this future now, even though we choose not to.
This knowledge literally drove me insane. I wouldn’t say it made me suicidal, but for about five months or so it really sucked my desire to care about much of anything. And while I’m far better now than I was 13 months ago, I still have dark days where I obsess about what the future might bring unless we change things.
At the same time, I’ve struggled to discover why exactly this bothers me so much. I mean, I feel that “potential deaths of millions” should be a cause for alarm for most people, but there are a thousand things that can cause that, everything from the continuing threat of nuclear war, terrorism, or any number of natural super-disasters that we have no control over. Why is this the one that keeps me up at night?
But when the refugee crisis hit and it gave me the same violent pain in the pit of my stomach that the climate crisis has, I had finally figured out.
I’m so upset because no one gives a shit.
More specifically, I’m doubly upset because there are people out there who know the truth, but bury it so people won’t give a shit.
Any refugee fleeing Syria is far less likely to harm you than another American. That’s a fact, and an easily proven one at that. But people out there with other motives, they don’t care. They obfuscate that with half-truths, lies, and irrelevant information to cloud the judgment of the masses. Right-wing website print lies about Islam and cherry-pick facts. Politicians conflate the Syrian refugees with ISIS, even though they’re on opposite sides of a war. And it’s done to promote a thinly veiled racist agenda in the name of national security.
(Of course, this could be said about damn near any foreign policy initiative from the Western world since the end of WWII, but it’s even more obvious than usual this time.)
But as fucked up as that is, I at least understand it. A racist is a racist. But a racist believes his vile shit. And as deluded as they are, the racists trying to keep out the refugees honestly believe they’re doing something to benefit where they live. They, through their clouded hate-filled eyes, see the refugees as a threat, and they want to protect their homeland and their family from said threat.
I mean, they’re wrong, but I can at least understand the sentiment.
But what the end game for people behind the climate denier movement?
As you may have heard, InsideClimate News recently published a bombshell of a report, showing in excruciating detail all the ways in which Exxon had deliberately mislead the public when it came to climate change. This, despite the fact that they knew, beyond all reasonable doubt, that carbon emissions were to blame for climate change and that without rapid change the world was in for an uncertain and potentially dangerous future with an altered climate. Not only that, they knew it for sure by the late 70s.
It’s an utterly fascinating (if entirely depressing) read. And I encourage you all to read it and share it with your friends and family. It’s the kind of reporting that can actually change the world (a tall order these days) and may be the tipping point in turning the tide on climate action.
But one question the article doesn’t answer is why?
Why, when faced with overwhelming evidence showcasing the horrific effects of their product, did Exxon not only do their best to hide their past evidence supporting it, but launch one of the biggest (and criminal) disinformation campaigns in modern history?
Why did the media willingly go along with it? Why did the president of the United States go along with it? Why is anyone continuing to go along with it when the potential consequences are so dire?
There was this band called The Sound, a post-punk act from Liverpool in the vein of Joy Division. They were great, and I really recommend their first album, Jeopardy. Released in 1980, one of the most memorable songs on it is a track called “Missiles.” It’s an anti-nuclear war track asks the simple question, “who the hell makes those missiles when they know what they can do?”
I didn’t discover The Sound or “Missiles” until a few years ago, but upon hearing it I was immediately reminded of the movie Amazing Grace And Chuck. In that film, a young boy decides to quit playing little league baseball until all nuclear weapons are disarmed. His small protest gains steam and soon athletes all around the world are joining the cause, quitting sports until the governments of the world wake up and stop the insanity of mutually assured destruction. I remember vividly the first time I saw it, and it put forth the same salient and rather obvious point in my mind as “Missiles:” why the fuck are we doing something that almost certainly guarantees our destruction?
Today I ask the same thing; why the fuck would anyone spout lies about the climate when the stakes are so high? Some racist prick says racist bullshit about refugees and that’s awful. But I see this endgame, he gets what he wants, his worldview is reinforced and, through the distorted shit-filled lens that he sees the world through, his world is safer.
But to the pundit who takes money from Exxon or any other company to help them bury the facts and cast public doubt that delays meaningful action against climate change, what’s the point? Yeah dude, you got some money, but you’re fucking the world over for your kids and grandkids. So, way to go?
I’m not talking about the useful idiots who have bought into the climate denial and actually believe it. I’m talking about the merchants of doubt, those who plant seeds of deception that cause just enough distrust of the climate action movement by just enough people to actually cause serious damage.
These merchants include people like Senator Jim Inhofe, the Koch Brothers and noted liar for hire Steven Milloy. Bastards like these get criticism all the time for the obstruction of climate change prevention, but I really don’t think they get enough. I mean, considering they’re actively engaging in actions that will directly result in the needless displacement, misfortune and most likely the deaths of thousands of people, you would think that more people would speak out against them.
You’d think their actions would be widely criticized for being illegal (as they are actually illegal). But they’e not.
You’d think that, once they were exposed multiple times over, that their lies would be ignored. But they’re not.
You’d think that people would care, right?
Amazing Grace and Chuck opens with a title card that says, “Once upon a time there was a boy…” And as the movie ends, with Chuck triumphant and nuclear weapons around the world disarmed, it fades to black before a quote from another character comes on screen.
“But wouldn’t it be nice.”
This framing sets the film up as a fairy tale or fantasy, most likely to deflect criticism that the movie was unrealistic. That didn’t work. You’ve probably never heard of Amazing Grace and Chuck for a reason: it was a massive bomb. No one saw it, and from what I can tell it was a near-unanimous critical dud. “Far-fetched and silly” said the New York Times. Time Out ended their review by calling the movie “puerile,” while Variety was even more harsh with their write-up, dubbing the film to be “amazing bad as it is audacious” and “destined to go down in history as the camp classic of the anti-nuke genre.”
People don’t want to care, and they’re always so eager not to care about something they should that they’ll attack something that suggests they should. You see it today with the climate deniers. To them, anyone suggesting that we decarbonize and change the world with renewable energy, which in addition to stopping climate change would also save millions of lives in terms of pollution and create countless jobs, is often attacked as living in an overly simplistic world. They’re called immature, stupid and naive for expecting that the world can up and change just like that. Ditto for anyone suggesting we help refugees and take them in. We’re naive and ignorant.
And that’s what does me in sometimes. When being empathetic is labeled as a weakness of the ignorant. When compassion is the trait of the weak. When caring for others is the role of the immature, that’s when I get depressed.
Climate change isn’t what’s depressing me, neither is the Syrian refugee crisis or the ongoing epidemic of gun violence or racial profiling in America. Those are depressing events and trends, but they’re not what’s depressing me.
What makes me depressed is the public’s hostility towards anyone who wants to fix them. It’s overwhelming at times, how angry and hateful the enemies of justice, compassion and common sense can be, and how easily they can recruit enough people to join them, or at least be apathetic enough to prevent change. Sometimes it makes me feel like there’s so much hatred and evil in the world that I want to give up fighting it and surrender to it all, to stop fighting to make a world a better place.
But then I remember the good people. And more importantly I remember my nieces and nephews, and others who deserve a shot at a fair and just future.
Maybe hoping that the world can change on the head of a dime is childish. Sure, expecting people to do the right thing and help others is irresponsible. And I bet finding solace and even hope in children’s movies about witches or kids fighting off nuclear armageddon is immature.
Fine. Call me all of those things and more. I don’t care. With the state of the world today, we could all use more irresponsible, immature and childish idiots who don’t understand how the world works. Because right now the world works for shit.
It’s a childish sentiment, but maybe if we all acted like characters in silly little cartoons a little more often, then maybe the world might actually be a better place for a change.
But wouldn’t it be nice.