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Some have traced the following incident in China down to a “seriously ill society” and others to the communistic government. It is neither. What happened, happened because of what’s wrong with the human condition, not because of the condition of the Chinese society.

What happened was that a two-year old Chinese girl was hit by a truck in a market in southern China. Eighteen people, including another vehicle (which also ran over the girl) passed the crushed toddler without stopping to help or save her. They literally decided to look the other way, walking within metres of the dying girl’s body.

This has sparked outrage among Chinese netizens, some commenting,

“This society is seriously ill. Even cats and dogs shouldn’t be treated so heartlessly.”

And another:

“Really, what is up with our society? I saw this and my heart went cold. Everyone needs to do some soul searching about ending this kind of indifference.”

These worthy netizens are right. But they are only right in a shallow way. It’s not just that the Chinese society is sick. It’s that it’s sick in a certain type of way.

It’s sick with those two revered traditions of the westernised world; justice, and capitalism.

I say justice because in China, litigation has become so bad that the Ministry of Health warned last September to not rush to the aid of injured elderly people, because the risk of being sued for what happened to them is too high.

Now litigation is about fighting for your rights and seeing that those who contravene them are punished. The left has often fought for the rights of the downtrodden and the oppressed. So litigation is a good thing, and probably owes more to the left of politics than the right.

In our eagerness to protect our rights, we demand that every time our rights are trespassed somebody be punished, fined and hauled before the court, because somebody must be responsible for the contravention of my rights,

even if the person we sue is not responsible. This is wrong. If we want rights, we must have responsibilities. We must realise that if we are grownups, then we are responsible for our own lives and mature enough to handle the cruelty of fate. My tragedies can be tragic without being someone else’s responsibility.

Secondly, I say capitalism caused this Chinese travesty. One of the drivers who ran over the girl with his vehicle claimed that he did not stop because,

“If she’s dead, I may pay only about 20,000 yuan ($3200), but if she’s injured it may cost me hundreds of thousands of yuan.”

Capitalism is a good economic system (as China proves) but when it starts to determine moral right and wrong, then we have a social disaster. In capitalism, what makes money is good, what threatens the bottom line is bad. Helping people risks a court fine, so it risks losing money without profit. By the dictates of capitalist morality, saving that’s girl’s life was not worth hundreds of thousands of yuan. When we serve Mammon, we do not love Man. You cannot serve two masters.

So what’s “seriously sick” is not some phenomenon in communistic or heartless China. What is seriously sick is the Western success story. We have gone too far.  The freedom to make money and the right to stand up for ourselves are wonderful things, but they are wonderful limited things. As concepts operating in a framework that we are human beings, responsible for our own lives and being human, are beyond any price, they are wonderful.

But when they are our moral guidelines, then society becomes nasty, brutish and cruel. Just like this.