The topic of dystopia is increasingly being discussed these days, at least in the United States, because as scary as it seems, the thought of the United States becoming a dystopia is increasingly teetering towards becoming a reality. Now, I realize the USA isn't a dystopia yet, and I know it could get much worse. Still, the fact that dystopian laws are even being considered in this country makes this topic an important one to discuss - especially the question of how responsible the citizens of a dystopia are for the actions of its dystopian government.
It seems as if historically humanity has been of two minds about how responsible an individual citizen is for the actions of his/her government. On the one hand, the Nuremberg Trials say a citizen can be held responsible, considering how the Nazi officers who claimed the defense of "just following orders" were found guilty of war crimes regardless. On the other, the Geneva Conventions have made the practice of "collective punishment" - the practice of punishing all civilians in a particular area for the actions of just a few - a war crime. Whenever collective punishment is used in war - such as the more recent war in Iraq for example - most of the time there has been an outcry (though in some cases it gets the slip).
For those that personally know me, you'd know that one of my beefs with other people is when people blame and punish someone else for something they have no control over. That's why I get so upset when in the discussion of international issues someone blames Americans in general for causing a particular problem - while it may or may not be true, it's illogical, I think, to blame me personally for it since, being born here, I have no control over my citizenship. Nor do I have control over my fellow citizens and what they do. I know I can't be apathetic, but being responsible and being apathetic are two different things. Regardless of how responsible I am for any particular global issue, you can't accuse me of not caring - and it's the caring part that matters. Therefore I feel that in general, citizens can't be blamed for what their governments do, unless they either directly side with the government in question or are otherwise apathetic.
The Bhagavad Gita can back me up on this, I think. I realize that there are aspects of the Bhagavad Gita that would be implied to say otherwise - after all, Arjuna is going to war, and war, by its very nature, disregards who's truly responsible and who isn't. Once there is violence, the gloves are off, and as the old saying goes, it's not about who's right, but who's left. This is one reason why I am deeply opposed to war; while I don't consider myself a total pacifist, the fact that war doesn't make any distinction between innocent and guilty is why I'm opposed to war in general. However, it is my opinion that the Bhagavad Gita in general agrees with my stance on guilt, innocence, and just how much citizens are responsible for the actions of their government. After all, even though Arjuna is going to war, he's definitely not willing to do so and is torn up about it. The whole first chapter is dedicated to this internal conflict of his.
In the first four chapters, there are plenty of statements that say it's a person's level of compassion that counts, and the intent of action, and not necessarily the consequences. Consequences are important to consider, yes, but the consequences shouldn't cloud the perception of the person doing the action if that person genuinely has a good heart. To put it another way - one shouldn't be constantly afraid of consequences and thus be paralyzed with fear of doing any action whatsoever. I know as a white male American citizen there are several aspects of my daily life that cause harm to others in some way, from the products I buy to the taxes I pay. But I can't simply stop living my life. After all I have the right to live, as such is the concept of dharma - that everything has a role and a place in the universe. Otherwise, what is the point of reincarnation?
A couple of passages in particular strike me as being supportive of my statements. For instance, in chapter 2, Krishna says to Arjuna: "Arjuna, the prominent among men! The person whom these (sukha and duhkha) do not affect, who is the same in pleasure and pain, and who is discriminative, is indeed fit for gaining liberation." To me, that says those who don't resort to blanket judgments, those who regard everyone as an individual and not as part of a stereotype, are good people. I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly, as I have stated earlier. The other passage I will quote, from chapter 3, said by Krishna: "Even a wise person acts in keeping with his or her own nature. Because all beings follow their own nature, of what use is control?" To me this says that one should not be concerned with controlling the actions of others. One should just live one's life and not judge others.
It is my hope that I can do something one day to stop the United States from spiraling into dystopia. But until then, I intend to live my life the way I want to, for if I succumb to the judgment of others, I will fail my own dharma. And if there is one thing I don't think I should fail, it's at living.