We are all Egyptian fish. By that I do not mean that we stink, or that we are slimy. Nor that we all live in Egypt, or in water. What I mean by that, is that we are all, in fact, Egyptian fish.
Recently I watched a Polish film called ‘W Ciemnosci'(English translation: In Darkness) and found myself both disturbed and moved by it. In Darkness tells the story of a man named Leopald Soha in Nazi occupied Lvov in the Second World War. What sets this film apart from most war films is its refusal to romanticise war. Instead it focuses on what survival must have been like. Ultimately, the picture it presents is one of opportunism and fear. Traditionally a film on this subject has a clear dividing line between heroes and villains, In Darkness doesn’t. It forces you to draw that line. And that is exactly why it is so difficult to watch.
The problem, in the case of World War Two is that when an image is projected often enough it can become an accepted truth. Cinema has made the very picture black and white. The brave Brits with their stiff upper lips and the gung-ho Americans and the sinister evil Nazi’s is blasted at us so frequently that we have somehow become detached from reality a long time ago. This idea has been thrown at us so many times that it has become our accepted truth. Despite the fact there is so much the vast majority of us don’t know. For example, how many people know about the Brits who served Hitler? Or the Sikhs, Muslims or Chinese? Or the truth about Dresden?
Selective ignorance has great value to those who can find a way to justify it to themselves. Our governments try to raise us with a strong sense of democratic nationalism. They want us to believe that our nation is superior. To reinforce this ideal they often need to edit our nations history to fit it snugly. Yet they constantly overlook the fact that not everybody is an idiot.
We, as people, do exactly the same thing. Take from example a married man who habitually cheats on his wife. He may say that he cannot leave his wife for a number of reasons. The most common being ‘for the kids’. Is it really in a child’s interest to be raised by parents that do not love each other? Or the woman who routinely ends up in bed for single nights at a time. The most common regret is often ‘I thought he wanted to be with me’. Why is it difficult for a woman to say that she likes sex? The common denominator is that we tend to lie to promote a better vision of ourselves to others. What we may actually feel is secondary.
The fact is that we habitually propagate nonsense to protect ourselves from honest feeling. It is and will always be easier to say that I failed because of someone else. That the problems in my relationship are because of my partner and not me. The reason we do this is to avoid accepting that some aspects of our character are not virtuous. In much the same way as a nation tends to sweep its crimes under the carpet, we as people do this too. We do this to prevent us from ever seeing ourselves for who we really are.
The reason we are all Egyptian Fish should be obvious by now. We are all Egyptian Fish, as we all, whether we like it or not, are in de Nile.
For those of you that are interested here is a trailer for In Darkness with English subtitles.