'We cannot stand idly by.'
Why is that whenever I hear this phrase, I think of the line from Beyond the Fringe, 'We need a futile gesture at this stage.'
Can we not stand idly by? (a) We can and frequently do. (b) What else have you got?
If only it were merely a futile gesture - that might indeed raise the tone. Futile and actually damaging to our interests is a more likely outcome.
All this, I fancy, is an example of the amazingly strong strain of priggishness that pervades our unserious culture - a cost-free claiming of the high moral ground. Cost-free, that is, to the person claiming it. As Marilynne Robinson says in her great essay Puritans and Prigs:
'People who are blind to the consequences of their own behaviour no doubt
feel for that reason particularly suited to the work of reforming other
people. To them morality seems almost as easy as breathing.' Indeed.