Monday, October 10, 2005

There is no bridge in Kashmir

Oct 10 2005

Over the last few hours I have watched the pictures and the numbers coming over the web. Hundreds, then thousands, now tens of thousands are reported dead or injured and the pictures of whole villages where barely one stone is left atop another are horrific. The images of men tearing at rubble with bare hands or fording streams with relief supplies on their backs is heart wrenching. The region shattered happens to encompass a border area where similar numbers of casualties have been racked up over the years of fighting between religions, ethnicities and nations that vie for possession of Kashmir. About 10000 official casualties from hostilities...numbers of civilians lost in guerilla actions not available. Daily, it costs India $10 million and Pakistan $5 million to maintain their troops for the battle here. NRDC estimates that use of the nuclear weapons both countries have spent billions to develop would kill about 10 million or more.

Those governments now ask for assistance in dealing with the rescue and rebuilding after the earthquake. I am not one to impose meanings on events just because they are full of dreadful consequences but the irony of how little nature cares about our disposition of resources in pursuit of our plans and our conflicts is hard to escape in either this news or the gulf coast hurricanes. If our concern for these victims of natural disasters or any people were to match nature's indifference, we would stop spending money on means of annihilating people. We would spend more money on safer housing stock and more robust infrastructure.

We cannot know what state the dead are in ...we can imagine the horror and pain of their last minutes or hours...we can see the devastation of the survivors...but what is the state of the other 99.999% of humanity, the rest of us. Do we ignore our precariousness or live without a minutes rest from trembling? What do we do next now that we can for a moment consider ourselves lucky to be alive and able to cary on? Misery doesn't just love company, it will haunt all its reluctant guests with RSVPs.

We can give

Reaction will never be enough yet the most important thing we can do at this moment is to give these people what help we can scrape up. A comparison that is not meant to downplay the suffering of American hurricane victims none the less is in order now, just to encourage your generosity. Katrina pales next to this calamity. I wound up giving about one dollar to the red cross for each ten persons who died in New Orleans. I don't think I can afford to do that for this earthquake but perhaps the costs will be shared by a larger pool of donors.

And we cannot give in to our appetite for tidy explanations.

You could not write something like The Bridge of San Luis Rey for each of more than 20000 dead. To a reasonable approximation, none were specially deserving of death yet none had an exemption. This is our predicament: there is no charge, there is no jury, there is only the execution.

The great truth about suffering should not be turned into some great lie. I would laugh at the pathetically misguided who may be unable to resist announcing they see in this destruction "gods punishment for ..." I would laugh except that the sources of these idiotic findings so often are the supporters of the misallocation of resources to war making.

We deprive facts of their instructive force by grafting self serving notions of meaning onto the outcomes of uncaring nature.

These events only reaffirm our frailty and they always say "will you be ready next time?" Wars are unnatural and preventable disasters. Natural disasters, we all know, will happen from time to time and we can prepare.

[so much for being oblivious to current events]

NYTimes runs an article 10/16 titled "Doomsday: the Latest Word if Not the Last..." rounding up the various attempts by several regligious crackpots to capitalize on the cluster of natural disasters as an opportunity to push their apocalyptic nonsense. You do not use nature, nature uses you. The times art will be a pain to link to is a paragraph:

But after last week's devastating earthquake in Pakistan, coming as it did after a succession of recent disasters, the apocalyptic speculation, bubbled up again with impressive fervor on many Christian blogs, in some pews and among some evangelical Christian leaders.



jeb said...

Enjoyable read. Good insight.

Death always seems tragic, yet it is inevitable for everyone, whether its cause is natural disaster, war, disease, old age, ... It took some time for the fact of it to sink in though.

I've come to view suffering as more tragic than death. The alive ones suffering injury, sorrow of separation, or other remnants of devastation are the ones I feel mostly strongly for. I cannot feel their pain, but my own experience helps me understand it.

I've put "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" on my reading list for the future.

GreenSmile said...

I've come to view suffering as more tragic than death. in a sense, that must be a conclusion reached by people who commit suicide. It is not, IMO, a wrong conclusion necessarily.

jeb said...

I suppose that could be a view from a suicidal mind. I really hadn't thought about that much.

I see people suffer great pain and endure great hardship without a suicidal answer because something inside makes the continuing struggle worthwhile. Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" is clear example of this. People heroically enduring physical and psychic pain for years is another. Death is a respite not chosen.

I hate to see animals starving and dying in pain. Death seems the lesser evil.

I too will die. If I die without pain, then the only tragedy I see is the pain it causes those few who survive me and care.

GreenSmile said...

Yes, only the living suffer.