"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
Every day there are people starving to death in many parts of the world as I step out from work and go enjoy my lunch. What am I—some kind of monster? Don’t I realize that:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
~ John Donne
Well, I do see many other people eating lunch every day, so I know I am not uniquely monstrous. I suspect that many of you dear readers ate well today without a thought for those in the world who are going without.
While noble in sentiment, the above poem ignores a basic tenet of human nature. All humans may indeed be equal, but for every human being, some human beings are primus inter pares, first among equals. An individual’s inner-circle generally includes himself and his family and friends. To say that everyone is affected the same whether his or her mother dies or if a stranger 4,000 miles away dies is telling stories (or perhaps writing poetry).
I personally don't know anyone in Boston. As you are no doubt aware, recently a bomb went off there and some people were injured, some killed. The media seems to believe that I am to consider these people as members of my inner circle because they pay taxes to the same government as do I—and so we are quite naturally connected. They are special individuals to me, and I should be outraged that anyone would want to cause them any harm.
Well it turns out that I do feel poetically diminished by the event in Boston, but only a little, and only to the extent that I feel diminished by the news that any other unfortunate human being has fallen victim to the Reaper. And it must be so tempered, because I must carry on with my life. Our own lives are more important to us than those of others, and this is quite natural and quite logical. I cannot be overly outraged at any one instance in the constant stream of senseless violence that occurs in the world every minute of the day outside of my own immediate little sphere. Call it cold and heartless if you will, and then go write a poem about it.
But I do allow myself minor outrages all the time. I am outraged that the government to whom we all pay taxes—willingly or not—diminishes me by blowing up people on an almost daily basis in other countries. I am outraged that Chicago is a murder factory filled with non-newsworthy victims. I am outraged that casualties in Mexico are on par with a nation at war. These people to my immediate south are much closer to me geographically than are the people of Boston, but those foreigners pay taxes to a different government, so I am not to have my attention drawn to them or to waste any empathy on them.
The media message is that Americans are actual human beings (except perhaps in certain areas where lesser creatures have built their nests) and the rest of the world can go screw.
By dehumanizing foreigners and “others” and by treating “real” Americans like the valuable human beings they truly are, then the deaths of such less-than-human creatures—even if we gotta bomb ‘em our own selves—is like so much cow-slaughtering. Not something you want to see up close, but if that's what's necessary in order to survive . . . well, it’s either us or them, you know.
Now I have seen responses to statements pointing out the hypocrisy of ignoring the suffering of some distant strangers while being all torn up over the suffering of some other distant strangers to the tune of, "You shouldn't criticize people who are emotional over the Boston bombing even though they ignore the other tragic and senseless events that occur daily around the world, including those initiated by their own government. It is a positive thing that people respond to tragedy with empathy and help."
Not much of a response, as far as I'm concerned. When white folks were routinely hanging black folks without a second thought, I'm sure they felt sincere anguish at any unjust violence directed against a white person. And that's a positive?
No, those people were broken. And most Americans today are likewise broken. If your give-a-shit-o-meter stays at zero while innocent people suffer outside of an arbitrary and huge geographic area and then it shoots up to 100 if something bad occurs within—even if you don’t know those people and they may be 1,000 miles or more distant—then you are broken. There is nothing positive about being broken, and nationalism is no better than racism, both being an excuse to create “thems” that are lesser than “us” real humans.
If you actually believe that everyone in the United States is in your special inner-circle, then the media has done its job. If your inner-circle is not logically defined by yourself and your family and friends, but has been expanded to include all people of your nationality, then you have been successfully programmed. This arbitrary divider between who counts and who doesn't is every bit as nasty as categorizing by race. It is broken thinking.
The media tries to force us to respond as if our inner-circle were being attacked. They vomit around-the-clock coverage on the tragedy, complete with slow-motion replays and interviews with tearful and terrified victims. And the response they seek to elicit is “revenge!” This also sells a lot of soap, which is good for their bottom lines.
My give-a-shit-o-meter rises whenever I hear of someone suffering in the world. It affects me, but I carry on. The world is the way it is for now, and soon I won't be here to enjoy it or to hate it. I have my inner-circle. Whenever anything happens to anyone outside that circle, it diminishes me, but I have to understand that the events occurring in the world have great momentum behind them and cannot be stopped rapidly, and besides, I don't see much widespread resistance being raised.
So for all the people suffering in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Chicago, Africa, Boston, and everywhere else, I feel an equal measure of sadness for them all because they are all equally human, and I count myself extremely lucky to have been able to avoid great tragedy in my life, at least up until now.
But if you react strongly to Boston and ignore Pakistan, you are broken. Your government and its media propaganda machine have broken you.
True Story: Individuals are focused on their own lives first. This makes sense. If tragedy strikes close to you, then you have to stand up and take notice and respond. Boston is 1,000 miles away from me, and the media pushes it in front of my face as if it was down the block. I am to feel affected and threatened. This happened to “us.” What can “we” do to help and then what should “our” response be?
I'm here to tell you that I feel no such compulsion to include myself as being affected by the Boston bombing. Cold? Not really. That very same day, some human beings were killed by a U.S. drone in Pakistan. That very same day, some more human beings were killed in Chicago and in Mexico, and many more starved in Africa. Why the focus on Boston? Why should I think that “they” are part of “me” any more than any of the other people who suffered that day? Why indeed, other than to get fired up and clamor for revenge against the vile aggressors who may have me as the next innocent victim on their hit list?
Sorry, I just don't react like that anymore. I have deprogrammed myself. I am more human and humane than I used to be. I fixed myself, at least a bit.
If I were to allow myself to watch the coverage, I might naturally be drawn in to the human tragedy and may want to help any way I could. Many people do this, and I believe this generosity is quite natural and quite human.
So then I ask myself: What if the news crawled all over the scene of a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan where women and children were killed? Interviewing the terrified and wounded survivors, showing videos of the explosion, and then relentlessly following up with a week's worth of interviews with grieving family members giving their heartbreaking stories?
That would un-break the typical American human being quickly. So many people would snap out of it and would empathize and would be properly outraged and would demand justice and would want to help—just the same as they are reacting to Boston.
Except in Pakistan, the villain is the United States government. And the USG is funded by the taxpayers. And the taxpayers must be kept in media and mental blackout lest they see and think about what is actually going on. And so this one possible cure of clipping the eyelids open and making people watch the bloodsport they fund will never be implemented, because actually curing the disease cuts off the gravy train.
So for now, the people know what is going on, but not seeing can be converted into not believing.
And to not believe something that you know is happening just because you can’t see it happening, is to be . . .