Bioethics Discussion Blog: Putting Tragedy in Perspective:A Look Back on September 11

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Putting Tragedy in Perspective:A Look Back on September 11

As the 5th anniversary of the September 11th tragedy is shortly upon us, I thought it might be appropriate to copy to this blog a comment written by a visitor to my now inactive "Bioethics Discussion Pages", March 6, 2002. I would be most interested to read what my current blog visitors feel about the view expressed by Janet, particularly now, years later. ..Maurice.




Date: Wed, Mar 6, 2002 4:38 PM From: janet@anzca.edu.au To: DoktorMo@aol.com

I visited your page recently for the first time in several months, and read with interest your piece on the September 11 tragedy. I'm thankful you concluded that our concern for other issues should not diminish because of this, but I find myself angry that the question should need to be asked in the first place, that people (not picking on you in particular!) continue to labour under the delusion that a large-scale, in-your-face tragedy somehow renders all other ethical issues irrelevant. It may perhaps help us get things in perspective and weed out some of the genuine trivialities that we've been stewing over, but it does not make all issues trivial.

In the months after September 11 I had a number of people ask me how I could care about this or that when so many people had died. Those questions disturbed me, and a few weeks ago I read something by one of my least favorite newspaper editors on a different topic which helped me understand why. The editor was discussing the cruel live sheep export trade, and sanctimoniously told readers that their concern for the sheep would soon evaporate if they pictured children in this situation instead. Well no, dammit, it wouldn't. Two wrongs do not make a right. Some people may judge one wrong as being greater than another, but the lesser one does not then evaporate. Similarly, some tragedies are silent, chronic, largely hidden from the public eye, and eminently ignorable by well-off Westerners, but for all that they are no less tragic than September 11. To name just a few ... consider that thousands of third world children die EVERY DAY from malnutrition and easily treatable illnesses. That millions of people live in grinding poverty on the bare edge of existence with no chance to rise above their circumstances. That many more are killed, repressed and displaced by wars which have nothing to do with them.

That slavery and torture still happen in many parts of the world. That thousands upon thousands of the so called "food animals" killed every year in our slaughterhouses are skinned and butchered alive and fully conscious because of lack of control and supervision on the production line. That thousands of healthy animals are "euthanised" annually for no greater crime than being unwanted by the humans who have supposedly taken on responsibility for their care.

I would consider each one of these things to be a tragedy of "an unbelievable magnitude of maleficence", easily on a par with September 11. Perhaps even more so because of the very fact that, when they are acknowledged at all, it's usually with a shrug and an attitude of "I won't think about that because then I might feel guilty and have to change my comfortable life". These things are happening each and every day, causing a total of death and suffering far greater than September 11, but they don't make the headlines. Enough people who cared and who opened their hearts in the same way they did to the September 11 victims could make an unbelievable difference to many of these situations. I don't mean to make light of September 11 or the victims' suffering, but I freely admit it makes me angry that events like this are considered the epitome of tragedy against which all else is supposed to pale into insignificance. The real tragedy to me is the number of horrors in this world about which people don't care.

Janet Devlin

3 Comments:

At Thursday, September 07, 2006 6:23:00 AM, Anonymous Christain said...

I have to agree that while the 9/11 attack was a terrible tragedy for the American people ... 2 million women trapped in the world's sex-slave trade is a tragedy beyond belief ... but do we give that the same media coverage.

 
At Thursday, September 07, 2006 8:13:00 AM, Blogger LifeEthics.org said...

People aren't logical. We're linear and react one way to the deaths of nearly 3000 people in a few hours from a deliberate act that was intended to make us feel threatened, another way to the horrors of slavery ongoing all over the world, and yet another to possibly billions of women being ritually mutilated, shut up in their homes and treated as non-persons.

But then, we react in different ways when we hear that a young mother died in a car wreck on the highway that we use to get to work and when we hear that a great-grandmother died after a long illness.

I guess it's sort of like the difference between the treatment of an acute life threatening trauma and Type II diabetes. Both are life-threatening, but the first is more directly threatening to *us.* One is out of our control, and the second requires chronic titration of treatment, but it is chronic, and we hope we can control or at least moderate the effects and even the cause, bit by bit.

 
At Sunday, September 10, 2006 7:55:00 AM, Anonymous Jaine said...

The posts by Christain and LifeEthics are right on. The examples they provide are probably at the base of why Stephen Hawking asked : "In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?"
Most of the suffering on the planet could be greatly reduced if people worked as a unit and demanded high standards from each other.

 

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