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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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.