Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, July 18, 2014

MH17 and me, and us

As you likely have already heard, something like 100 of the passengers on MH17 were on their way to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne. Of the names so far made public, I don't know any of them personally. However, I have attended two past International AIDS conferences, in Mexico City and Washington, D.C., and live-blogged them here. It certainly would not be surprising if some of the victims are people I have spoken with, or heard speak, or who have attended presentations of mine. Certainly they would have similar kinds of education, interests, and political and social commitments.

I don't have enough insight to say how this affects my feelings about the incident. I like to think of myself as a universalist humanist and want to claim that the degree of personal affinity I have for the deceased and their colleagues, friends and loved ones is beside the point in how I evaluate this atrocity. We don't yet know all of the facts, so I'll hold off the rant I have saved up for Vladimir Putin and the thuggish morons he is sponsoring in Ukraine. But I will say this.

As a species, we have only a very short time left to grow up, before we do ourselves in. We are now recognizing the 100th anniversary of World War I. Europe blundered into catastrophe due to exactly the kinds of tribalism, instinctive reliance on military technology and prowess, and the view of global affairs as fundamentally and properly a competition among nation states for power and primacy. The catastrophe this time would be incalculably worse.

So, remember that in 1988 a U.S. naval vessel shot down an Iranian civilian jet liner, while St. Ronald Reagan was president. That was just as awful, but unlike John McCain today, nobody started calling for World War III. 

Update: It turns out that 6, not 100 of the passengers were on their way to AIDS 2014. Doesn't affect my point, but for the record. 


Don Quixote said...

Hits home, like when I was teaching school and Christa McAuliffe was sent up in a space shuttle that engineers (not unlike today's at GM) knew there was a problem. But Ronnie Reagan was giving his Mis-state of the Union speech, and wanted a pretty thing to talk about . . .

I was enraged. Ever read "The Lomokome Papers," a very short novel by Herman Wouk? It's about mankind's bloodlust.

Cervantes said...

I thought I had read everything by Wouk including his pulpier novels but no, not that. Of course the WWII novels have plenty to say about bloodlust, but they do also show that he had a harder time seeing it on his own side.

robin andrea said...

Every time I think that things can't get more crazy horrible than they already are, something even more crazy horrible happens. What drives the lunacy? What deranged belief system (religious, political, regional) unleashes the psychopaths?

Don Quixote said...

Well, Robin Andrea and Cervantes, that is exactly what Wouk is addressing in "The Lomokome Papers." Whether you agree with his theory or not, it's about humans' innate (and destructive) "Thanatos."

It's a really short work, presented as science fiction but really an allegory about this exact subject. You could probably read it in an hour or two, as I recall.