Sunday, January 17, 2010

Out With the Old, In With the New: Disregarding Daily Disasters

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Haiti: Another natural disaster, another massive tragedy that strikes the world. More than 50,000 are estimated to be dead thus far, several more survivors are slowly dying in the rubble without food and water, and 300,000 more are left without homes. It brings to mind haunting images of past disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the deadliest U.S. hurricane since 1928, and the tsunami of 2004, the deadliest tsunami of all time. Empathy, compassion, and support are pouring out all over the world as millions of dollars are being shelled out along with medical supplies, doctors, and food and water.

But one question lingers in my mind, as I know it has with others. Why do such tragedies take the forefront and elicit such an emphatic response from the world when similar tragedies are taking place every day, and have been for years without solution? In Darfur, a war has taken the lives of an estimated 300,000 civilians, leaving 2.7m people displaced in refugee camps while the majority of the world has stood by silently. Last year, the U.S. supported an Israeli attack on Gaza that left up to 1,400 dead in less than a month, and we continue to support them as thousands of civilians die in the conflict every year. We sit and watch with mournful eyes as 4,000 people die every hour from starvation even though several studies have shown we have plenty of food to feed the world, right now.

What is it about sudden, fresh tragedies that force us to care as those we've tired of are pushed back into the recesses of our minds? Why is new death so much more compelling? It's almost as if human nature only allows a short attention span to suffering. We need something new and, excuse the term, "exciting" to make us care. $11 million was raised in a matter of days through simple cellphone texting, and millions more has been committed by businesses, politicians, and organizations all over the world, even amidst a massive world-wide recession. So why are people who have been starving for decades still starving? Why are Palestinian children still becoming orphans?

While some are ignorantly blaming this recent disaster on some fabled unholy union with the devil, I believe the moments of utter devastation that follow such events are God's helpless attempts to remind us to care, since we've become so apathetic to the general state of the world. Nothing unites hearts like tragedy, nothing can make us feel closer to our fellow man. But, while most are inspired by the outpouring of love and support, I feel somewhat sickened by the disregard of the every day human suffering we have allowed ourselves to become blinded to. Perhaps its a lack of media coverage that makes problems half a world away so easy to forget, while the massive attention paid to this disaster burns the images into our retina, weighing heavily on our consciences. Perhaps those media outlets that still cover such ongoing problems like the Middle East and world hunger have run those stories so much that we've become desensitized to it, and we just sit back and shake our heads, wondering if such a disaster can ever be resolved, and believing it can't.

Seeing the trend as it occurs over and over again, I predict it will only be a matter of time before Haiti has faded to the back of our minds as well, much like New Orleans has, while people are still without homes and Brad Pitt struggles to get people to give a damn, donating most of his own money to rebuild the community. The question is simply when?

Millions of people have donated to the Haiti cause. I haven't yet. Will I? Probably. But I am unemployed at the moment and I spent a good chunk of my money on buying foods and necessities for shelters during the holidays, and toys for the Toys for Tots drive. Do I feel bad that I haven't donated? Yeah. Should I, knowing my money went to another cause to help one of those daily problems of human suffering? Probably not. Some are donating mere pocket change to help, as every little bit makes a difference. The few dollars I could have contributed went to a homeless man for his dinner last night. Is that shameful? No. I haven't forgotten about him. Why has the rest of the world?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The truth is that they did make a pact with the devil.

Now the significance you put on that pact I guess has to do with whether you believe the devil is real or not.

But it is one of Haiti's founding myths.

http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/small_axe/v009/9.2laroche.html

According to Haitian national history, the revolutionary war was launched on the eve of a religious ceremony at a place in the north called Bwa Kayiman (Bois Caiman, in French). At that ceremony on August 14, 1791, an African slave named Boukman sacrificed a pig, and both Kongo and Creole spirits descended to possess the bodies of the participants, encouraging them and fortifying them for the upcoming revolutionary war. Despite deep ambivalence on the part of intellectuals, Catholics, and the moneyed classes, Vodou has always been linked with militarism and the war of independence and, through it, the pride of national sovereignty.

So, yeah if there is a devil, Haiti made a pact with it. Might explain why even though Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island, the Dominican Republic has been far more successful.

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