Mondays at The Variegated Life: links.
Years ago, I read a lot more speculative fiction than I do now. Many of the stories I read in those days were set in some future after some Terrible Event That Changed Everything. I particularly remember White Queen by Gwyneth Jones, in which one main character has been traumatized by the loss of her native country, Japan, which, due to cataclysmic earthquakes (as I remember it), has sunk into the Pacific Ocean. I thought about that novel a lot last summer, while oil was inexorably spilling spilling spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. From the distance at which I observed that event, it seemed to me that it should have been the Terrible Event That Changed Everything — for example, by getting us to think more keenly about how much energy we are using, where it is coming from, at what cost it is coming to us, and who is paying. But it didn’t. It was just a Terrible Event, and very little changed. And that was when it struck me: It may be there there will be no apocalypse, no grand revelation. It may be that Terrible Events will happen and happen and happen, and nothing will change — that is, we won’t change. Or — because such a constant unfolding of tragedy is unsustainable — or, rather, because we cannot be sustained within such a world of poisonous tragedy after poisonous tragedy — things will change, but only gradually. Too slowly.
Initially, it troubled me that news of the tragedy in Japan did not trouble me more. I read posts such as this one by Leslie at Lights and Letters and felt guilty that I was not so moved. Was it because the suffering was happening on the other side of the world from me? Or was it because I get my news almost exclusively from the radio, which brings no images to shock, to sadden, to horrify?
All it took, though, was time. And a nuclear crisis. Dread seeping into my mind from the radio. In Japan, radiation seeping into the air as last year oil seeped into the Gulf. More inexorable, invisible poison. Are we going to learn anything this time? (Possibly not.) What are we going to learn? (Yes, I want the world to continue, but do I really want to bring another child into this world?)
But I should say that another reason the news from Japan may not have upset me so much — initially, at least — was because it was caused by a natural disaster. Nature is indifferent, immoral; it just does what it does with no reference to human needs or desires. (The tragedy of Katrina, for example, was not so much the hurricane itself as our bungled response in its wake.) Whereas human malice at its worst and indifference to the suffering of an 11-year-old girl are beyond my comprehension. (In case you are confused, read this post by Blue Milk.) I don’t like knowing that humanity is capable of such cruelty. But there it is.
Via Blue Milk: the New York Times Public Editor has written a follow-up to the paper’s initial report.