A Civilized Tragedy
Not all lives are valued as equal in civilized human cultures. Some lives are expendable to keep civilization going.
I can’t help but think about that when I read the news of miners trapped in Utah and China. They mine coal. Coal is fuel. Fuel runs the machinery of civilization.
We will not change our civilized ways in response to these mining accidents. Civilized humans will not stop putting their brothers and sisters at risk to mine our fuel. Civilized humans will make a value judgment, and decide that the risk to our miners is worth less than the need to have fuel for our machines.
The tragedy is in the miners who lost their lives trying to save their brothers. They, who we also value less than our desire for fuel, valued their trapped brothers as equal, and risked a similar or worse fate to save them.
To civilization, the miners who died in the rescue were expendable – just a as the trapped miners – because we value their lives less than we value fuel. Civilization will not stop mining in dangerous areas in response to their deaths, nor in response to the trapped miners’ plight.
The miners who died in the rescue considered themselves expendable, too, in a way. They valued their trapped brothers’ lives as equal to theirs, or even more important than their own lives. And in the end, their values led them to make decisions that cost their own lives. If anything, theirs was a more honorable value system, though one that produced more tragic results.
We who were not there will laud the dead rescuers as heroes, claiming that we value them highly. Yet, we value their fellow miners, to whom the dead rescuers saw themselves as equals, as not worth more than the fuel they supply. Those who we define as heroes are at the same time expendable in the civilized value system. They are valued as high and low. Is this not a paradox?
I have similar thoughts when I read about the deaths in Iraq, all the deaths: Americans, coalition members, military, private sector, civilians. It is a war being fought so that civilization’s value system will continue to operate. Under those values, some humans are expendable.
And I think about values when I see a murder every other day inside the New Orleans city limits. I wonder if the murders are acceptable. I wonder if those who are dying are expendable, and we will not change our civilized ways to stop the murders.
If civilization needs the deaths of some of its members, I don’t know how to stop those deaths without changing civilization. Civilization sustains itself. It can not be changed, except maybe by degree. The only option I see is to opt out of civilization.
These are just thoughts on a Saturday morning. It’s too early to start drinking, so I can’t numb my thinking.
Oh, yeah, there's a big ol' hurricane in the Caribbean.