Saturday, January 13, 2007

Human beings and abstraction

I am often amazed at people's proclivity for abstraction. While the following comparison may be unfair, it does show how people can ignore certain obvious, and sometimes horrific, aspects of their surroundings:
Bertschinger explained that [in Mekele, Ethiopia in 1984] there was enough dried milk, sugar, oil, bread, and rice to feed about 500 people. Then she confessed to Buerk — and the camera — her terrible responsibility. Every few days, several dozen children would graduate from the feeding regimen Bertschinger had helped to establish, and she could replace them with new patients. She would step outside, where more than a thousand people sat waiting in the sun. When she appeared, there would be murmurs and cries, but the migrants remained seated in orderly rows. Bertschinger would examine children sitting alone or held aloft by a pleading parent. She would grasp their biceps to feel bones wrapped in leathery skin. Most importantly, she would search the children’s eyes for a spark of life. If she didn’t see that glint she passed on by — there was no point wasting food on a child who would soon be dead.

See this month's Walrus for Stars Above Africa. What follows are a few reports on the North American release of Sony's Playstation 3:
Police used pepper balls to contain a crowd waiting for the Circuit City... to open Friday morning... The crowd of 200... was waiting in line for the new Playstation 3. [WTOP Radio]

A scene straight out of Lord of the Flies started around 5 a.m. Thursday in front of the Best Buy. [ - thought you'd like that one, Bruce :-)]

A man goes to the hospital after slamming into a metal flagpole during a stampede at a... Wal-mart. []


CanuckJack said...

"there was no point wasting food on a child who would soon be dead"

I can't fathom standing in line hoping that my child will be "selected" as one having enough potential to live to be worthy of some food...

Dude you've destroyed my morning, I'm going to church to see if I can't wash that imagine from my brain...

John said...

I know, man.

Here's what she had to say about it 20 years later:

'When I met Bertschinger recently, in her office at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, she described the guilt she’d felt after looking into the eyes of starving children and passing them by. “I felt like a Nazi condemning innocent people to the death camps,” she said. “I’ve lived with that ever since.”'