Alan buddy Peshkin told me he did not read the newspapers, nor watch the TV news anymore. It was at a grad advisee meeting, and I noticed the small clump of cotton on his arm, and tape. I asked him if he was O.K. He did not reply. He died approximately three years later. The comment had been a piece of advice; advice with knowledge of what he had left and how he wanted to spend it.
I read the news today. I read the news every day in some form, on the net. I also get Wired magazine, my dads month-old National Geographic, the Economist and the New Yorker. Our techno-centric culture wonders at all that can and might be, as written about on those pages. Cancer cured by nano-tech is the latest hot headline. But what of it?
I read about a young woman, fourteen years old I recall, who had been ritualistically stoned to death in front of an arena of over a thousand people– people who were in all probability all male. Her crime? Having been raped. I have an active visual imagination, and I cannot wipe the scene from my mind. The calling out of the privileged few who got to stand close, skin hot and sweaty with anticipation, maybe even feeling the rise of hard-ons, as they held stones in their hands. The ritual reading of crimes perhaps, and the girl buried in the ground so her head sticks out, or hands and legs tied as she lay on the ground (both methods are used in extreme Islamic regions). Then the throwing of the stones, the target practice lobs, the laughs, the yelling, the rise of sound as the crowd cries for blood. The thousands of egos, feeling powerless and emasculated in so much of their lives, venting forth in the death of this girl. And her head eventually exploding, blood everywhere around her, brains, hair, flesh. Nothing left but a ragged stump where her small mouth, fearful eyes, and nose breathing fast used to be. Where her mind had been wondering what kind of God existed, that let her be raped and then led through the courts, forced to take blame for having a vagina, being young, and who knows what else. Her bad luck to have been born in a place that not only allows such punishments for no personal failures, but encourages and enforces them.
Some crow about our amazing evolution as beings. But are we so very far from the Well of Children in ancient Carthage? That place where thousands of children were thrown, left to die with broken bones, of thirst, or of the head injuries they suffered on the way down. Two year old and four year old boys in very different parts of the U.S. died recently from a form of torturewater deprivation. A long, sad, lingering death. I can see these little boys crying for a drink, and as they were given cups laced with hot pepper and Tabasco, screaming in pain, needing the drink. I can see them curled up on the floor, no longer able to produce tears, whimpering, just hoping someone would pick them up and hold them, let them drink, love them. Then they died. The foster mother of the four year old said she didnt know it was wrong– even though it took the child seven days to die. Her companion said he didnt know either. The caretakers of the two-year-old thought it an appropriate punishment for wetting the bed– also using cups laced with hot sauce. Most two year old boys are not toilet trained, nor able to be. It took him four days to die.
I also read about the millions– yes, you read the number right, the last number I have seen is over six million– millions of women, children, and men in central Africa who have died in the last several years. Horrific deaths, defenseless, often starving, in what has become a culture of torture across many nations. Churches burned with entire villages inside, children forced to watch parents raped, tortured, then killed. Then, children forced to do the same as indentured servants and slaves.
Have we forgotten Stalin? Have we forgotten Pol Pot? Have we forgotten the camps of WWII? Are our memories so short and our compassion so limited that these events pass into being stories, and then into just disposable news? I am haunted. I cant trust the glories of science, technology; the glossy pages selling hope while the reality of our collective human existence rages on, oblivious to the labs curing cancer in mice. I am a product of the 20th century. I am an adult of the 21st. I have a split reality, I read the news on my computer and wonder what I can do about what I read. I feel powerless.
I was brought up to believe in God, I was told Mother Mary cried tears for us all, for our sins. I think she cries out of sadness, yes, and out of powerlessness. I am agnostic now, and if there is a God, it is without feeling for us. We have been left to our lonely planet, our environments, and our evolution. Hell is other people, as certainly as heaven is.
I read the news today. There are things I wish I did not have in my head. I work very hard to keep them out. But sometimes, things slip in. And they are images I will never be able to erase.