For about as long as I can remember, I have associated this quote with Billy from “The Year of Living Dangerously”. In a poignant scene of tearful rage and frustration, he laments Indonesia’s poverty under the rule of Suharto. With the power of the internet at my disposal, I finally check the origin of the quote and find that it is in fact from Leo Tolstoy, railing at the condition of the poor (ordinary) folk in Russia during his day.
The quote pops to the surface from time to time whenever I feel powerless in the face of all the madness in this world. I’m reading another book about Rwanda, “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families”, a moving account by Philip Gourevitch of ordinary people in Rwanda during the genocide. Of course Rwanda is old news, but it will probably come round again, somewhere, somehow. We seemed on the verge of a similar crisis in Kenya a few weeks ago, and who knows what might yet transpire in Zimbabwe? Hopefully, the divisions in these countries are less deeply ingrained as they rely less on ethnicity and more on politics. Darfur is probably a more realistic parallel, especially as once again, the world stands by while the atrocities continue. Of course ethnic cleansing isn’t a new phenomenon. It probably first happened soon after Urgh picked up the first pointy stone and pushed it through Garg’s skull and then persuaded his clansmen that Them-Over-There (in the greener valley) had taken land that rightfully belonged to Urgh and what remained of Garg’s family. The (North) Americans probably conducted one of the most successful campaigns of all time. If you don’t believe me, just read “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown. There’s a book to make you weep.
I’m not usually given to maudlin bouts, but while I’m in it, I might as well mine the rich seam.
Not content with the more traditional and – let’s face it – tiresome methods of eradicating our fellow humans, i.e. knives, spears, guns, bombs and all those messy things, we’ve now perfected the stealth method. We’re about halfway through a three-hundred year programme which will make the world uninhabitable, either by toxicity, or by flooding…or both. This is the cleverest means of all. Why? Because while we’re doing it, we can claim the moral high ground and say “Well we were only doing what everyone else was doing!” and “Surely you can’t expect us to deprive our children while others ignore the Kyoto Protocol?”
It’s occurred to me that actually we really have begun the Third World War! It’s not a war of conventional arms. It’s being waged using weapons of mass destruction, honestly. It’s a fight to the death and the winners (if that term is appropriate) will be those rich enough to buy their way into that last habitable zones, or hitch a lift on the last freighter going off-world.
Stephen Hawkins (of black hole mathematics and Hawkins Radiation fame) has been quoted a lot recently for saying that we humans need to get off our planet soon to guarantee the longevity of our species. It’s a grand idea, as long as you hold a natural catastrophe in mind such as an asteroid strike. I used to think it made sense, but lately, it seems to me as this will more likely extend the era of ‘consumerism’ and flagrant waste to include the casual discard of our (still mostly) beautiful planet. Instead, let’s imagine that this is it. This planet is where we must make our last stand. Our enemies are hate and waste.
“What then must we do?”