Privilege of the Unaffected


Engraving of Plato’s cave (Wikipedia).

In trying to think of an appropriate, or useful, or respectful angle from which to approach this week’s events I can’t help but see myself as a prisoner in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave;” unable to be clever or meaningful in my interpretations of the shadows on the wall. I watched tragedy unfold within the most impersonal contemporary tech facilities, knee-deep in a sleep-deprived effort toward finishing a semester paper while cable news flashed silently in the background. The immense grief and terror for people who are indelibly touched by these tragic events are irreconcilable with my comparatively peaceful midwestern life. For the rest of us life still goes onward towards tonight and tomorrow.

But not for everyone.

Not for the 14 (confirmed) deceased in West, Texas. The explosion came from a fertilizer (anhydrous ammonia) facility, awkwardly placed too close to the town’s residents, that last received an OSHA inspection the same year that Ronald Reagan started his second term in office. The straight-forward mistakes we make — like a lack of simple regulatory oversight which might have caught something — that inevitably lead to such senseless loss should shame us, even as the town resident’s continued charity should humble and inspire.

Not for the (at least) 27 dead in a pre-election Iraq cafe bombing. Indeed, not for any other place in the world for where bombings are as common as birthday parties.

Not for the 186 in Sichuan, China who perished as a 7.0 earthquake “sheared off” chunks of a mountainside into inhabited valleys and villages.

Not for the four killed in Boston. The boy, Martin Richard, with the “infectious smile” shown in a photo in front of the alleged perpetrator, that as a parent evoked such passive rage I had to walk away from the computer, will never have the privilege of ignoring events a city, state, or world away.

Not for all the other horrific events or actions that extinguished life this week — too many for one person to assimilate within their personal bubble and still remain functional.

Privileged. That’s what I’m feeling. Privilege and guilt; for going to the movies this weekend, or looking forward to Thursday, or worrying about a dozen little things that seem so contextually trivial. I feel guilty for even writing these words. This is the privilege that comes from being unaffected in a connected world, of the inevitable power and sociological agency in pushing a bottom to make it disappear. What can the rest of us do but give blood for blood lost, charity for aid and prayers for the passed? I know loss, but not this type of loss. Their reality isn’t mine. All I see are shadows on the wall, unable to turn around and understand what’s truly in front of the fire, and for that I’m sorry.


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