Whose Lives Matter?

Black Lives matter!  So claims a vocal, concerned group of citizens here in the West, who believe their safety—indeed, their very lives—are at risk in the frightened, suspicious society we are quickly becoming.

All Lives matter!  So comes the response from other groups of concerned folks who believe their traditional culture and way of life are under siege from racial and ethnic groups whose appearance and customs are often quite different.

So who is right?  Are these two positions antithetical, as many would have us believe?

Perhaps, rather than making declarative statements, we should be asking more questions of each other.  The question I ask is, whose lives matter?  Anyone’s?  As I survey the daily news reports of exploitation, forced migration, and ethnic slaughter, I truly wonder.

To whom does my life matter, for example?  Do the nameless powers-that-be who head up multinational corporations, relentlessly extracting and harvesting the resources of our planet, really care about me?  Even as a consumer, one among millions?

Do the presidents, premiers, and overlords of so many autonomous nation-states genuinely care about me?  Even as a voter and citizen of a sovereign country, one among more millions?

Do fanatical extremists of whatever political or religious persuasion actually care if I live or die, so long as their own frenzied ends are met?

I think not.  My life and death are of supreme indifference to all of them.  I am too small to count.

Individual lives do matter, I believe, to one’s immediate spheres of influence—families, friends, neighbours, and the like.  And, thankfully, to the number of altruistic people and organizations who dedicate their time and energy to relief efforts in areas of crisis around the globe.

Consider the indigenous peoples of every continent whose way of life was essentially exterminated by ruthless invaders in the name of empire, religion, and profiteering.  Did their lives matter?

Consider the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing their homelands to avoid terrorist activities that have killed so many of their compatriots, a number many fear will overrun the safe-haven nations to which they flock.  Do their lives matter?

Consider the millions who have died from famine, drought, and genocide in so many third-world regions, people whose plight was known but for whom so little could be done.  Did their lives matter?

And then think about the population explosion that threatens to outpace the ability of the planet to sustain itself.  According to a 2014 Living Planet Report from the World Wildlife Federation, the current global rate of consumption, if continued, will require 1.5 planet Earths to support us.

If everyone were to live like the British do, however, that number would rise to 2.5 earths; and if everyone lived like we North Americans, the number would jump to four!  Untenable!

In such a global context, it seems unlikely to me that individual lives matter.  Either mankind must dramatically slow its rate of reproduction, or (as unpalatable as this sounds) individuals must perish in order that the collective may survive.  Hideous to contemplate, yet the human race continues to take each other’s lives, anyway—savagely, often indiscriminately, and remorselessly.

I saw a photo-shopped picture recently, a scuba diver swimming near a huge Great White shark.  The caption read: This is the most feared killer on the planet, murdering millions of people a year.  Beside it, a shark swims peacefully.

shark

So I ask myself—in the overall scheme of things, on our current path—whose lives matter?

We need to answer that question together, not separately.

And soon.

Coexistence

There’s a bumper sticker out there that neatly sums up the means to solving the world’s problems, including war, famine, pollution, drought, overpopulation, greed—

Coexistence sounds so simple, yet over the millennia it has proven impossible to attain.

An old joke goes like this:  “You don’t know when you’re dead; only other people notice.  It’s the same when you’re stupid.”

Never having been dead, I can’t vouch for the first premise; for all I know, no one will notice when I’m gone.  But the second part might well be true.  Why else do so many of us ignore the certainty that humankind’s current practices are dooming our planet?

Nation against nation, race against race, religion against religion; endless resource extraction; massive defoliation and overfishing; reckless despoliation of our environment, including the very air we breathe—all in the name of what?  Geo-political supremacy?  Last one standing wins?  It’s sheer, rampant stupidity.

In his poem, Ozymandias, Shelley wrote these lines—

…on the [shatter’d] pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Where the glory, where the triumph?  Nothing left in a vast wasteland but a smashed relic of one man’s vainglorious attempt to take control of his world.

Think of two anthills in a garden, one bustling with industrious black ants, the other alive with equally busy red ants.  Everything is peaceful in the garden until, one sad day, the two colonies discover each other.  And then madness, folly, turmoil, mayhem, as each tries to subjugate the other.  Warfare unto the death, until the gardener brings his stomping boots and smashing shovel down on them.  And they are all annihilated, indistinguishable in their lifeless remains.

Is there a celestial gardener, I wonder, who looks upon our planet, this earthly garden, and despairs?  Do we appear as nothing more than those foolish ants, scurrying hysterically to and fro, intent upon the destruction of any who are not like us?  And will we avoid the gardener’s heavy boot?  Or is it already too late?

Coexistence has many synonyms: reconciliation, harmony, accord, synchronicity, collaboration.  All are needed if we are, indeed, to live together on our fragile planet.

Coexistence also has one supremely important result: survival!