prioritizing tragedy

i’m feeling good this morning – am definitely relieved to be done the exam for my counselling methods course (i think it went okay) and got a solid night of sleep in (7.5 hours uninterrupted!).

now i just have to finish the final paper for the aforementioned course (on the application of ecopsychology theory to counselling methods) and that one will be out of the way, meaning i can focus on finishing the other course i am taking (child development) and start yet another. i have decided trying to do more than two courses at a time is just foolishness given the full-time workload i already have going on.

was just having the morning chat with my co-workers – and today’s topic went from mudslides in north vancouver, to the rapaciousness of developers building on unstable land masses (in LA) and then finally to the tsunami relief efforts (we are nothing if not a rambling bunch). in any case, i was glad to discover other people in my small sphere are having the same critical reactions to the tsunami relief bandwagon that i have been grappling with.

now don’t get me wrong, i think it is great people want to give money to doctors without borders and unicef, and that this disaster has struck a chord in the global population to help those who have lost everything. at the same time, i find it highly circumspect so much attention is being paid to this particular disaster when the 500,000-1 million deaths from war and sanctions in Iraq are pretty much ignored, the 1 million slaughtered in the rwanda genocide were only momentary news, and the 20 million deaths since 1980 from hiv/aids are discusssed only in the context of a problem we don’t have any answers to.

why is the global community responding to the tsunami tragedy with such emphasis while readily ignoring every other disaster of the past decade? the media emphasis certainly has helped that along – and at root i think it comes down to the concept of the deserving and undeserving. the earthquakes and tsunami are seen as forces outside of our control, those affected as victims who deserve our support because what happened to them wasn’t their fault (and clearly it isn’t – if anyone could be blamed for the terrible death toll it would have to be western developers who have denuded the forests along the beaches to build hotels – but i digress). we do not afford the same consideration to iraqis and africans, nor those with hiv and aids living in other parts of the world because on some level we secretly (as a society) believe these other people have made bad choices — either supported the wrong government or allied themselves with the wrong side of a civil war, or been unsafe around the bodily fluids of others – and thus don’t deserve our sympathy or our support dollars.

never mind that all of these things are constructs of a heartless system based on profit and not on valuing life, that an iraqi child has about as much say in who their government is as any child, and that falling into the “wrong” ethnic group in a genocidal conflict has more to do with colonial histories than anything else.

meaning – the euro-american world has some responsibility for each of these tragedies, thus they can not be discussed in the same way, thus we must blame the victims for what befalls them, thus there is nothing we can do – they must help themselves, thus the media and our governments focus on the “safe” tragedies – the ones we can not be blamed for.

how cozy that is – how safe we become as a society only acknowledging the suffering we are not complicit in – and not only that, but can profit from both militarily and economically. what we can expect to see now is a sort-of marshall plan of disaster relief – that is loans from governments and aid contracts given to the corporations of the west (much like what has happened in the “rebuilding” of iraq), along with the tendency for governments to use disasters to their military advantage (the us eager to put troops in indonesia, the indonesian and sri lankan governments using the opportunity to suppress civil unrest and divert aid resources to military outfitting). the upshot is that the people affected are assisted to a minimal level (their villages and towns are rebuilt over time but their daily living conditions don’t change all that drastically over a decade-long period), euro-american corporations profit, and global power continues its long slide towards concentration in the hands of the united states.

and i am not talking conspiracy here – i do not believe this a plan cooked up by a small and shadowy group – rather, it is the logic of a system with priorities skewed in such a way that no matter what happens it seems to privilege the same rich few at the expense of the many.

*phew* now that’s ranty… anyhow – it was good to discuss this with other folks who have the same qualms i do – capitalism has the ability to pervert anything, even our best civic intentions…..

One Comment on “prioritizing tragedy

  1. i think as much as anything else, the tsunami garnered incredible media attention (the likes of which i haven’t seen since 9/11) because it came along at a good time (holiday lull, no presidential election, welcome distraction from iraq “coverage” – if you could call it that, ha ha)

    and i think too, because there were so many western tourists, it provided more of a personal link to many westerners …

    anyway, my $.02

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