Monday, December 16, 2013

All is Fragile (Examination of the Axiom "All is Well")

2003 Iran Bam Earthquake: 26,271 casualties
2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami: 230,000 casualties

2005 Pakistan Kashmir Earthquake: 75,000 casualties
2008 China Sichuan Earthquake: 69,195 casualties

2010 Haiti Earthquake: 159,000 casualties
2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami: 15,883 casualties

2013 Typhoon Haiyan death toll 6,000 in the Philippines

Voltaire was right to attack the axiom all is well and that this is the best of all possible worlds. You philosophers who say "All is well." How could a human know enough to conclude such a statement. Hubris or faith.

In today's world it is at least within our grasp to get a hold of more information on what is happening around the world. But even with the information age we do not even begin to touch the total elemental drama that goes on. Each day there is a new tragedy or horrific event that underlines the ever present danger and fragility for a primate species living on a rock in space going around a nuclear fire ball we call the Sun. Viral infections, flesh eating bacteria, children with cancer, tsunamis and earthquakes that kill thousands upon thousands, genocide, suicide, and accidents that take us out in ridiculous fashion from choking on food or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Death may tarry for you but it will not wait forever.

People who point to this are sometimes maligned as debbie downers or overly pessimistic thinkers but the most pessimistic thinker cannot even grasp or come close to absorbing the day to day drama that goes on Planet Earth.
Give me the most pessimistic Schopenhauer and the most stoic Epictetus and have them face the total elemental drama each day on earth and like Medusa it would turn them to stone and the shock would break them into a thousand pieces. And that is just a journey through today's drama on Earth. Human beings are not made to absorb it all and must partialize the world to operate in it. Imagine trying to cover the history of human civilization and then try to absorb the natural history of hundreds of millions of years of that type of activity on this Planet! This is beyond human brain capability especially in our day to day lives. If we try to imagine the natural history and the human drama on Earth I think of the quote "belief in the supernatural is a failure of imagination" because when you start to go down that path of imagination you come to a realization that it would be a rather large leap of faith to make any final conclusions and presumptions on this existence especially conclusions about the gods or providence.

We can only grasp it in moments and even then it does not come close to encompassing the reality on the Blue rock. On my website I have the statement "See the world in its fullness" to promote an ideal to strive for because I do think it is possible to increase our awareness of reality and become more magnanimous to each other. Even with this ideal I know it is an uphill climb with our mental limitations and evolutionary baggage.
People have a hard time with the imagination for their own reality much less the immense variety of life and deep history of life. You can see this list and go over some of the natural disasters and the numbers of victims in your head but it is hard to really grasp it for each individual caught in the way of nature's force. As the infamous saying goes, "One life is a tragedy, one million a statistic." The sad truth is that we can touch the numbers but can never grasp it. Sade exclaimed "What is all the worlds suffering to just one of my desires." We condemn Sade but sadly his solipsism is more common than we would like to admit. One could add to the solipsistic Sade "What is all the worlds suffering to just one of our ideologies?"

We protect our sacred ideologies by ignoring the reality in front of our nose. We make light of the real victims of cruel fate and their suffering to protect our imaginary gods. The Earth could swallow a million children today and the dogmatic will still state "All is well." To paraphrase Becker we stand over a grotesque amount of corpses and suffering and declare life good. Stephen Colbert in one of his ironic comic bits wagged his finger at Death for not respecting the sanctity of life. As Camus stated that which exalts life adds to its absurdity. You can deny death by exclaiming you are immortal but I can take you to the local hospital or nursing home and you will see patients in some cases where their brain, personality, or soul if you will is no longer in tact and is no longer there...why would it survive the complete death of the body if it cannot even survive it while the heart and blood still pumps? Aristotle was correct to think that for solipsistic humans "luck is when the other person gets hit with an arrow." I think for humans to even begin to reach our full potential on empathy and compassion we need to start with the axiom "it could have been me, I am not special or superior by any deity or merit" instead of the unprovable claim "all is well." A better axiom in the context of life history on Earth would be "All is fragile."


Come, ye philosophers, who cry, “All’s well,”

And contemplate this ruin of a world.
Behold these shreds and cinders of your race,
This child and mother heaped in common wreck,
These scattered limbs beneath the marble shafts--
A hundred thousand whom the earth devours,
Who, torn and bloody, palpitating yet,
Entombed beneath their hospitable roofs,
In racking torment end their stricken lives.
To those expiring murmurs of distress,
To that appalling spectacle of woe,

Will ye reply: “You do but illustrate
The iron laws that chain the will of God”?
Say ye, o’er that yet quivering mass of flesh:

“God is avenged: the wage of sin is death”?
What crime, what sin, had those young hearts conceived
That lie, bleeding and torn, on mother’s breast?

Thus the whole world in every member groans:
All born for torment and for mutual death.
And o’er this ghastly chaos you would say
The ills of each make up the good of all!
What blessedness! And as, with quaking voice,
Mortal and pitiful, ye cry, “All ’s well,”
The universe belies you, and your heart
Refutes a hundred times your mind’s conceit.

Man crawls and dies: all is but born to die:
The world ’s the empire of destructiveness.
This frail construction of quick nerves and bones
Cannot sustain the shock of elements;
This temporary blend of blood and dust
Was put together only to dissolve;
This prompt and vivid sentiment of nerve
Was made for pain, the minister of death:
Thus in my ear does nature’s message run.

  • Voltaire, Examination of the Axiom "All is well"

  • No comments: