Boiling Anger and the Infinite Sadness

I tweeted a few times on this subject throughout the day, so if you follow me on Twitter (@destroy_time), apologies if this is redundant. Last night, I came across devastation, plain and simple:

yemen

And was horrified, as, I like to imagine (but know better), any human being would be. The suffering is horrific in scale and scope, and at least in the media through which most Americans get their “information” (scare quotes sadly necessary) largely unmentioned in the US. Famine, disease, lack of necessary medical supplies, violence on a scale growing comparable to the worst humanitarian suffering of the last fifty years face Yemeni daily. Closer to home, Puerto Rico remains utterly devastated, largely without power still, ravaged by disease, hunger, lack of potable water while a mere 1,850 km to the northwest, the nation of which it is a part contemplates how best to enrich its richest at the ultimate expense of its least. Hence the anger, hence the sadness.

Or so I thought. What was missing came later last night in the form of a dream.

Shame.

I dreamt I was in some nondescript room, working (as I am now) on my iPad, listening (as I am now) to the BBC3 via a high-end Bluetooth speaker, which suddenly chimed its “Battery low — feed me power, minion” alert. I snapped to it, unable even to contemplate having to use the built in speaker. But what’s this? No power outlet? Panic. My iPad was fully charged, and somehow I had a cord that I could use to connect the devices so that I could charge the speaker from the iPad to the point where maybe each had half battery life — enough at least to finish whatever it was I was working on. Just sharing between friends, right?

Wrong. To my horror, the speaker drained the iPad to the point where I was just watching the percentage numeral drop steadily, rushing toward zero and without the speaker itself being charged. I awoke right before the battery life hit zero, breathing rapidly and physically sick. I’m not exaggerating. Thanks to my wounds, I can’t really run at the moment, but I flung off the covers and moved as quickly as I could to the bathroom, dropped to my knees in front of the toilet bowl, dry-heaved a few times, then sat back and just let the nausea roll over me in waves. Not exaggerating.

Interspersed with the images of that cold Apple-grey steel room and the feeling of panic that I couldn’t charge a fucking speaker were the harrowing images from Yemen and Puerto Rico, of the dead who don’t know they’re dead yet. Not some silly TV show, but real human beings. Here sit I, not wealthy by American standards by any means, yet wreathed in such luxury and privilege as the vast majority of the people in the world can’t even dream of, so far beyond the scope of their daily concerns, fears, troubles and understanding is the bling that, to us, is just background noise to uneventful days. The most basic version of the new iPhone X costs $999 — how many lives could be saved with that amount of money?

Hence the shame. I know it must be tempting for any so-called “conservative” (scare quotes sadly necessary) out there reading this to raise the cry of “liberal guilt!” “Ashamed to be an American!” And other such Coulterisms. I’m ashamed on a deeply personal level — not that I had the fortune to be born in the wealthiest nation in the history of nations, that I have been given the privilege of access to technologies, medicines, communications, entertainments, cheap and safe food and water the likes of which remain inaccessible to most of the world, and taking the long view, to all of humanity for our brief existence on this world. No, that’s privilege I was born into, just as I had no say over having a Y chromosome or being of Northern European heritage; I’m not ashamed of those things — they’re collectively constituent parts of my personal privilege. I am ashamed at myself, that I could see such images, process them, be affected by them, yet only feel panic because meaningless electronic devices didn’t function as they were supposed to. While the worst cholera epidemic in modern history rages through Yemen, infecting over one million Yemeni and counting, I freak out because I might have to clean my wounds and change my bandages without pain medication for a day. I spend mental energy debating Stranger Things‘ second season — the unspoken assumption that *everyone* has seen it or at least has access to see it — while my Yemeni or Puerto Rican analogue uses his mental (and physical) energy to find his family’s next meal, a safe and dry place for the evening’s shelter, insulin for a diabetic parent, penicillin for an ill child. I hop on GrubHub and play FIFA while waiting on my Tom Kha Gai.

The deep shame is something that’s been written about, debated, contemplated often, so much so that it almost seems banal to take up the theme — how this tremendous privilege wallpapers each of our scenarios. That, of course, is where the anger and sadness intrude upon my consciousness; that even recognizing the recognition that such wealth surrounds us unnoticed is itself trite… it’s a sort of moment of truth, isn’t it? Do I continue in conscious and willed ignorance, or does the arbitrary juxtaposition of images from far away with everyday technology shock one just enough to actually do something?

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~ by Benji on 9 November 2017.

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