January 17, 2007

IVAN'S QUESTION


El Cabrero is winding his way slowly through Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. I seem to recall that the print was bigger last time around...


If you think your family is a mess, spending some time with self-destructive Dmitri, tortured intellectual Ivan, the otherworldly Alyosha and their whacked- out old man might make you feel better.


One thing that makes the book so interesting are the long and deep conversations about life, death, suffering, divine and human justice or the lack thereof, and the meaning of existence. Here's a question a question posed by Ivan after he recounts a terrible story of the abuse of an innocent small girl by her parents:



Tell me frankly, I appeal to you--answer me: imagine that it is you yourself who are erecting the edifice of human destiny with the aim of making men happy in the end, of giving them peace and contentment at last, but that to do that it is absolutely necessary, and indeed quite inevitable, to torture to death only one tiny creature, the little girl who beat her breast with her little fist, and to found the edifice on her unavenged tears--would you consent to be the architect under those conditions?

The question isn't as hypothetical as it sounds. The current edifice of the global economy, which delivers a questionable amount of contentment to a few, rests on more unnecessary suffering than that. As Jeffrey Sachs writes in The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time,



Every morning our newspapers could report, "More than 20,000 people perished yesterday of extreme poverty." The stories would put the stark numbers in context--up to 8,000 children dead of malaria, 5,000 mothers and fathers dead of tuberculosis, 7,500 young adults dead of AIDS, and thousands more dead of diarrhea, respiratory infection, and other killer diseases that prey on bodies weakened by chronic hunger. The poor die in hospital wards that lack drugs, in villages that lack antimalarial bed nets, in houses that lack safe drinking water. They die namelessly, without public comment. Sadly, such stories rarely get written. Most people are unaware of the daily struggles for survival, and of the vast numbers of impoverished people around the world who lose that struggle.

Today, Ivan might ask us, if you wouldn't consent to that proposition, what would you be willing to do about it?

BONUS RANT. In a recent interview, President Bush seemed a little baffled by an apparent lack of gratitude emanating from Iraq. I wonder if this has anything to do with it...

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

1 comment:

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

No, I would not consent to be the architect under those conditions. Similar hypothetical questions amaze me less that those who would agree to destroy anyone—or anything—in exchange for the “happiness” of others.

Interestingly, my "word verfication" is an appropriate real word: "decry."