December 9, 2016

Why People Pay Attention to Tragedy

Titanic

By Joe Perez

On this, the second nightly column on Spirit’s Next Move, I set gaze on two articles from the World Wide Web: the first, an encouraging word about Earth Day from Integral City; the second, I look at an interesting interpretation of why people are so easily caught up in tragedies such as Anne Frank and the Titanic anniversary.

Earth Day brings greater Integrally-informed global collaborations

Is the Earth going down like Titanic? Not if current signs are just the beginning of global trends. Marilyn Hamilton writes in “Earth Day: Let’s Celebrate Ecosphere Intelligence Arising in Planet’s Fortune100!!”:

Sean Esborn-Hargens one of the leaders at the forefront of developing the whole field of Integral Ecology engages the nested voices of Self, Other and the World in ways that are shifting the whole understanding of ecology. Like Brian Eddy who has mapped the Integral Ecological model of the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, biosphere and anthroposphere, Sean has been convening conversations with multiple ecological personas in complex cultural and systems environments.

While Sean and Brian are the natural children of the pioneers who opened the paths of the first Earth Day (42 years ago) what other evidence of ecospheric change can we notice on the eve of Rio+20?

Much to my astonishment I listened to CEO’s (and/or their consultants) of the Fortune 100 talk about their sustainability strategies at the Fortune Green Brainstorm earlier this week.

I heard that Coca Cola had invested $1 billion dollars in the mountain farmers of Tanzania so that they could steward the forests in the mountains to protect the hydrological cycle that produces the water that is 98% of the input for Coca Cola’s product.

I heard that Wal-Mart had changed its fleet of trucks to fuel-efficient hybrid 18 wheelers and was using bio-fuel from the cooking fats produced by their restaurants.

I heard that New York City had negotiated a $1 billion deal with the Catskill farmers to preserve the quality of its water sources – rather than spend $6 billion on a new water management plant.

Read the whole post to learn of more surprising good tidings, especially word from the Fortune 100 companies.

Why people look for meaning in tragedies

Ruth Franklin, a senior editor at The New Republic, tries to explain why people seek for meaning in tragedies. The victims of tragedies, Franklin says, remind us that they were once like us, but now emptied of significance on account of their tragic end:

To look at the video of Anne Frank, or a slideshow of the Titanic’s ephemera—an alligator handbag, a water-crumpled top hat and dress shoes—is to know for certain that the girl leaning off the balcony, or the people to whom these objects belonged, were once like us. In their deaths they became myth, but in life they were unexceptional: The video shows Anne Frank, as one of my Twitter correspondents put it, “before she was Anne Frank.” We know that Anne Frank was real; we don’t need a video for that. But we long for artifacts because they seem to offer a route to authenticity, a direct access to the moment of disaster that we obsessively replay. As such, they become repositories of meaning—empty of their own significance, but imbued with it by virtue of their context. And for historical catastrophes such as the Titanic or the Holocaust, the desire for an object to convey meaning is particularly acute, since otherwise the event feels morally empty, and thus dangerous…

I think it’s really hard to make generalizations so baldly as Franklin does. People make meaning of Anne Frank or Titanic relics for a wide array of reasons, pre-modern magical thinking or myth making, modern rationalism, and post-modern existentialism, for example. Franklin’s effort to claim that tragedy victims become placeholders emptied of their own significance, a “route to authenticity,” is a narrowly postmodern concern (I believe), projected onto every possible onlooker.

Thus, I can’t really agree with Ruth’s conclusion, that contemplation of tragedy allows us to “relive” them so as to keep death abay:

An extreme catastrophe affords us a kind of luxury: a comfortable perch from which to reflect upon our own mortality. We don’t know what will finally happen to us, but whatever it is, it won’t be that. We will not go down with the Titanic; we will not be murdered by the Nazis. We speak of the contemplation of these stories—as historical events or as something close to myth—as “reliving” them. But in fact it is death to which they bring us safely closer.

Which is a perfectly fine way to look at tragedy if you are Ruth Franklin. But a more integral perspective must not impose any one rubric for interpreting tragedy for all people — especially if it means elevating postmodern interpretation to the pinnacle of human wisdom. But World Spirituality is not without its own rich perspective on tragedy.

World Spirituality acknowledges a deep brokenness at the heart of Reality — samsara, the Cross of Christ, Original Sin, chaos and incompleteness, what have you — and insists that authenticity to our True Self is to affirm such brokenness by living into it and through it with courage and love … not to deny the brokenness in favor of fake grace or spiritual bypassing. To reflect on an icon of such brokenness — a picture of Anne Frank or the purse of a Titanic victim — is to encounter suffering that is not separate from our own (or to resist the suffering, falling away from True Self, in an inauthentic pose).

I would not say, as Franklin does, that we “relive” tragedies vicariously in order to be brought closer to death, but in a safe way. Perhaps that is so for some selves. But I would say that our Unique Self encounters in a relic of the Titanic or a Holocaust survivor its own likeness in partiality and wholeness, and — unless its feeling is set aside in favor of the False Self — finds freedom from death with each effortless, instantly arising act of continued contemplation.

Be Sociable, Share!

Speak Your Mind