Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by Jenyar, Apr 14, 2005.

  1. Jenyar Solar flair Valued Senior Member

    The question ‘Why?’ is mostly an expression of faith: it supposes a satisfactory answer exists, and that the question together with the answer, the event together with its reason, will constitute a meaningful whole. Our faith is that there is meaning, and that knowing the facts will expose it, fill the vacuum called why, inside us. While scientific enquiry and 1:1 facts can help us with the what and the how, set the parameters of our question, it doesn't answer the why.

    When Steven Spielberg, himself a Jew, made the WW2 film Saving Private Ryan, he did not look for meaning in the politics or event that led up to the war. He did not look at the consequences of it, the natural forces of survival and death, the politics of power, or the influence of circumstances. The horrors of it are just facts to be noted and accurately portrayed. Even the heroics and valour of soldiers in the field has no intrinsic meaning. The causes they fought for in WW2 were only temporary substitutes, personal taglines for impersonal rationalisations by politicians and strategists, while the big-picture meaningful Why of it all remained unanswered:

    Ours is not to reason why,
    Ours is but to do or die…

    Sergeant Miller (played by Tom Hanks) tells his platoon that “the mission is a man”. And as one by one his soldiers die for this mission, it begs the question: is it worth it? Is the why of their mission and their sacrifice really satisfactorily fulfilled by the who? But this is for Spielberg the only meaning that makes sense of a meaningless war, it becomes a metaphor for the struggle that surrounds those 8 mere men. But their ideal is not an ideology - they can't liberate a country, but they have to brave its ravaged landscapes to save a person.

    What is a single soldier’s life worth? When is it worth fighting and dying for? In the film, Private Ryan is the last surviving son of a single mother – he means something to someone; he is valuable to someone. In economy, value is determined by scarcity and demand, and even the lone rural farmer who works in isolation, unaware of Reserve banks or Stock markets, eventually has to come to terms with the value represented by strips of paper and shiny metal tokens. It is relevant to him. When a human life is in high demand, when it is truly loved, it can be of utmost value, and death is the enemy that makes it unattainably scarce. But is it always perceived this way? Is everyone forced to come to terms with its value, as they are with money?

    People react with indignity and great sympathy to public depictions of starvation or torture, but in their private and anonymous lives they might treat better-known people with contempt or disdain. Why? One is tempted to wonder whether the value really lies with the starving child in the picture, or with the argument they're trying to win. I think that the relationship between arbitrarily and selfishly assigned value and such suffering and despair as we see in the media is closer than we realize.

    One might be tempted to argue that even Spielberg’s vision remains irrelevant fiction. A Hollywood pseudo-biography. But what if it was real? The most potent commentary on how attitudes affect human life comes from L. Gen. Roméo Dallaire, commander in charge of the UN mission to Rwanda, where, in 1994, 800 000 Hutus and moderate Tutsis were culled over a period of 100 days by the 30 000 strong Tutsi Interahamwe militia (Rwanda is 84% Hutu, and 15% Tutsi):
    “What I have come to realize as the root of it all however, is the fundamental indifference of the world community to the plight of seven or eight million black Africans in a tiny country that had no strategic value to any world power.

    “Engraved still in my brain is the judgment of a small group of bureaucrats who came to “assess” the situation in the first week of the genocide: ‘We will recommend to our government not to intervene as the risks are high and all that is here are humans.

    “As Michael Ignatieff has warned us, ‘riskless warfare in pursuit of human rights is a moral contradiction. The concept of human rights assumes that all human life is of equal value. Risk-free warfare presumes that our lives matter more than those we are intervening to save.’ ”​
    And at the end of his book Shake hands with the devil, The failure of humanity in Rwanda he concludes:
    “Several times in the book I have asked the question, ‘Are we all human, or are some more human than others?’ Certainly we in the developed world act in a way that suggests we believe our lives are worth more than the lives of other citizens of the planet. An American officer felt no shame as he informed me that the lives of 800 000 Rwandans were only worth risking the lives of ten American troops; the Belgians, after losing ten soldiers, insisted that the lives of the Rwandans were not worth risking another single Belgian soldier. … If we believe that all humans are human, then how are we going to prove it? It can only be proven through actions.”​
    In stead of keeping it most in mind when things go our way, we only seem to admit the worth of human life when it’s someone who means something to us or someone close to us, or else after significant catastrophes that somehow puncture our collective moral conscience. Presumably we are moved into action because of compassion, concern, responsibility or pity. A "major" event strikes a nerve and we react impulsively, almost wondering at ourselves (do we know why we react?). But what about all the times when we are not moved?

    At the moment, the atrocities committed in Rwanda - and more evidence of how morally deficient a media-driven "global" conscience is - are being repeated in Darfur. There are no oil reserves or valuable resources to use as measure for these people's lives. Why should any individual care? Why do we and don’t we care? Why ask why at all? And no, this is not about war.

    • For an overview of Rwanda's history and demographics, see here
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  3. Jenyar Solar flair Valued Senior Member

    Hm. Might have posted this in the wrong subforum! My apologies. Moderators please move at your discretion. I think EM&J would have been more fitting.
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  5. duendy Registered Senior Member

    The military-industrial complex doesn't give a shit for its soldiers. they are merely fodder for thier wars. they only 'care' is a political sham one. a reason why shmuck-BushCo wouldn't allow the media to televize soldiers returning in coffins. Not good for business!

    And the blacker the skin, the more people are seen as worthless. checkout the symbol of the pyramid again. this time replace 'God' with 'Profit'--'God is dead, long live Profit'

    THAT is ALL they care about. Only that. and that is how dead they are. they may seem to talk and breathe and move their eyes about, and smile at their kids etc. but they are D.E.A.D, dead
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  7. water the sea Registered Senior Member


    The topic, as it is posed, although ethically inclined, would fit into philosophy of science, or philosophy of economics. But EM&J would do well.

    I take you were interested in why people do the things they do -- what justification they give for their actions.

    Going to war is a complex mixture of ethics and economics. And it is in such extreme situations like war that the motivations behind people's actions and their ethics can become exposed in a manner rarely seen in times of peace.

    * * *

    Private Ryan, as a person, wasn't much to Miller and his crew, they didn't even know him. They merely had a job to do.

    Their ideal was an ideology: to win the war. But winning the war is broken down into thousands of little actions that may seem to have nothing to do with winning the war.
    And this is where the unclarity that is so bothering creeps in: Ideally, the way the ideal is posited should be visible in all spheres of the realization of this ideal. Like in a hologram, where each smallest part tells what the whole is like.

    Why the war was fought should be the same as why Miller and his crew went to save Ryan. And indeed, with that outlook in mind could they go to save him. Otherwise, their job would really make no sense in light of the war and all the killing that went on -- even more so considering that the whole (?) platoon died on their mission.

    But such thinking -- the ideal permeating all spheres of the realization of this ideal; the parts being like holograms -- such thinking is rare. We tend to forget about "the big picture". Why? Maybe we have set our ideals too high.

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