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Offbeat 28 August 2014

In Africa, where water is carried long distances by hundreds of millions, throwing away water is an horrifying concept. Worse yet, one assumes it is clean water, something else that Africa has a shortage of.

In a discussion about Ebola the other day I was asked why the fuss, with just under one-and-a-half thousand deaths? I did the whole spiel about Laurie Garret’s ‘The Coming Plague’, and the hidden numbers behind the cordon, and all of that. After a couple of hours I managed to switch my brain on and figured out the smart point behind the question. One thousand five hundred people over six months isn’t a lot. The Middle East can do that in a couple of weeks, even without the help of Israel, and without breaking a sweat.
Spoilers are about to follow, so if you intend to watch a Marvel movie in the next few days, now is a good time to stop reading.
Karmic forces seem to like to rub it in when I am thinking slow. Just when I was getting settled into complacency again, the new and very astute Captain America movie, ‘Winter Soldier’ came and asked me the same question in a different way. How many people would you sacrifice to save the life of your child?
As a father, my responses to that are easy. How many people? And do I have to do them one by one, or can I have a nuclear arsenal to get the job out of the way and be reunited with my daughter quickly? Can we factor in other people I love, to get that out of the way? I wonder if global leaders have the same thoughts? I’m sure they do, even if they can’t press the big red button that says, ‘Goodbye, y’all’.
‘Winter Soldier’ goes on to posit, in a fictional way, that the deaths of 20 million people can bring about peace for all the billions on earth. If the thought of killing every single one of the degenerate filth that make up ISIS or Boko Haram, or every single member of some or other armed militia member, or some grubby despot and his minions, has never entered your mind, ever, apply to the Pope for early beatification. Alternatively, start reading the news to see the true extent of the horror in the rest of the world, and see what your emotions and instincts tell you.
The third thing that got to me was the ice bucket challenge. It’s a smart idea that provides donations for people suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that is the current meme of the month on Facebook. Pour a bucket of ice and water over your head or donate to help out with ALS.
It’s a clever idea, though judging by all the photos on Facebook of people getting cold and wet, there must be a lot of tightfisted people out there. My problem is I feel churlish about it.
In Africa, where water is carried long distances by hundreds of millions, throwing away water is an horrifying concept. Worse yet, one assumes it is clean water, something else that Africa has a shortage of. Perhaps the thing could be pitched as a challenge to end millions of deaths due to a lack of clean water, and a bucket of dust could be used, instead of favouring the couple of thousand ALS sufferers. But those people need help as well.
Body counts and death tolls are incredibly difficult to contend with.
As I see it, every single death should be a tragedy. One assumes that even ISIS and Boko Haram members have family and friends who love them, who would be heartbroken if they were to die. I know it is a bit of a stretch to believe that, but we have to, or we diminish our souls.
On the other hand we have body counts that we have to process, and somehow understand on a daily basis, without degenerating into callousness, even complete psychopathy. The obvious thing seems to be to put the numbers, and the incidents which feature them, into the back of your mind. But this strategy accepts the numbers as natural, which is also completely wrong. Maybe, by caring, talking and trying on some slight scale to change them, the numbers can diminish.
I’m going to go with Captain America, who has become a slightly subversive figure by refusing to accept the status quo. I’m going to understand that these things happen, but that they are not desirable, and should be stopped.
There are times when I wish I had superpowers, now more than ever.

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