Don't ask why; the Haiti earthquake just happened.Byline: David Ignatius
Summary: When an overwhelming natural disaster such as the Haiti earthquake kills many thousands of people, there is a natural human tendency to look for causes and assign blame. We want to understand why the terrible event occurred, beyond the freakish freak·ish
1. Markedly unusual or abnormal; strange: freakish weather; a freakish combination of styles.
2. Relating to or being a freak: a freakish extra toe. geological lottery of moving plates and structural faults. An extreme example of this desire to "explain" tragedy was Reverend Pat Robertson's statement a day after the quake after the quake (神の子どもたちはみな踊る .
When an overwhelming natural disaster such as the Haiti earthquake kills many thousands of people, there is a natural human tendency to look for causes and assign blame. We want to understand why the terrible event occurred, beyond the freakish geological lottery of moving plates and structural faults.
An extreme example of this desire to "explain" tragedy was Reverend Pat Robertson's statement a day after the quake. He said that Haiti had been "cursed" by God because its people "swore a pact to the devil" two centuries ago through voodoo rites.
There are secular versions of this same desire to interpret horrifying events. Looking at the devastation, some observers have seen the effects of Haiti's class system, with poor people suffering disproportionately, as reported by William Booth of The Washington Post ("Haiti's elite spared from much of the devastation"). Richard Kim blamed harsh international loan policies for Haiti's chronic poverty in a January 15 post on the website of the weekly The Nation.
Other commentators have drawn different lessons. David Brooks faults Haitian culture. "Some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them," he wrote in The New York Times. Anne Applebaum argued in The Washington Post that this was "a man-made disaster," and that the earthquake's impact "was multiplied many, many times by the weakness of civil society and the absence of the rule of law."
There's some truth in all of the secular explanations. But they leave out the most painful and perplexing per·plex
tr.v. per·plexed, per·plex·ing, per·plex·es
1. To confuse or trouble with uncertainty or doubt. See Synonyms at puzzle.
2. To make confusedly intricate; complicate. factor we encounter whenever terrible things happen, which is bad luck. The same problem arises when catastrophic events befall be·fall
v. be·fell , be·fall·en , be·fall·ing, be·falls
To come to pass; happen.
To happen to. See Synonyms at happen. people we love: a life-threatening disease, say. We look for a rational explanation of why this person got cancer but his neighbor, with all the same risk factors, didn't. Often, the most honest answer is: It just happened.
Talking about the Haitian earthquake, my friend Garrett Epps, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Baltimore The University of Baltimore (UB), located in downtown Baltimore, Maryland in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood, is part of the University System of Maryland.
UB recently opened a brand new student center as well as changing the colors to blue and green, and the "UB" logo. , recommended a book called "Evil in Modern Thought," by the philosopher Susan Neiman. Her starting point in discussing how people respond to evil events was the 1755 earthquake that destroyed Lisbon, Portugal, and that killed at least 15,000 people there.
The Lisbon quake was so catastrophic that it traumatized all of Europe. The quake itself lasted 10 minutes and buried thousands in the rubble. It was followed by fires that raged across the city, and then by tidal waves that ravaged the port and drowned hundreds who had taken refuge on the coast. It seemed obvious to most people, in that religious time, that this devastation of a magnificent city was an act of God -- a terrible punishment for human transgressions. But why Lisbon?
"Orthodox theologians welcomed the earthquake in terms they barely troubled to disguise," writes Neiman. "For years they had battled Deism Deism
Belief in God based on reason rather than revelation or the teaching of any specific religion. A form of natural religion, Deism originated in England in the early 17th century as a rejection of orthodox Christianity. , natural religion, and anything else that tried to explain the world in natural terms alone." The theologians debated what sins might have brought down so much divine wrath. A few argued that the quake was punishment for Portuguese plunder in the New World, and "the millions of poor Indians your forefathers forefathers npl → antepasados mpl
forefathers npl → ancêtres mpl
forefathers npl → Vorfahren butchered for the sake of gold."
Philosophers, too, struggled to comprehend the meaning of this disaster. Immanuel Kant wrote three essays about earthquakes for a weekly paper in Konigsberg; his main point was that earthquakes didn't happen in Prussia, and thus could be explained without divine involvement. Rousseau and Voltaire argued over whether such evil events could be understood at all, says Neiman.
The hero of the Lisbon tale was the man who led the relief efforts, the Marquis of Pombal, who served as prime minister under King Joseph I of Portugal. Pombal had no use for the anguishing debate. He famously said: "What now? We bury the dead Bury the Dead
six dead soldiers cause a rebellion when they refuse to be buried. [Am. Drama: Haydn & Fuller, 768]
See : Death and feed the living." And he did just that, rapidly disposing of the corpses, seizing stocks of grain to feed the hungry and ordering the militia to halt looting and piracy. Within a year, the city was being restored.
I will think of Pombal as I watch the reconstruction of Haiti. His response to imponderable im·pon·der·a·ble
That cannot undergo precise evaluation: imponderable problems.
im·pon devastation was to rebuild, boldly and confidently, making sure the new buildings could withstand a future quake. "Nature has no meaning; its events are not signs," concludes Neiman. Earthquakes are not evil; evil requires intent; it is what human beings do. The response to inexplicable events is not debate, but action.Aa
Syndicated columnist David Ignatius is published regularly by THE DAILY STAR.
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