What it all comes down to, doesn't it, life and death? Isn't this at the root of the human condition, and our most basic fears, longings, fantasies, desires, dreams, beliefs, everything? I went in to renew a permit this morning that had, um, expired a mere four years ago, and in the process of trying to butter up the clerk who had to decide whether this lapse deserved some sort of bureaucratic slap on the hand, we ended up having a great mini-conversation about the meaning of it all. Noting that my age, 54, was similar to hers, 53, she observed, "There's something different about we children of the '60s, isn't there?" Not just the absence of certain psychedelic drug-sensitive drug cells, we concluded, but something existentially different.
Maybe this is just baby-boomer self-absorption, but I do think that we BBs ponder the deeper questions of life more fervently than do those older or younger. By and large, of course. There are shallow people of all ages. Myself, recently I've been thinking even more about life and death than usual. The space shuttle tragedy and impending war with Iraq make it difficult to do otherwise. Seven recent deaths, so much attention paid to them. Potentially seventy thousand, or more, future deaths, so little attention paid to them. What is it that makes one human life so precious, and another life so cheap? I hate to think that the determining factor is nationality, but its hard to find another reason.
We all know that many innocent Iraqi civilians, including children, will die in any U.S. attack. But somehow this doesn't matter to a lot of people, judging by what I hear on conservative talk radio and official Bush administration pronouncements. Life is cheap, unless it is an American life. This is so shallow and philosophically indefensible, it almost makes me sad that I'm an American citizen. "The greatest country on earth." I only wish. Until a country truly comes to grips with the deep questions of life and death, it isn't great.
Many people belittle Europeans for being less ready to pull the trigger finger than Americans are. Probably Europeans are this way because they have a cultural memory of what it means to have an entire continent ravaged by war. For most Americans, war is something that happens somewhere else. But if death was staring them in the face, as it will for each of us one day, I can guarantee that they would turn away, if they could. To wish death on others, when you fear it yourself, is the height of hypocrisy.