Thursday, April 19, 2007

Human Life Math

The grief-fest over 33 students in a mediocre U.S. university has overshadowed the murder of 140 men, women and children in Baghdad two days later in an open air market, not to mention the neatly tucked away story of 2 workers killed in yet another unconscionable mine collapse yesterday. Which loss of life is worth more coverage, more anguish?

In this Bush era there appears to be a formula that allots value to human lives, so that the closer they are to the centers of power and wealth, the more valuable they seem to be. Yet seen in other terms, the value could be different.

The Virginia Tech students were, after all, not likely Einsteins. In broad social and historical terms, their deaths are remarkably insignificant.

Indeed, at least some of the luxury in which the Va. Tech students lived was paid for with the blood of the people of Iraq. And if you think 3,000 dead U.S. soldiers are too much -- as I do -- consider estimates ranging from President Bush's low-ball 30,000 Iraqi deaths since the U.S. invasion to the 600,000 deaths calculated by a group of Johns Hopkins University scholars. (See here.)

Does anyone think the 140 killed in Baghdad two days after the Virginia Tech shooting didn't have mourning parents, relatives and friends who regarded them as typical boy- or girl-next-door to whom nothing so untoward should have happened? Where are the pages after pages after pages of maudlin lament over them? Where are the television specials?

Dirty little secret: many Americans don't think Iraqi lives count.

Truth: historically and socially, Iraqi loss of life is much more significant than that of Virginia Tech, as it is the door-hinge upon which hangs the power of a U.S. government that lied itself into what is plainly an illegal and immoral -- worse, completely unnecessary -- war.

Last but not least, the same lying government is derelict in the protection of the lives of U.S. citizens at work. Mine safety is at an all-time low. The two miners killed in a collapsed shaft are also much more significant in social terms, than the Virginia tech 33. Their deaths sound the knell of the entire U.S. workforce, their salaries left to languish, their working conditions left to deteriorate.

The society that ignores the rampant deaths in Iraq and the U.S. workforce cannot wash itself clean by a mere Supreme Court decision to ban so-called "partial birth" abortion. A society that structures itself to feed off the death of foreigners and its workforce, who are visible and tangible, cannot absolve itself from guilt by a largely symbolic attempt to save children who are unborn.


Bobbi said...

This might not be a popular idea - but I agree with you.

Geneviève said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Your point is very well taken but by calling the students "mediocre" you are also putting a quantitative value on the loss of these kids. Would it have been worse if this happened at Harvard?
By the way, there were 3 world renown scientist/ engineers also killed in this group. My, what were they doing at such a mediocre school? One was a 76 year old concentration camp survivor who sacrificed his life for his students. This "mediocrity" ranks among the top 20 schools in the Southeast and top engineering schools in the nation.

However, if I continue, I, like you, am playing your ratings game, which directly contradicts the point that you are trying to make!

thailandchani said...

I don't think it can be qualified. Period. Iraqi lives are just as valuable as VT lives are just as valuable as the two miners are just as valuable as the corner bum who got murdered in Sacramento last night.

The whole notion is absurd.

Media coverage, as I'm sure you know, relies on titillation and the fear factor. The idea of a wild-eyed crazy Asian guy walking into a classroom and shooting 32 people is more sensational than lives lost in a war zone.

It's all about money, advertisers and ratings.