by Jan Baughman
"The life of the individual only has meaning in so far as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful."
(Swans - July 17, 2006) When wandering through life, one cannot but notice the number of us withdrawn from society as a whole, immersed in our own reality. Drivers on cell phones inattentive to the negotiations of traffic; shoppers at the checkout stand speaking to someone not in the present, with no acknowledgement of the person with whom they should be interacting; individuals walking down the street in earpiece conversation with an invisible companion; and the multitudes attached to an iPod, in their own world and walling themselves off from intrusion by others. It's a universe of myspace, in which "rugged individualism" has evolved to commercially driven isolationism where gadgets that are marketed as enhanced links to a greater world only serve to separate us from humanity. It is no wonder that the others, those not in myspace, do not matter.
"It's a number," said Tony Snow, referring to the 2,500th US military casualty in the war on Iraq, confirming that his death was no more significant than -- or was as insignificant as -- the 2,499 that preceded him. Forty-six other numbers have been added to the tally since Snow's comment. Civilian casualties in Iraq continue to mount; their toll is measured in the retributions paid to their families, and the $2,500 each Iraqi is deemed to be worth is adding up on the balance sheet where money talks, though we don't speak of body counts. More money will be appropriated to keep all of us safe and fund the quest for democracy, but we cannot fathom life in dollars, any more than we can fathom life in multiples of human beings outside of myspace, where it is not necessary to count past "one."
The number of US troops expected to return this year from Afghanistan and Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder, where they will occupy the myspace of the forgotten casualties of war, is predicted to be 20,000 -- six times what was expected. In a coincidence of numbers, 21,000 Army and Marine others are to be sent to Iraq to replenish the occupation as the numbers add up, and still do not count. Out of sight, out of myspace.
It is incomprehensible, in myspace, to live on one dollar per day, where the simplest of iPods would cost three months while going without food and water. Turn up the volume and tune out. That myspace way of thinking allows the minimum wage to continue as a slightly better subhuman compensation. Americans are not scoring well in math despite no child being left behind, so it is difficult to fathom what it means that the average CEO earns 262 times that of the average worker. Meanwhile, one billion children on this planet suffer from severe deprivation, but as long as they do not infringe on myspace, they do not count. It is estimated that the US population will reach 300 million this year, another number we cannot fathom, but a number that is too many, outside of myspace. It is the influx of the other -- namely, the immigrant -- that is competing for and infringing upon myspace. A United Nations study predicts that the number of human beings living in slums, currently 1 billion, will double by 2030; that is, in myspace's lifetime. Given these numbers, can each occupant of myspace be sheltered from this fate, or will some end up in the tattered shelter of a slum? At any moment, any one of us can and will become the other.
It's time to change our thoughts. Time to understand that it is insane to kill the other because someone nearest to myspace was killed. Time to accept the humanity of those outside of myspace -- the victims of war, poverty, disease; the others such as the Palestinians, who are also entitled to their space. Time to poke and prod and burst the bubbles of those sequestered inside myspace, and recognize the value of a number greater than one.
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