Saturday, March 12, 2011

The earthquake in Japan and the arithmetic of compassion

This evening I have been watching footage from Japan and thinking of the terrible loss of life and destruction. Predictions of tens of thousands dead and missing. Now a nuclear catastrophe. 
I am deeply affected by the unfolding events. My step daughter lived in and around Sendai  and talking to her today via Face book (she is in the Caribbean) she tells me she is profoundly worried about friends still there. I cannot stop thinking about the terrible tragedy facing the people of Japan.
And  now a country that suffered the horrific destruction inflicted by the nuclear age faces the serious possibility of another nuclear catastrophe. This is apocalyptic. I fear this a forerunner of the future- humankind and human civilization overwhelmed by the forces of nature and the earth. 
The Polish Poet Zbigniew Herbert urges us to meditate on the "arithmetic of compassion". I feel the need to do that tonight.  
 The extract below is from a piece  I wrote that first appeared on this blog September 2009 and was influenced by the poetry of the great Polish Poet Zbigniew Herbert.
I have been thinking a lot lately about what I call radical compassion which is a way of seeing the world and seeing events and experiences from someone else's perspective, with a perspective that encompasses their views of the situation, past, present and future. Radical compassion is not feigned or manufactured and must involve the imperative to act, to take action for social change, in the face of injustice and suffering.
But most people, particularly in this country, want to avoid thinking about social injustice, suffering and evil. The Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert is not one of those people. I read a reviewer once who described his poems as a continuous alchemy of despair and desolation. Herbert is a poet with a powerful sense of right and wrong.
The line from Zbigniew Herbert's poem Mr Cogito Reads the Newspaper is:
A subject for meditation:
the arithmetic of compassion
here is the full poem from the Zbigniew Herbert The Collected Poems 1956-1998

Mr. Cogito Reads the Newspaper
By Zbigniew Herbert


On the first page
a report of the killing of 120 soldiers
the war lasted a long time
you could get used to it


close alongside
the news of a sensational crime
with a portrait of the murderer


the eye of Mr Cogito
slips indifferently
over the soldiers’ hecatomb
to plunge with delight
into the description of everyday horror


a thirty-year-old farm labourer
under the stress of nervous depression
killed his wife
and two small children


it is described with precision
the course of the murder
the position of the bodies
and other details


for 120 dead
you search on a map in vain
too great a distance
covers them like a jungle


they don’t speak to the imagination
there are too many of them
the numeral zero at the end
changes them into an abstraction


a subject for meditation:
the arithmetic of compassion

2 comments:

madamgeeky said...

Here is one theory: ice melts on polar cap, which reduces weight on plate, which causes it to rise: hence the earthquake. This could be a man made, global warming disaster. And STILL those who are supposed to represent us won't get their act together and make the urgent cuts needed.

On the nuclear, is anyone aware of any modelling of where the debris might drift if the plant melts down? How wide will the fallout spread? Which countries?

FYI, the latest videos are here:
http://earthquakes.videohq.tv

But no agency has produced any modelling as far as I can establish.

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