Posted on May 22, 2008
Silence please. No clamor. Let the dust settle, let the dead rest.
Extending a hand to those caught in trouble, rescuing the dying, and helping the injured is a form of humanitarianism, unrelated to love of country or people. Do not belittle the value of life; it commands a broader, more equal dignity.
Throughout these days of mourning, people do not need to thank the Motherland and her supporters, for she was unable to offer any better protection. Nor was it the Motherland, in the end, who allowed the luckier children to escape from their collapsing schoolhouses. There is no need to praise government officials, for these fading lives need effective rescue measures far more than they need sympathetic speeches and tears. There is even less need to thank the army, as doing so would be to say that in responding to this disaster, soldiers offer something other than the fulfillment of their sworn duty.
Feel sad! Suffer! Feel it in the recesses of your heart, in the unpeopled night, in all those places without light. We mourn only because death is a part of life, because those dead from the quake are a part of us. But the dead are gone. Only when the living go on living with dignity can the departed rest with dignity.
Live frankly and honestly, respect history, and face reality squarely. Beware of those who confuse right and wrong: the hypocritical news media so adept at stirring passions and offering temptations; the politicians parlaying the tragedy of the departed into statecraft and nationalism; the petty businessmen who trade the souls of the dead for the false wine of morality.
When the living stray from justice, when their charity is only meager currency and tears, then the last dignified breath of the dying will be erased. A collapse of will and a vacancy of spirit render that fine line between life and death’s realm of ghosts.
This emptiness of collective memory, this distortion of public morality, drives people crazy. Who exactly died in that even bigger earthquake of thirty years ago? Those wrongly accused in the political struggles of recent history, those laborers trapped in the coal mines, those denied medical treatment for their grave illnesses—Who are they? What pain did they endure while alive, what grief do they provoke, now dead? Who before them cried out for these suffering bodies, these troubled souls? Where are the survivors who belong truly to them?
Before we let murky tears cloud our already unclear vision, we need to face up to the way the world works. The true misfortune of the dead lies in the unconsciousness and apathy of the living, in the ignorance of the value of life by those who simply float through it, in our numbness toward the right to survival and expression, in our distortions of justice, equality, and freedom.
This is a society without citizens. A person with no true rights cannot have a complete sense of morality or humanity. In a society like this, what kinds of responsibility or duty can an individual shoulder? What kinds of interpretations and understandings of life and death will he or she have? The samsara of life and death in this land—Has it any connection to the value of life in the rest of the world?
As for all those organs of culture and propaganda who subsist on sucking the blood of the nation—What difference has their largesse from larceny? No one wants the charity of parasites; their greatest kindness would be to let themselves die off, just one day sooner.
TRANSLATED BY PHILIP TINARI
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY MIT PRESS, 2011