Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Senseless tragedies in the Age of Science--what's the point?

Our daughter is a teacher living in Palestine this year.  She loves what she does, she loves the kids and the teaching, but living in Palestine is very hard.  Even for someone who could leave anytime she wanted to.

She told us a chilling story yesterday -- a man associated with the school where she has taught had been killed in cold blood the day before.  He was director of a drama school in the Jenin refugee camp, The Freedom Theatre, that he had started with his mother.  He was shot outside his school, with his son looking on.

The story made international news because the man was Juliano Mer Khamis, a well-known actor and activist.  His mother was an Israeli Jew -- and activist for Palestine -- and his father a Palestinian Christian.

He made a film about his mother's work with Palestinian children, Arna's Children.  He talks about it and other issues here.

This is a terrible tragedy for this man and his family, for the children at his school, for the refugee camp, for other children whose worlds he touched, for Palestine and what Mer Khamis called the Third Intifada, the struggle for culture, music, drama, camera, art amidst the occupation.  But the killing of one internationally known man is no more of a tragedy than the killings that happen in Palestine every day, and are not broadcast around the world. Or than the killings that happen in many other places every day, only making the news when there are enough of them (as in Libya or the Ivory Coast at the moment).

Various theories about why Mer Khamis was targeted are emerging -- the fact that some were not pleased that his school violated Islamic law by teaching girls and boys together is one.  But, whatever the  reason turns out to be -- and whatever your politics -- it is still difficult to understand how this kind of senseless killing can happen in the 'age of science'.

How, in a time when we know so much about the world, can so many people -- who have been exposed to knowledge in school, television, or other media -- feel it is perfectly normal to kill in the name of [YourFavoriteGod]?  And for those who recognize this secular world for what it actually is, how can it be that, with all our knowledge, we can feel so cold towards others -- others we've never seen or met -- as to dissemble them limb from limb with impunity, or even take all that they have, their lives, from them?

Why is the penetration of knowledge so feeble that these horrors are not abated?  What is the point of schools?  What is the point of all our fancy research, most of which goes nowhere fast (except, perhaps, the research that enables people to blow up others they don't see, or only see on a video screen)?   We often voice disagreements about the way some science is done, but we are all trying to advance our understanding of the world.  But is education only tribal acculturation?   Other than for technology, does all this effort serve no other purpose?

It is common to blame human horrogenic behavior on evolution -- the devil in Darwin makes us do it.  One can say that with resignation (it's just how the world is, like it or not), or as supportive justification (we're helping Nature do its handiwork).  But this kind of mutual objectification occurs among religious believers as well as secularists.  It's all too convenient, and certainly in no way justified by what we know in science (including what we know about evolution).

Shouldn't our huge investment in what we believe to be the value of 'education', including but going beyond science, have some better payoff than this?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

for some, even in our current location; it isn't age of science yet.. for them, it's still the age of faith..