Portable Hell

Charles Simic writes that the world has become a portable hell (NYRB 8/6/14). He says he ought to be used to it, but he’s not. No one ever is.

The list of Simic’s hells is a long one beginning with those who grumble about “the laziness of our poor and the insatiable sexual appetite of our women…”

Simic says he “hated the Germans and wished them all dead. However, later on, when I saw the extent of destruction the Allied bombing had done to their cities, I was horrified by what was obviously pure malice.”

He is highly critical of collective punishment, authoritarian governments, “just” wars, the disregard of the poor by the rich, gourmet recipes, privatization, “the transfer of public funds into the pockets of the few.”

Such news bears down upon us from everywhere, cannot be avoided, arriving on phones, newspapers, television, tablets, and, oh, yes, the radio, friends, overheard conversations, tweets emails and blogs, like this one.

My country is bombing a distant country again, we are informed it is going to last a while. It is parachuting survival kits to people stranded on a mountaintop, chased by Islamic militants who command them to convert or be killed.

Government officials say the ISIS terrorist threat to this country is the most extreme we’ve ever faced.

Another country that I have some attachment to is at war with its neighbors, blasting buildings and its people. Collateral damage it is called. It has been going since the country was founded.

The Russians are massing troops on the Ukraine border. Do they plan to invade? If they do, what possible response can we and our allies make?

Planes are shot out the sky presumably by pro-Russians separatists in eastern Ukraine. Several hundred people are killed. Another is lost somewhere in the ocean, hundreds more died.

Conservatives are ranting about everything, our legislature is paralyzed, the President is helpless. He is first thoughtful one we’ve had in ages, reasons with care and insight. I feel sorry for him and my country.

Rebels are at war throughout the world, too many citizens are starving and dying of thirst, a deadly virus has broken out in Africa where young women are raped and taken prisoner, never to be found

Thousands of men and women are held in our prisons, potential terrorists are kept in solitary confinement, our troops are being killed in another far off land by the people we are there to protect.

The rich are getting richer, the rest of us poorer, and nothing is being done about it, the country is virtually mute about the subject.

People are streaming across our borders but Congress cannot agree on emergency measures to manage the influx.

The Red Sox are in last place, having their worst season in my memory after wining the World Series last year.

Portable hell—I’ve barely scratched the surface. What have I forgotten?


Stefanie said...

Wow, you really know how to bring a person down.

Yes, there are lots of bad things in the world, there always have been. Some we can do something about others we cannot. What about a list of things to be glad about or grateful for? One must figure out a way to balance these things or risk being stuck in a perpetual depression.

Richard Katzev said...

I certainly didn't mean to "bring you down." Rather that is today's reality. It doesn't depress me but I personally feel helpless to do anything about them.

And my list of the good things, those I am grateful for is just as long, if not longer.

But the mind, at least my mind, doesn't work that way. We live with the aversives, the negatives, the things we don like. It's a very adaptive response, well studied by the cognitive sciences, writers like Daniel Kahneman. It's a matter of how your frame the world and it seems that's the way I do.

Linda said...

Just kill me now.

Your post pretty much sums up how I fell this morning when I came up for air and tried to catch up on the week's events.

Your mind-frame coincides with my own. It's not that the world and humanity are worse than they have ever been, they are just awful in inventive new ways. That's the reality. It's a wonderful, modern world we live in.

Richard Katzev said...

Hang in there, Linda. There's still a ray of sunshine in the air. Do not forget all that you are grateful for. The future can be even brighter if you wish. And these things have a way of working themselves out. But for now, we could be doing a lot better.

Linda said...

Well, I'm wishing it most fervently and I am hanging in. Is there anything else I should be doing?

Richard Katzev said...

Yes. Send me an email.

Anonymous said...

"An optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. A pessimist knows it."

J. Robert Oppenheimer