FLOOD AND THE LOSS OF A FRIEND
So many people die in floods. Too many people die.
When the numbers are as high as they so often are: 65, 149, 1,118, 250,856...
one can hardly personalize the victims.
A Russian woman stands among mounds of unmarked crosses, flowers giving dignity to each body in the ground. But the camera blurs the scene. We can only really focus on one death at a time. Or maybe we can focus on two? Annie Dillard asks this question in The Wreck of Time: "at what limit for you do other individuals blur?"
Psychologists who study emotional numbness note that some numbness is a natural and self-protective response to massive attrocity. We typically call it shock. Early research on 'psychic numbing' explored how survivors responded to events like the bombing of Hiroshima. People shut down.
But similar responses occur in work-a-day people exposed to the statistics of mass death. We would not call this shock. We call this apathy. Paul Slovik, a psychologist, explores this issue in the face of genocide and massive crimes against humanity. Moral apathy is especially pressing as global media extends our concept of village life to the far reaches of the great abstract corners of the planet.
Vivid images of recent natural disasters in South Asia and the American Gulf Coast, and stories of individual victims there, brought to us through relentless, courageous, and intimate news coverage, certainly unleashed a tidal wave of compassion and humanitarian aid from all over the world. Perhaps there is hope that vivid, personalized media coverage of genocide could motivate intervention.
Perhaps. Research demonstrates that people are much more willing to aid individuals than unidentified statistical victims. (Slovic, 2007)
Hannah Arendt, superfluity of people, rightlessness, globalization, and the problem of evil. Great article here.
Frank words from Mother Teresa admit to the limitations of moral concern: "If I look at the masses I will never act, but if I look at the one I will." Even Joseph Stalin knew this: “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.”
The Psychological and Social Roots of Climate Change Skepticism - article.
Tablet VII: Enlil said, 'Let Enkidu die, but Gilgamesh must not die!'
Tablet VII: But the Sun God of Heaven [Shamash] replied to valiant Enlil: 'Was it not at my command that they killed the Bull of Heaven and Humbaba! Should now innocent Enkidu die!' Then Enlil became angry at Shamash, saying: 'it is you who are responsible because you traveled dailywith them as their friend!'
Tablet VII: Enkidu was lying (sick) in front of Gilgamesh. His tears flowing like canals, he [Gilgamesh] said: 'O brother, dear brother, why are they absolving me instead of my brother?'
Tablet VII: Then Enkidu said: 'So now must I become a ghost, to sit with the ghosts of the dead, to see my dear brothre never more!'
Tablet VII: [after Enkidu babbles about the measurements of a door he regrets building Gilgamesh says] 'Though there is much fear, the dream is very important. To th living they [the gods] leave sorrow, to the living the dream leaves pain.'
Tablet VII: just as dawn began to glow, Enkidu raised his head and cried out to Shamash, at the first gleam of the sun his tears poured forth. 'I appeal to you, O Shamash, on behalf of my precious life.' [Enkidu goes on to curse people who led him to this fate, especailly the harlot who civilized him, with curses like a drunk man to vomit on her garment.]
Tablet VII: [Shamash responds to Enkidu's curses]: 'Now Gilgameshis your beloved brother-friend! He will have you lie on a grand couch, will have you lie on a couch of honor...He will have the people of Uruk go into moaning over you, will fill the happy people with woe over you. After you he will let his body bear a filthy mat of hair, will don the skin of a lion and roam the wilderness.' As soon as Enkidu heard the words of valiant Shamash, his agitated heart grew calm, his anger abated.
Tablet VII: Enkidu's innards were churning, lying there so alone. He spoke everything he felt, saying to his friend...[another dream: this one is awesome. Enkidu cried out, but Gilgamesh did not come. He was brought down to the netherworld where previous crowns of kings amassed. He was turned into a dove to descend into the 'house of Dust.' He met the Queen and the scribe of the underworld. Sleeping after the dream for several days, Enkidu wakes up and feels abandoned.]
Tablet VIII: [begins with a poem by Gilgamesh calling on the whole natural world to mourn Enkidu.] 'May the pasture lands shriek in mourning as if it were your mother. ...May the bear, hyena, panther, tiger, water buffalo(?), jackal, lion, wild bull, stag, ibex, all the creatures of the plains mourn you. May the holy River Ulaja, along whose banks we grandly used to stroll, mourn you.'
Tablet VIII: [the moment of Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh is speaking] 'You have turned dark and do not hear me!"But his (Enkidu's) eyes do not move, he touched his heart, but it beat no longer. He covered his friend's face like a bride, swooping down over him like an eagle,and like a lioness deprived of her cubshe keeps pacing to and fro.He shears off his curls and heaps them onto the ground,ripping off his finery and casting it away as an abomination.'
Tablet IX: Over his friend, Enkidu, Gilgamesh cried bitterly, roaming the wilderness. 'I am going to die!--am I not like Enkidu?! Deep sadness penetrates my core, I fear death, and now roam the wilderness-- I will set out to the region of Utanapishtim, son of Ubartutu, and will go with utmost dispatch!'
Tablet IX: [Gilgamesh is posed questions by scorpions at the edge of the world] 'I have come on account of my ancestor Utanapishtim, who joined the Assembly of the Gods, and was given eternal life. About Death and Life I must ask him!'
Tablet IX: 'Though it be in deep sadness and pain, in cold or heat, gasping after breath, I will go on!'
Tablet IX: [repeated as more distances are recounted, 'seven leagues he traveled'] dense was the darkness, light there was none, neither what lies ahead nor behind does it allow him to see.
Tablet X: Gilgamesh was roving about, wearing a skin, having the flesh of the gods in his body, but sadness deep within him. [Scene meeting Siduri, the bar maid, at the edge of the world]
Tablet X: [Siduri asks him] 'Why are your cheeks emaciated, your expression desolate! Why is your heart so wretched, your features so haggard! Why is there such sadness deep within you! Why do you look like one who has been traveling a long distance so that ice and heat have seared your face! ... you roam the wilderness!'
Tablet X: [Gilgamesh answers] 'My friend, whom I love deeply, who went through every hard- ship with me, Enkidu, whom I love deeply, who went through every hardship with me, the fate of mankind has overtaken him. Six days and seven nights I mourned over him and would not allow him to be buried until a maggot fell out of his nose. I was terrified by his appearance(!), I began to fear death, and so roam the wilderness. The issue of my friend oppresses me, so I have been roaming long trails through the wilderness.'
Tablet X: [the brokenness of this section is quite poetic!] He clapped his hands and ... his chest, while "the stone things" ... the boat ... Waters of Death ... broad sea in the Waters of Death ... ... to the river ... the boat ... on the shore. Gilgamesh spoke to Urshanabi (?), the ferryman, ... you."
Tablet X: [Utnapishtim, the Faraway intones the best poem of the whole story] No one can see death, no one can see the face of death, no one can hear the voice of death, yet there is savage death that snaps off mankind. For how long do we build a household? For how long do we seal a document! For how long do brothers share the inheritance? For how long is there to be jealousy in the land(!)! For how long has the river risen and brought the overflowing waters, so that dragonflies drift down the river!' The face that could gaze upon the face of the Sun has never existed ever. How alike are the sleeping(!) and the dead. The image of Death cannot be depicted. (Yes, you are a) human being, a man (?)! After Enlil had pronounced the blessing,'" the Anunnaki, the Great Gods, assembled. Mammetum, she who forms destiny, determined destiny with them. They established Death and Life, but they did not make known 'the days of death'".
Tablet XI: [Utnapishtim launches into his story of the flood. The gods told him] 'O man of Shuruppak, son of Ubartutu: Tear down the house and build a boat! Abandon wealth and seek living beings! Spurn possessions and keep alive living beings! Make all living beings go up into the boat.'
Tablet XI: [although, U. brings money and economy, in addition to life on the boat] 'Whatever I had I loaded on it: whatever silver I had I loaded on it, whatever gold I had I loaded on it. All the living beings that I had I loaded on it, I had all my kith and kin go up into the boat, all the beasts and animals of the field and the craftsmen I had go up.'
Tablet XI: [the death of masses is reported thusly] All day long the South Wind blew ...,blowing fast, submerging the mountain in water,overwhelming the people like an attack.No one could see his fellow,they could not recognize each other in the torrent.
Tablet XI: [gods react] Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth, the sweet-voiced Mistress of the Gods wailed: 'The olden days have alas turned to clay, How could I say evil things in the Assembly of the Gods, ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people!! No sooner have I given birth to my dear people than they fill the sea like so many fish!' The gods--those of the Anunnaki--were weeping with her,the gods humbly sat weeping, sobbing with grief(?), their lips burning, parched with thirst.
Tablet XI: Six days and seven nightscame the wind and flood, the storm flattening the land. When the seventh day arrived, the storm was pounding,the flood was a war--struggling with itself like a woman writhing (in labor). The sea calmed, fell still, the whirlwind (and) flood stopped up. I looked around all day long--quiet had set in and all the human beings had turned to clay!