Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iran Election 1

First a note: blogging takes up too much time for me to regularly continue. For now you can follow me on Facebook or on twitter for more regular updates.

I don't think any innocents read this blog but just in case, a warning, some stuff below is disturbing.

I have many thoughts on the Iranian election but there is one that is burning a hole in my heart.

Images can scar the psyche just as words and sensations can. Scarring images are like viral memes. One first must have a compromised mental immune system. I am not saying that you have to have mental health issues to succumb to such an image. You just need to be ready. You may even show someone else an image that scarred you, only to find that they are not affected.

A scarring image may shock you at first but takes hours or even longer to propagate through your body. The first image I really remember being scarred by was this one. I sat in front of my computer literally stunned by the image. I can't remember how long I sat there, it felt like hours but it probably was only 20mins or so. At first I was just shocked, then I thought it was funny, then I was grossed out, then I started to think about the thought universe necessary to create that image. What did I take away from it? Firstly I realized that is funny, even if very darkly so. Secondly it made my think about wildness, how we are separated from death by paper thin walls and that if we forget that, we deny the richness of possible human experience. The point the author is trying to make (I think) is that people who see the image and say "ewww" or "people shouldn't see that" have become too far removed from horrifying beauty of every second.

The second image I'll share today is this one. Again, I spent a long time just looking at that image, trying to force my brain to cope with it. I thought about how it could look like she was just sleeping. I thought of the great Stan Rogers quote "For causes are ashes where children lie slain". I thought about how utterly fucking pointless her death was. I felt sadness, then rage and hatred, then despair. It re-enforced my (already existing) conviction that there is no one benevolent God that micro-manages the world, although I should say that I am no atheist. What did I "learn" from this? Only sadness.

The third potentially infectious visual I will spread with you today is here (still images here). The (very initial, unconfirmed) story is that this woman is Neda (farsi for voice, ironically), "A young woman who was standing aside with her father watching the protests and was shot by a basij member hiding on the rooftop of a civilian house."
To those of us whose eye's are stil open, and to those who have turned away in cynicism, this is nothing new (examples of what I mean here). Another day, another far away country, another pointless death. Too bad, so sad, change the channel.
For me this is different, why? I wish I could say I am more aware, more compassionate, but unfortunately it is merely technology. Because of youtube, facebook, twitter, and blogs (I may post more on this later) the psychic gulf shrank enough that I could feel closer to this young woman's world than people in other atrocities I have watched from afar. For all I know I was reading her tweets mere hours before her death.
I even feel a little naive and guilty about being so affected by her death. I can hear other human rights advocates remarking on how millions of other deaths have gone unremarked and un-vindicated by myself and those like me. I have no defense for this, frankly there can be none. My only answer would be that for me to go on living I have come to believe the following things
1. Much as we fight to hide it, death is always all around us, and, (crucially) death is not bad. To assume that death is always bad (even if seems pointless and painful) is arrogant, and ignores reality.
2. The long term consequences of burnout, despair, and over-activism are worse than a certain degree of willful ignorance.
3. To be the most effective activists we must try and find the places where we can make the most difference. Not that we should ignore atrocities because they seem difficult to stop, but that we need to be realistic, honest, and mindful of the world around us and our capabilities.

More to say but tired now, going to sleep