Tempting Shortcuts
Working notes on the slower path

Society, Suffering, and Death

I was listening to a colleague talking about how as a society we don’t talk about or spend much time with suffering and death, how we avoid it or move over it as quickly as possible.

In general I agree that we don’t sit well with either suffering or death.

But it got me thinking, and there are two areas where I think that this generalisation does not hold: martyrs and scapegoating.

In the martyr situation, we look on, in a difficult to describe state, at the violence done to (often) ‘one of us’. And we see their act as making a statement or way for others to benefit. It is frequently used in film. And through their death others have the chance to live or thrive. This form of suffering and death we seem quite fine with watching in slow motion, and sitting with for at least a little while.

In the scapegoating scenario the violence and death is directed at ‘not one of us’ - it may be an overt enemy or one of us that has betrayed us and so become ‘not one of us’. Here too we look on with that strange sense, and there is benefit for those other than the victim.

In both cases I think we are comfortable with sitting with the violence because it makes us feel better about ourselves. In the first case it both inspires and gives a sense of worth or justification to those who watch. In the second there is a focussing of the wrong upon the scapegoat and a purging of ‘us’.

This explains our aversion to other forms of suffering and death - we can’t see the benefit and so are uncomfortable with the lack of purpose and meaning. This then becomes a challenge to find meaning which forces us to think of weightier matters; something we are also averse to. And so we move quickly on to other things.