In a Times
Sunday Review piece "Do I Have a Right to Be?"
(NYT, 7/5/14) Peter Atterton, quotes the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas thusly: "What is natural becomes the most problematic. Do I have the right to be? Is being in the world not taking the place of someone?"
Atterton is positing a variation of Edward Lorenz's "Butterfly Effect" which he describes as "the manner in which small occurrences (like the flutter of a butterfly's wings) can have enormous consequences." His "Barbarian Effect" is slightly larger in scope since it asks about the effect of genocide and proposes the notion that for every living person there is someone who did not come into existence because of mass extinction--whether it's the Holocaust, the Inquisition or the Lisbon earthquake which Voltaire memorialized in Candide
. But Atherton's point is actually more profound since it is pointing to the fact that our current devils whether they are Boko Haram or ISIL have no monopoly on terror. We are all creatures whose existences have been predicated on calamities. Some of them are accidents of nature like the plague, but many others are man made. How many native Americans didn't come into the world due to colonization. How the West Was Won
was the title of a popular 60's movie. Besides the 6,000,000 murdered in the Holocaust, there are Hiroshima and Nagasaki which claimed almost 250,000 and Dresden in which approxiately 25,000 may have died in one concerted aerial attack. Life settles down and the illusion of normalcy occurs, but history is like a haunted house filled with the ghosts not just of the murdered, but of those who never had a chance to live.
photo: Dresden l945 (German Federal Archive)
This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}