Wreck of Time

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Wreck of Time

Postby Aneri » Mon Nov 20, 2006 2:12 pm

In my expository writing class (nightmare. Rutgers expos is one of the touughest writing programs in the country), we just read a piece by Annie Dillard called Wreck of Time. And it got me thinking. A lot. If you have read it, you'll know what I mean.

Anyway, in this rather short essay, Dillard states countless facts, urging us to take another look at the world. She remids us how small the population of the Earth is (if arranged tidily, they'd fit into Lake Windermere), how vast the universe is (nine galaxies to every living person), and how emotially detached we are. She remids us how small and inignificant our lives are, but also how we plow through them regardless of how insignificant they may be in the grand scheme of things.

After a particularly thought proviking bout of questions, I found myself trying to come up with an answer. And couldn't. So I'll hand it over to you guys, just because it's something I think everyone should look into. I'll quote her a bit (including some of the facts she states as an introduction) to give you a better feel:

"Every 110 hours a million more humans arrive on the planet than die into the planet. A hundered million of us aree children who live on the streets. Over a hundered million of us live in countries where we hold no citizenship. ... Nearly a thousand of us a day commit suicide. ...
Two million children die a year from diarrhea, and 800,000 from measles. Do we blink? ... Or do you suffer, as Teilhard de Chardin did, the sense of being 'an atom lost in the universe'? Or do you not suffer this sense? How about what journalists call 'compassion fatigue'? Reality fatigue? At what limit for you do other individuals blur? Vanish?"

Now, my main focus are the two in bold. Stalin said, "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic." Was he right? I'd like to say no, I'd like to say that he's wrong, and that every life matters.

But when I read about two million children dying, I find myself only feeling a small amount of pity, of sadness. I find myself not grasping the sheer number of deaths. Two million. It's as if the number stripped me from my emotions, my humanity.

What about you? "At what limit do other individuals blur?" I must admit, mine seems to be shamefully low.
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Postby spazmonkey » Mon Nov 20, 2006 3:05 pm

I would tend to lean to the pro side. Have you ever taken a myers-briggs personality test? They're surprisingly accurate. It's kinda weird because there are only 12 personalities groups. If you take that on the grand scale when taken by the millions people become a lot less individual. If you think about human traits like rolling dice, the more rolls you do, the closer to the statistical average you get, but if you look at a smal group of dice rolls, it's no where near the generalized stats. Is the focus of your essay the human acceptance or denial of the concept of the quote, or the reasons behind the quote?

Added after 1 minutes:

I would put more effort into coherency if I had an acedemic obligation, but I don't.
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Re: Wreck of Time

Postby Johnny Vill » Mon Nov 20, 2006 6:54 pm

I will try and come up with some sort of intelligent response to that question at some point, but my brain is currently burned out from a particularly painful session of Building Community class (a Livingston requirement). My main reason for commenting just now is to let you know that I share in the pain you feel of attending expos at Rutgers. Though, the article you mention at least sounds interesting. So far all the essays I've had to read for that class have been pretty lousy.
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Re: Wreck of Time

Postby spazmonkey » Mon Nov 20, 2006 7:03 pm

I got the department head as my english teacher. I feel like I'm taking an AP. It's kinda weird because the 2 AP's I am taking feel like my easiest courses.
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Postby Darkness_calls » Mon Nov 20, 2006 7:05 pm

Thought I'm not really "pro" and to lazy to write and essey to comment I must say. This OP is really interesting liteture, it gives me the same feeling as when i think about the question "what is purpose in life?" my concludion was there is no purpose other then to live.

I'm going to keep my eye on this thread, probably won't comment but so far I am interested.
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Postby Aneri » Mon Nov 20, 2006 8:19 pm

spazmonkey wrote: Is the focus of your essay the human acceptance or denial of the concept of the quote, or the reasons behind the quote?


It's not an essay (yet. I don't have the topic yet, haha), so I was just curious and thinking a lot, and decided to share ^_^

Johnny Vill wrote:I will try and come up with some sort of intelligent response to that question at some point, but my brain is currently burned out from a particularly painful session of Building Community class (a Livingston requirement). My main reason for commenting just now is to let you know that I share in the pain you feel of attending expos at Rutgers. Though, the article you mention at least sounds interesting. So far all the essays I've had to read for that class have been pretty lousy.


I've only heard about that class. I'm with Douglass, so next semester I'll be taking my one of two required women propaganda courses XD And my class I love (my professor is awesome. This is her first time teaching college and she's really doing a great job of letting us know what is being asked of us and how to deliver it ^_^ I guess I lucked out. The material is (for the most part) terrible! Either the essay is really good and the question is abstract like all hell, or the question is easy to understand and the essay is atrocious. Expos is weird.

DC, one of the main things we talked about in class when discussing the essay was the "purpose in life". Mine's quite simple. My purpose in life is to make it a little better for someone else. Live for each other and you live for yourself. That's what keeps me happy and, quite frankly, sane. The world has too many things wrong with it, so I'm trying to help those I know as best I can ^_^
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Re: Wreck of Time

Postby Noir » Mon Nov 20, 2006 11:53 pm

Aneri wrote:What about you? "At what limit do other individuals blur?" I must admit, mine seems to be shamefully low.


The sad part is, it's probably a very small number. One death is awful (especially considering age and circumstances of the death), two, three, and four, feel about the same too. I think right around ten it starts to blur, and not because I choose to let it. I think the human mind and the human heart can only bear so much. Maybe this is just me, but when something happens to one person or only a few people, I take it personally, thinking how terrible it would be if it happened to me or a loved one, but numbers in the thousands? I haven't the energy or the will to give each individual the amount of sympathy they each deserve and have to instead be respectfully saddened for the who a part of a lost and faceless mass. I think I would live the rest of my life soggy and wet crying over every soul that had been lost in a single tragedy, let alone all of them. It could be a survival mechanism that we can only dutifully mourn those that were lost en mass. We pause, reflect, and then do what we were meant to do, continue living our lives.

I hope that didn't come off as cold, I just want to answer your question as truthfully as I can.
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Postby Wazit » Tue Nov 21, 2006 12:13 am

It's sad yes. Every day, tens of thousands of people die due to diseases and poverty. However, not many people care about this. But whenever a natural phenomenon say and earthquake triggers, everyone becomes drummed up.
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Re: Wreck of Time

Postby Noir » Tue Nov 21, 2006 12:19 am

A lot of people have been desensitized to the deaths that happen every day, and are only jarred back into human sympathy by a tragic event that is out of the ordinary. That, and something fluke like a natural disaster is in the media more. Ever hear 'out of sight, out of mind'?
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Postby k-hallowseve » Sat Nov 25, 2006 10:55 pm

Exactly. I think it's something of a psychological defense mechanism, and it works at a different level for some than others.

For example, I can barely watch the news because every single tragedy hits me like a punch in the gut. And I have a special aversion to statistics--I've often thought about the things the author of that piece did--why do people end up forgotten in the numbers? Perhaps I feel this way because I happen to fall into a statistical demographic myself. I know that I'm left emotionally drained by the things I hear about--individual or catastrophic--and I'm probably quite maladjusted because of it.

All I know is it disgusts me when people forget about the victims. That's probably not fair, because it IS a psychological defense, I'm not sure I can fault others when I'm the one with the deficiency.

So there it is, I guess: we should care more about what befalls others around us, but it's not very healthy to let it completely rule our emotions. *guilty* We should never stop caring, but we shouldn't let human tragedy cripple us 'til we can't change anything.

Sorry if I'm rambling, but this is one of those subjects that gets me worked up, and Heaven knows if I get out my soapbox now I won't be able to put it away again.
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Postby Aneri » Sun Nov 26, 2006 12:29 am

That's the tough part, isn't it? Finding a balance. I consider myself a kind person or, at the very least, kinder than most. I know I tend to care about complete strangers more than I care for myself, probably a lot more than others would.

However, death doesn't affect me like it would for others. I feel saddned by the fact that the person or people leave the world, and I feel sorry for their family and friends, who have to live without them. But rarely do I feel sorry for the person. I guess it goes down to what I believe in, and I honestly think that those who die are probably better off. Sometimes I'll even go so far as envying them.

Heh, that in itself may be my defense mechanism, much like the one that keeps us from seeing two million children dying. Maybe it's our way to hang on to what little sanity we have left.

Heh, now I'll stop the random banter and poor psycho-analysis, as I think it has given me a headache. I really shouldn't ponder such things in the middle of the night XD
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Re: Wreck of Time

Postby spazmonkey » Sun Nov 26, 2006 1:33 am

I wouldn't call not feeling horribly when 2 million people die a defense mechanism. I think it has more do with the fact that there is no conceivable way you could know all of them and if you don't know someone you can't care too much about them. You feel much different if 200 people at your school died than if 200 people in the middle of nowhere died.
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Postby k-hallowseve » Sun Nov 26, 2006 12:00 pm

Aneri wrote:That's the tough part, isn't it? Finding a balance. I consider myself a kind person or, at the very least, kinder than most. I know I tend to care about complete strangers more than I care for myself, probably a lot more than others would.

However, death doesn't affect me like it would for others. I feel saddned by the fact that the person or people leave the world, and I feel sorry for their family and friends, who have to live without them. But rarely do I feel sorry for the person. I guess it goes down to what I believe in, and I honestly think that those who die are probably better off. Sometimes I'll even go so far as envying them.

Heh, that in itself may be my defense mechanism, much like the one that keeps us from seeing two million children dying. Maybe it's our way to hang on to what little sanity we have left.

Heh, now I'll stop the random banter and poor psycho-analysis, as I think it has given me a headache. I really shouldn't ponder such things in the middle of the night XD


I agree with everything you just said. And you're right, maybe that's our defense mechanism--as bad as I feel for people who die, at least they're dead, and don't have to go through it over and over. Nothing gets me going more than seeing people suffer--and survive. There ARE things much worse than death, and I hate seeing people go through it, even complete strangers.
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Re: Wreck of Time

Postby InDenialAboutEverything » Sun Nov 26, 2006 10:42 pm

Well, there is the fact that we don't know what comes after death, and if what comes is something that warrants pity for the person going through it.

Also, I wonder if maybe the blur has to do not with psychological defense mechanisms but out of mental limits. I heard somewhere (have no idea if it's true) that the concious mind, the part that focuses and solves problems, can only focus on seven things at one time, while the subconcious is unlimited.

Maybe this is why when we think about it we can't focus on more then a few people when many die, but we can still have terrible nightmares about it.
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Re: Wreck of Time

Postby k-hallowseve » Wed Nov 29, 2006 7:01 pm

InDenialAboutEverything wrote:Well, there is the fact that we don't know what comes after death, and if what comes is something that warrants pity for the person going through it.

Also, I wonder if maybe the blur has to do not with psychological defense mechanisms but out of mental limits. I heard somewhere (have no idea if it's true) that the concious mind, the part that focuses and solves problems, can only focus on seven things at one time, while the subconcious is unlimited.

Maybe this is why when we think about it we can't focus on more then a few people when many die, but we can still have terrible nightmares about it.


Good thoughts, and an interesting, well-thought theory. I have heard of the seven-things-at-a-time thing, and though it's usually applied in multitasking situations, it could be a possibility. I'm positive there is a limit to how many lives we can comprehend--the human mind is amazingly finite when it comes to numbers.

That's part of it, I'm sure, and then of course, there's the point that was made about us not getting as upset about people we don't know personally. That, I believe, is where the defense mechanism part plays out, because if we mourned (real mourning, not a moment of silence) evey person who died, we'd lose our minds. It's such an incredible blow to our own sense of mortality, and our own sense of empathy for others, that if we didn't pick and choose (in a manner of speaking) who we mourned, our consciousness would probably shatter. Every last one of us would be post-traumatic.

For those of us who are particularly empathetic, even the deaths of strangers can be particularly depressing or upsetting. I can speak only from experience here, so I couldn't really generalize it to everyone. And even though I have a hard time with it, I still filter it to some degree, otherwise I'd have gone off the deep end long ago.

Anybody else have similar experiences with extreme empathy? Or am I just nuts? :P
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Postby Aneri » Wed Nov 29, 2006 9:01 pm

I can't say much about the subject of extreme empathy in this case because, as I said, I don't view death as most would. I've been like that all my life.

At any rate, I figured I'd let those who are interested know my essay topic, just because it's on this piece (as well as two others, but that's besides the point) and a pretty fun question (I love posing questions XD)

What are you doing with your life today that gives it meaning and value?

Now stretch that to five full pages, make it sound good, incorporate three different authors into every main idea, and you've got yourself what I have to do. Expos is cruel XD

Oh, and one of my favourite answers is that I give my life meaning and value by trying to make the lives of others a little better. You'd be surprised how much a simple smile can impact a person, even only for a moment. I've got a couple more to write my essay, but that is hands down my top one. ^_^
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Postby k-hallowseve » Wed Nov 29, 2006 11:17 pm

Good luck with your paper. Sounds fun enough ;). I have two papers due next week (that I haven't started yet--I live off the thrill of procrastination), but they aren't going to be as time-consuming as yours sounds. Actually, compared to yours, my essays'll probably be easy to do. Meep.
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Postby Aneri » Thu Nov 30, 2006 12:42 pm

Well, I just did the rough draft in the span of the two hpours before class. It wasn't bad...turned out to be five full pages, much to my surprise...I need to stop procrastinating, it does work for my essays (got an A on the last one, it was written in the hour and a half before class XD), but not so much for physics. I hope I pass that class XD

And it's easy to write, I love talking about my views of life. Mostly because they're so naive and optimistic that people tend to argue with me. But I win, because I'm a cynical pessimist as well, and have taken that into account. I've got them coming and going XD
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