Daniel Menaker

A Conversation Worth Having

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sometimes our conversation is simply unequal to what happens in the world. 9/11 was like that, Hiroshima, some of the more terrible earthquakes, like the recent one in Haiti.  You’re left standing there, in the relative and now guilt-ridden safety of your own circumstances, if you are lucky enough to be in such circumstances, and you don’t know what to say to friends and acquaintances and that’s what you say to them–that you don’t know what to say, that you are devastated. And that’s what they say to you. The same is true of course in the face of a death that has personal impact for us, but these large catastrophes leave entire populations more or less speechless and are a different species of event altogether.

It has seemed to me right from the start of the BP oil spew that people instinctively knew how awful it was and how awful it was going to continue to be. We talked it down, hoped for the best, but we more or less knew the truth. And ever since it has started sinking in (an awful idiom under the circumstances) to our conscious minds, it has made us and TV people and people online and people in  elected office and people everywhere who care about our world and accept responsibility for their own actions or inactions inarticulate. Grasping for new ways to speak about the unspeakable. Political impacts, arguments between England and America, visits or nonvisits by elected officials, gaffes, etc…there is a lot of talk and opining and hand-wringing and so on, but all of it seems to me like bathetic babble in the face of the enormity of this event. For once, it may not be possible to look to conversation as holding any real solace here, just as is true of a death or a terrible natural disaster. One reason this is extra-true in this case is that–as has been said quite a few times (the only thing truly worth saying, seems to me)–ultimately we brought it on ourselves.  And not doing it ever again is the only thing that matters. That is a conversation worth having and putting into action.

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