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Small deaths and the real death: how humans are failing

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Guest post by Federico TabelliniThis article was originally published last year on the Italian blog ‘Effetto Cassandra’. I repropose it here because I think the coronavirus crisis has made it somehow more relevant. The current situation raises new questions: is this new crisis just another ‘small death’ on a much wider scale? Or is it an opportunity to highlight the global ecological crisis we’ve been ignoring for decades? If it’s the latter, will the lights turn off once the emergency is over? Will the world return once more to blissful ignorance?Seneca used to say that death, real death, is a process of small deaths lived day by day. Yet people deal with the real death only when its effects come to a head when the proverbial last straw breaks the camel’s back, and the camel falls upon us with all its weight. Then, yes, we notice both the straw and the camel. Until then, however – or perhaps we should say, until now – the small deaths dominate our thoughts.The difference between these small deaths and true death lies in three factors: spatial proximity, temporal proximity, and speed of execution. What's near worries us more than what's far, the present issues are more important than the future ones, the event more than the process. Such is human nature. We are biologically programmed to pay more attention to current events, the forthcoming ordeal, the tragedy that we can experience first-hand. We mourn the tree burning in the garden while the forest on the horizon is slowly eaten up by parasites.The media and the political sphere, instead of compensating for this human weakness, inflate its effects. They concentrate on events because events have a wider audience. They sell more. On the front page, the terrible flood: 24 injured and 3 deaths. Facebook is grieving. The systematic accumulation of plastic in the oceans that risks compromising entire ecosystems forever? Page 15, after the sports section. On prime time, a special report on a local earthquake: six deaths. . .

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News source: Cassandra's Legacy

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