Life is an incredible thing to me. What an incredible world this is. What an amazing time to be alive. All the possibilities, all the power, all the knowledge that humanity has. Here, now, on this planet, all of humanity could have good lives. Maybe great lives. Incredible, amazing, wonderful lives. But certainly good lives. Yet we don't. Why is there so much suffering and death? And what can we do to prevent them? These are the thoughts I have most days. Then I think, what can I contribute to understanding human problems? What can I do to prevent the suffering and death of so many? And also, how can I have a good life? When I was younger I used to assume that everyone thought about these things and acted with them in mind, at least some of the time. Maybe they do. I make fewer assumptions these days. And of course I don't have the answers. Clearly many people ask and try to answer these questions, and have done, apparently probably throughout human history. Clearly many people struggle with them and take action to try and make the world, or human experiences in it, better. And there are many definitions of 'better'. For me, roughly speaking, better means fewer deaths and less suffering of human beings. I care about the planet as a whole too, and other species, very much, but I have a bias towards humanity, and here I am focussed on that. We cannot prevent all deaths, of course, or stop all suffering. But we can do better. And one of my guiding beliefs is, do what you can.
I had planned for some time to write about ethical clothing. I uploaded photos of fairtrade and environmentally conscious clothes yesterday, with a view to writing about this. This issue was connected, as likely it is in many people's minds at the moment, to the collapse of a building in Bangladesh less than a week ago, on Wednesday 24th April. The building housed garment factories among other businesses. At least 380 people are now confirmed dead due to the collapse. Those deaths were preventable. I planned to write about that. And about fairtrade and environmentally conscious clothing, clothing produced where the workers have decent conditions and that doesn't destroy the environment on which we all depend. And about how these provide better alternatives to the systems and practices that resulted in the deaths of those hundreds of people in Bangladesh. That's what I'd been particularly thinking about. And it will be worth writing about, some other time. There are many particulars by which we can do better.
Instead I am thinking once more about the bigger picture. I felt grateful and honoured to spend today in the company of people who came through the Holocaust. Men and women in their seventies and eighties who were children during World War II. Men and women, some of whom themselves survived the concentration camps, whose relatives were killed during the Holocaust, whose parents and sometimes entire families were killed, who suffered terrible trauma. And these children have all survived. They have lived their lives. They have families and children of their own. Sixty-five years later, they were returning to Ireland to visit a place that had provided recuperation and recovery for them after the War. That too is a story for another day, an amazing story. It was a powerful and unique experience to be in their company today. They suffered and millions of other people died during years of organised persecution and murder by the Nazis and the millions of ordinary people who collaborated with them or stood by while suffering and death were visited on their fellow human beings. There is still much suffering and death today that is organised and deliberate. We must not forget this, and we need to fight against it. It is preventable. We can do better.
But it is also the case that much of the suffering and death that happens today is not seen or presented as deliberate in a similar way. Here, now, I feel gratitude for the life I have. This evening, I turned on a tap and drank clean, safe water, easily available, and as much as I wanted. For dinner, my concerns revolved around what to cook or what restaurant to go to, not whether I had any or enough food. I sat in my warm, comfortable, secure, rainproof home, and I will go to bed tonight with no worry about whether I will still be safe in my bed tomorrow morning. I have (relatively ethically produced!) clothes to wear. I went to a fully-stocked pharmacy this morning, and I can get high-quality healthcare if I need it, within minutes. I am writing this on my own computer, with access to the internet, and the freedom to publish whatever I want. Legal, economic and political protections are benefitting me invisibly right now, from the money in my bank account to the building regulations enforced in the construction of my home. I am lucky to have family and friends I love, but it is not luck that allows me to share my life with them, and to associate with whomsoever I choose. The combination of all these things, that I am grateful for tonight, most people in the world today do not have. We, as human beings, have created systems and taken actions, and continue to do so, with the results that most people in the world do not have clean water, enough food, proper shelter, security, medicine, healthcare, computer use, internet access and key protections, and large proportions of humanity lack each one of them. People are suffering and dying because of this. This suffering and death is preventable, and it is the direct consequence of systems we create and participate in and actions we take. Systems and actions that can be changed. We can do better.