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In the last few posts I have been exploring the connection between human rights and human dignity. With the fearful erosion of one or the other, has come anxious explanations to understand the days in which we live.

Almost a century ago, William Butler Yeats was already contemplating the loss of transcendency, and along with it, the loss of those “masterful images”. He wrote in the shadow of the euphemistically referenced “war to end all wars” (WWI). That war, more than any other, marked the profound degradation of human achievement.

Remembering as a Dynamic of Responsibility

In an earlier post (above), I quoted Alan E. Lewis, who saw Hiroshima as the “shocking scandal of particularity” of the breakdown of the myth of modernity:

At those precise coordinates there finally intersected, with terminal, apocalyptic portent, the two converging trajectories of modernity: humanity’s proud, vaulting lunge for progressive, scientific mastery of nature and ourselves; and our doom-laden plunge into despair – a tardy recognition that the creatures who usurped the Maker’s power had lost control themselves and become the impotent, imperilled victims of their own machines.

A Global Tombstone to Hanlon’s Razor

In another post (above), Lewis continues to make the connection from Hiroshima to Chernobyl to demonstrate “the ultimate collapse of the modern, optimistic expectations that human knowledge shall control nature and perfect the world.”

Chernobyl’s incandescent ruins, concrete-shrouded for an aeon still to come, stand as a global tombstone, memorial, and augury of what has already been deemed “the end of nature.” As the Holocaust has taught us of what wickedness humanity is capable, and the [Hiroshima] bomb of what destructiveness, so Chernobyl exposes the fatal depths of our carelessness and inattention, proving so tellingly Arendt’s thesis of the “banality of evil,” the fearsome consequences of plain stupidity, shortsightedness, and non-accountability…

Chernobyl bitingly demonstrates the ultimate collapse of the modern, optimistic expectations that human knowledge shall control nature and perfect the world.

Whereto but the foul rag and bone shop of the heart

The last stanza of Yeat’s famous “The Circus Animal’s Desertion” goes:

Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

We are entering an era, if we had not already noticed, where we must lie down where all ladders start – the foul rag and bone shop of the heart – from whence we would more humbly climb out of the abyss of our own making.

If it is true that we are in an age of anger, in a post human rights era, where there are neither good protections nor good neighbours, then we ought to reflect on what we ultimately lose with the twin deaths of human rights and human dignity.

Or, you might just as well clamour to be among the survival of the fittest – if that is your dogma.

Lord have mercy…

For more, go to “Troubled Times.”