It is relatively uncomplicated to guard oneself against cruelty and greed, if one wishes to do so. But detachment, a half-willed blindness to the suffering of others, is one of the inescapable conditions of life on earth. Between 1998 and 2003, about as many people were killed in the Congo War as died in the Holocaust. Our ability to live placidly through this and so many other atrocities lies in a combination of ignorance and helplessness: it happened far away, we didn’t pay attention as it happened, and even if we rent our clothes over it, there was nothing we could do to stop it.
--Adam Kirsch in "Can You Learn Anything from a Void?," from this week's The New Republic.I find I'm seeing more of this, the invocation of the Congo as a place whose problems we're never going to do anything about. The Congo's become rhetorical shorthand for the inevitable limits of our humanitarian instincts, limits wiser to acknowledge than protest. A few months ago, for example, the discussion among Very Serious People was about whether we pay too much attention to the suffering of the Palestinians and not enough to the suffering of, say, the Congolese. On one side were those who argued that we care comparatively little about the Congo; to make it right, they said, we need to care less about the Palestinians. On the other side were Equally Serious People who felt that both groups get the attention they deserve: not too much, not too little, but just right.