16 March 2007

Hunger Artists

'Someone who doesn't feel it cannot be made to understand it.'

A man's meager life is outlined in Franz Kafka's 'A Hunger Artist.' This man fasts for the entertainment of others. Money is made from his month-long fasting. In the end the artist says this: 'Someone who doesn't feel it [hunger] cannot be made to understand it.' Kafka's theme of hunger for amusement parallels with global hunger and gives it a unique perspective. How can the West be made to understand-- to feel the pain that millions upon millions of people feel every day-- the pain of an empty belly?

I don't suggest that all those who have food should stop eating so they can feel how others feel. That is daft. Fasting is a good thing. It serves to put some things into perspective. However, even a day or a few days of fasting does not allow one to feel the true and desperate hunger that so many endure. We always have the option to be fed. I don't think that it is good or even necessary to make a person understand by making them feel the exact pain of another. But there must be some way to raise awareness and interest in this very real situation.

I have always struggled when people callously say: 'Eat your food, there're starving kids in China.' Sure, it's true that people are starving, but what changes if I don't eat? Wouldn't it be better if I left some and sent it along to those poor kids? But no, the wasted food (mounds of it, to be sure) is not sent to those who need it, not even to those who are close at hand. It is instead thrown out to rot. Better to say: 'Look at the food that you are blessed with: there are many who have nothing.' This adds perspective, and while it doesn't much help anyone, it brings the realization that we have things that others don't: the uncomfortable realization of injustice.

I will call these starving souls 'hunger artists' in light of Kafka's work. Unlike Kafka's character they do not fast because they wish to. They do so because they are born into their situation and have no choice. Yet, they are like the hunger artist. The artist is used and neglected, exploited for the entertainment of others. What else do you call the desensitizing documentaries? Entertainment; just another way to placate affluent Americans. In many ways such documentaries bring a sense of realization and awareness of issues, but very few people act on such realization.

The end result of the hunger artist is death. As Kafka's character is neglected, those in the world who are different are pushed aside and neglected. This ignoring, this ignorance, causes death. Instead of striving for understanding, we shove this truth away. We are more comfortable with our ignorant, limited perspective. We want only to be entertained, not challenged.

The key to understanding is perspective. Sure, life is bad everywhere, but instead of whinging about the things that we experience, we should try to help those who are enduring far worse. Instead of coveting those who have more wealth than us, we need to use our own resources for the betterment of others. With perspective, complaining and coveting are reduced to a sort of satisfaction.

I have lately begun nurturing a growing hatred of injustice -- that some people have enough to throw away whilst others have nothing to swallow at all. I do not hate the people who do not understand. I only wish to make them aware, to share my dawning perspective and my passion. Like Kafka, I want to bring some form of understanding. So my mission is this: striving to understand the hunger artist in any way I can.

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