What kind of a world is it, anyway? Who are we? Why do we live the way we do?

Meg and I finally watched “The Hunger Games” over the weekend. A little late, I know, but there it is. She had read all three books last spring when the world did, and I have been watching over her shoulder, listening in, wondering why the story was so compelling. There is courage, and sacrifice, and love, honestly so. But there is also pitiless indifference to human suffering, heart-breakingly so. The two together make for a good story, glorious ruins that we are.

A lot could be said, but not here. I did think back over time, though, having heard the story before, sorrowfully echoing across the centuries as it has. From ancient gladiators and their human sacrifices, to The Pilgrim’s Progress and the tragic loss of life in Vanity Fair, to “The Lord of Flies” and its sordid window into the human heart, to Darwin’s observation-become-argument for the survival of the fittest, to UFC cage-fighting. Yes, and I thought of Neil Postman once again, and his conclusion that we are an “Amusing Ourselves to Death” culture.

And then today l listened to this year’s Capitol Fellows present their first papers, responding to the reading of the past week. One of them quoted Richard Dawkins in River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life.

“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

“The Hunger Games” themselves are Dawkins in narrative form. No whistling in the metaphysical dark here. Some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky—and in the end, nothing but pitiless indifference. Amusing ourselves to death.

Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

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