Saturday, 19 July 2014

Sisyphean tasks

There are many things that feel Sisyphean. The struggle to master a language; for example. There is always one more word you don't know, a structure that seems just out of tongue's reach. Even with a perfect vocabulary there's cadence to master; the rising and falling tones of a joke or a sarcastic riposte. Language learning never really ends, which to a perfectionist like me is about the worst damn thing in the world.

Forming a cogent opinion about Palestine and Israel is a similar experience. You have to drill back in time all the way to the creation of Israel, and then you realise you actually have to understand the reasons for the creation of that state, and then you have to really understand the competing factions and desires as that new state struggled from the womb and started screaming and thrashing and biting. But then, of course, you have to understand the Palestinian position, and ask yourself who has the greater right to live. And then you have to work out who started this idiotic, deadly war that's killing people with the eager glee that has characterised (and still characterises) religious war since there was gods of earth and sky and sun and moon.

In short, these are the kinds of tasks that remind us of the endless battle faced by Sisyphus, pushing a boulder up a mountain only to be thwarted at the last minute. We face the very epitome of uphill battles, because this is a situation that evolves and changes in real-time. It is also an issue on which most people have taken a side and will defend it until their death, and these people are probably not going to be convinced either way because, to be honest, it's far too bloody complicated.

It's a bit harder to struggle through and keep an open mind, especially when children are killed and teenagers are kidnapped on their way home and burned alive. The first casualty of all wars is the humanity of both sides, because when the day comes that the death of children is met with a shrugged apology, it's about time to question whether the price you pay for victory is too great when it is your soul.

That being said, it's probably worth struggling on. After all, a Sisyphean task is hardly worthy of the name if you give up. Sisyphus didn't. Neither should we.