April 26th, 2015. A terrible thing happened. An earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, struck just near Kathmandu. Thousands were buried under clouds of dust and rubble as their homes collapsed around them. It was followed by aftershocks, one of which hit at 07 AM, measured 6.7 on the scale and shook buildings in New Delhi. As of the time of writing, over 2,500 people have died. The bodies are still being dug up.
That’s a nice set of numbers, isn’t it? If you can imagine Nepal as it is now, then I envy your imagination. What I’ve done is reduce 2,500 lives to nothing more than a few lines on a screen.
Because I, like most of the world, have not witnessed the carnage first-hand. I’ve seen them in photos hastily uploaded from phones, from people sharing photos of their loved ones begging for information, from a Facebook notifications marking my friends as “safe”. Thousands of people woke up this morning, logged a status along the lines of “Thoughts and prayers to those affected by the earthquake in Nepal” and got on with their lives. Movin’ on, guvnor. Stayin’ alive.
But the online space frequently brings out the worst in people, not the best. Social good check-ins are harmless. Some people, though, apparently decided that Nepal’s earthquake was karmic justice for the sacrifice of 5,000 buffaloes for a religious festival held last year. Comments were made on everything from the nature of the Hindu gods to the the spectacularly bitchy nature of karma.
What do you say to people like this?
Firstly, let’s get one thing clear: karma is a religious theory. Unlike, say , Newton’s Third Law, karma has not been proved to exist. Karma is like dark matter: a lot of very smart people have thought about it, discussed it, attempted to describe it, but we still can’t prove it exists. If it does exist, it must be the most haphazard cosmic judge in existence, because it never seems to get things right, and anyone who can so accurately confirm that it was karma must either be a digital prophet or a complete idiot. What about the people who didn’t slaughter animals? What about the children? What about the vegetarians? What about the atheists?
How exactly do you intend to justify that?
It’s okay not to feel sorry for those who died in Nepal. Because, contrary to popular belief, it really is hard to feel for people you’ve never known in a country you’ve never seen. But attempting to justify it by calling karma is just stupid. Karma is a theory that became a catchphrase; a neat way of explaining unfavourable events when no cause is clearly visible. Good things are, of course, attributed to luck, hard work, good investments, intelligence, rich parents, and so on and so forth.
Unfortunately, Nature doesn’t really care for human philosophy; I doubt it’s noticed that a bunch of slightly evolved monkeys came up with a neat way to explain anything bad that happens to them. Earthquakes are not karma, unless you can empirically prove, beyond all doubt and measure, that karma exists; and not as an idea handed thrown through the years, but as a force so basic, like gravity, that it commands the earth itself.
Since nobody’s done that, let’s go with rationale: earthquakes are the result tectonic plates shifting against each other. In this case, it’s a result of the India tectonic plate (which moves at about 45 mm a year) pushing under the Eurasian plate- the same process that gave rise to the Himalayas. It is a natural process; it’s expected that this will happen again – and again – and again. If you still think tectonic plates actually care about the deaths of buffaloes, please go back in time, find your science teacher and shoot them in the head. They’ve done a terrible, terrible job.