merchants of misery

When I was a kid from time to time I’d suffer from what I now identify as depression and those days, as now, of course were not too good. My mother would tell me not to be such a ‘misery guts’. And then, as now, that so accurately describes what’s happening inside. I’ve been reflecting on this misery theme at some length recently and I’ve realised that it’s a potent force in humanity as a species. We seem to need misery.


We don’t ‘seem’ to need it, we need it.

Big time.

For many people their entire existance is framed by human misery. Don’t misinterpret my words or meaning here, I’m not saying this is necessarily negative – but vast amounts of industry and the global economy is predicated on human misery. How about your job? Are you a doctor, a medic, a counsellor, or work for the police? If so, for the most part, your role is dealing with human misery. And as for traffic wardens… ahem.

As I reflected I came to believe humans are more likely to be motivated by avoiding misery than by seeking reward. I believe people are more likely to give up smoking by increasing the cost of a pack than by any message about how noble it is not to smoke. People are not naturally going to drive slowly out of courtesy or to save fuel. But they will be meek and mild at the sight of a police car in the rear vision mirror. Carrot or stick? How much duty-free booze would I import if I knew there was no potential misery in the form of a customs officer having a miserable day and wanting to share?

I realised I couldn’t think of that many roles that didn’t involve either creating or attempting to minimise misery. Some people create misery to help people avoid misery. Teachers inflict misery via homework in an attempt to help their charge avoid the misery of not being able to read later in life. Thank goodness you had this kind of misery inflicted on you or you wouldn’t be enjoying my writing now. Um, you are enjoying this, aren’t you? Hopefully I’m not inflicting too much misery on you. But you know you want more anyway.

Many of us come home at the end of a nice day creating or relieving misery to enjoy other people wallowing in misery – the news on tv is followed relentlessly by desparate survivor lawyer psychic witch doctors and nurses. Get up in the morning, gorge on misery from the newspaper; through the day, snack on internet or radio news. There’s truly no upper limit to our desire for misery. Other’s, by preference, not our own.

Wow – what a species.

Ah, but then there are another group in our society. These are the people who deliberately set out to engage in the creation of misery. There hasn’t been a word for them in English before, so, in the spirit of neologism, I present to the world a new word: awan. What or who is awan?

Here’s an exerpt from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s web site, in a report called ‘Tackling Tuwaitha’s Radioactive Ruins‘. Tuwaitha is in Iraq. Some 1000 Iraqi men, women and children live in Ishtar, a village near the former Tuwaitha nuclear site. It’s about 20 km south of Baghdad. The area is contaminated by radioactive residues and ruins, and the people are living in an area where levels of radiation are known to be higher than normal and prolonged exposure could prove risky over time. A project to clean-up the site, and other contaminated facilities in Iraq is as underway as is possible, given the political and military situation.

What about awan? No, it’s not an arabic word, although it does bear superficial appearance to arabic words. Or english, french, german – many languages in fact. Not surprising, the meaning is universal.

Let me put it in context for you, from the Tuwaitha story:

The Tuwaitha facility was looted in 2003, making media headlines in April shortly after the war broke out, when barrels containing low-level uranium ore concentrate known as “yellowcake” were stolen. The barrels were emptied and sold to local people who used them for storing water or food, or to wash clothes. Under its nuclear safeguards agreement with Iraq, the IAEA inspected the site, reporting its findings in July 2003. The report noted that the missing material posed no proliferation concern and that efforts were required to recover the dispersed material.

The people who stole the barrels, dumped the contents, and later sold them to the locals are awan. No, awan is not unique to Iraq, don’t be getting any anti-arab sentiments here. Awan is universal, endless, and been with us since the dawn of humanity. The companion of misery. Awan will be with us forever.

An awan is an arsehole without a name. In american, an asshole without a name. And now there is one. A name, that is. An awan, or a group of awan, sold the hot barrels to the people. The contamination cannot be removed by washing. The food or clothing stored in the barrels will become contaminated. The now hot food – not hot as in cooked, but hot as in ‘glow-in-the-dark’ will bring misery to people.

Not many people would stub a cigarette out in the eye of your child. Those that will usually have a name. A limited number of people will make decisions effectively stubbing out cigarettes (and worse) in more tender parts, but they (up until now) don’t have names. They’re most likely men. Rarely women. Never children. They wear suits. Their natural habitat is the board room, the briefing room, the agency room, the executive suite, the limo, the departure lounge, the cellphone, in business or first class. They’re first world. They don’t see the results of their decisions couched in terms of people with names, merely in numbers on sheets and reports. They usually deal in refinement as well, the chemicals are refined into drugs, the raw uranium ore is refined into numbers, tobacco is refined into cigarettes, cocoa into cocaine; and all because this adds value (and misery) to humanity.

Awan. They may be faceless, if not invisible. But now they have a name. Please use it.

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