Disappearing People

Aside from providing a few weeks of most excellent ribaldry, the pre-Rapture and post-Rapture has also caused some people to speculate on what the real end of the world is going to look like – if indeed, it ever happens. Like the Kosher Samauri, I wonder if maybe the Rapture (if such a thing exists) might not be more of an ongoing, subtle thing.

I’m always fascinated, for instance, by what could possibly have happened to all those millions of people who seem to have vanished off the face of the earth. In the US alone, some 500,000 people disappear, without a trace every year. And this doesn’t include people who disappear and are eventually found. (Dead or alive). And it doesn’t include people who just pack their stuff and take off.

No, I mean stories like the one about the US couple who were traveling and the woman woke up in their hotel room one morning and her husband had disappeared. All his belongings were still there, but he was completely gone and no trace of him was every found.

Some people disappear at sea. I’m not going to worry about them because it’s pretty easy to disappear at sea. The ocean is vast and deep and there are pirates.

So, how does an adult simply vanish?

In the age of constant surveillance and forensic wizardry how does someone just evaporate into thin air? Have you ever thought of just disappearing and starting over somewhere else? How would you go about that without leaving any sort of evidence?

Aside from the Rapture theory, people speculate that The Disappeared might have slipped into another dimension somehow. I’m pretty sure my cat, Bazel, has discovered a secret time-slipping portal behind the coat tree in our foyer. He sometimes suddenly appears from there when I’ve been searching for him high and low. And when he appears from behind that coat tree he looks really smug.

And there’s the “abducted by aliens” theory. But, the only reason I could think of for aliens needing 500,000 Americans every year is as a food source. And surely, even aliens couldn’t sustain themselves on such a diet?

There’s the “kidnapping by clandestine operations” theory, too. I guess that means our governments are kidnapping their own citizens for experimentation of some sort. I almost believe that theory. I suspect a lot more Canadians will be disappearing over the next four years.

My favourite theory though is the “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC) theory. I never knew such a thing existed (if it really does exist) until I read Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. There have been many cases of people discovered in their homes burned to death – sometimes completely, sometimes leaving only a fragment or two of bone – while the rest of the house is perfectly intact, except perhaps for some damage to the chair or bed they were in at the time.

So, if a person is just out walking in a park one day and spontaneously combusts, they’ve effectively disappeared, right? No one is going to notice a random finger bone by the side of the road.

Anyway, I like to believe there are still some things going on for which even our brightest science guys don’t have the right explanation yet. I’m looking forward to them maybe figuring it out.


So, Bob is on his way to work one day when he passes a pond and sees a child drowning. He knows he can swim well enough to save the child, but he also knows the water is going to be cold and it will ruin his new suit. Should he jump in anyway and save the child?

This is an example used by Australian philosopher, Peter Singer to illustrate the moral obligation human beings have to help those less fortunate than they are.

I thought this would be an interesting question to consider on an individual level after the previous post where the comments discussed the question on a much more global level.

Singer believes that the needs of the poor are of much greater importance than any inconvenience it would cause us to provide the help. He believes not only that it’s our moral obligation to provide the help, but also that it’s immoral not to.

Do we care more about our new suit than the life of another human being? Should the money we would normally spend on luxuries like a meal in an expensive restaurant go instead to feed the poor?

According to the Jewish principle of tzedakah, people should willingly give at least 10% of their income to charity. For them it is a matter of religious duty.  

Another school of thought is that charity shouldn’t be an obligation or a duty, but something done out of a true sense of compassion. When a mother gives up the last bit of food in the house to feed her children, she is not doing it out of duty or obligation, but because she sees their welfare and her own welfare as part of a whole. In the same way we should see “the poor” as part of us – not something separate from us. Living among people in need and not helping, diminishes all of us as human beings.

And, although many people would never admit it in public, there is also a school of thought that says, “Hi, I’m Frank. I work hard for my money. I slogged through years of school. I’ve scrimped and saved and invested so that I could provide a good life for myself and my family. Why should I also be responsible for Ernie over there, who dropped out of school to hitchhike around the country, who can’t hold down a job for more than a couple of months and who can barely provide for himself and yet goes and has four kids?”

Should Frank’s kids do without a trip to Disneyland this year so that Frank can give their vacation money to Ernest instead?

Or, would we, perhaps agree with George Orwell, that all charity is evil? That it doesn’t solve any problems and only makes things worse for those living in poverty? That charity may be kind, but it isn’t practical. That government/society gives us charity as a “quack cure” for poverty and injustice.

What’s really happening is that charitable giver becomes the focus of the charity instead of the people in need. Because it makes us all feel good. It makes us feel like we’ve accomplished something worthwhile, and it diverts our attention away from the fact that what charity really does is allow government/society to abdicate its responsibilities to its citizens.

Because charity doesn’t really address the root problems of poverty, does it? But as long as we have food banks and the United Way and homeless shelters, et al, we work hard at promoting and supporting them and forget to force any real solution.

Orwell uses Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as an illustration:

…we are not aiming at the kind of world Dickens described, nor, probably, at any world he was capable of imagining. The Socialist objective is not a society where everything comes right in the end, because kind old gentlemen give away turkeys. In the end, there are not enough kind gentlemen to give away enough turkeys.

 I wonder what Orwell would have done about that child drowning in the pond?

What’s your school of thought on charity?