Imagine a city under siege. The entrances are blocked off and food can’t be brought in to supply the inhabitants.
Food is rationed carefully. Every day, the besieged city-folk stand in long lines to receive their portion. Soon, there is no food to be handed out, and the people have to fend for themselves.
Take a particular person within the city. Imagine his life and existence within the tall city walls, suffocated by the very source of his protection.
What if this man knew that there would be an end to the siege soon? Will the thought of eventual food ease his hunger and allow him to endure it? Perhaps he can deal with the suffering in a dignified way. Maybe even with a certain sense of pride, if victory is assured.
But imagine that victory is not certain, or his conduct is not dependent on the world outside. What if he lived for each day, and each day food was a struggle? If he isn’t convinced that his struggle will end, is it harder to endure? If the food is not forthcoming, will he bear hunger with dignity?
Maybe he will make a dignified peace with his fate. “Food is not coming. And I am above the humiliation of scurrying about in the streets, fighting for a crust, only to prolong the suffering, only to increase the torture.” He resists the psychological damage of the siege. And more than that… he finds comfort in his own suffering and bears it almost nobly.
But maybe he should be doing his utmost to survive. Should he steal, scheme, betray his fellows, and even kill, in order to possibly live through it all, no matter the cost? There is time enough for ideals and pride later. If only he survives, he can rationalize his actions. After all, justifications can only be made by the living.
Or is that the whole point of morals and ideals in the first place? That they should be convictions, to be believed in even at a time when it might not be convenient? What is their point, if not to overcome the temptation of desperation and depravation and submit to the serenity within the pain? Suffering is cleaning, maybe that’s true. But some suffering happens in vain.
Should he resort to eating rodents and insects, should he be reduced to a criminal when there is no law; or should he seek a quiet solitude away from the daily struggle of food? And hunger gnaws at his belly…
Oh, if only the war would be over. If only there was an end to this siege!