Tragedy: it happens, so why bother?
I honestly can't remember the last time I spent 24hrs without seeing or hearing of some form of tragedy- manmade or environmental. And, I am sure most of you are in the same boat as me. Lately, it seems more than half the information we get every day and anywhere has something to do with death, oppression, injustice, violence, illness or an unfortunate case of bad luck. Not to mention the occasional 'this world is going up in flames' paranoia that we all feel every now and then.
And you know what, I'll be the first to admit it is exhausting and overwhelming. With so much going, and constantly- you kind of end up in a deer-in-a-headlight situation where you are left frozen and unable to react or comprehend beyond your primal instinct(s).
While it is impossible not to feel anything, it has become the norm to expect even the most heinous events and therefore not be surprised/shocked when we see the worst of nature/humanity. The common narrative -and the easy thing- is to urge the population to channel its feelings/emotions into 'immediate democratic' stances i.e. to participate and act. We see this time and time again, yet it is still one of the hardest things to achieve. Consequently, you find intellectuals asking the question 'are people becoming desensitized to tragedy and violence'? And my answer is duh!
Why? you may ask. Well, in order to understand the answer, it is crucial to understand why desensitization is the natural reaction to this type of adversity.
The first thing to consider when it comes to human beings is our psychology and natural disposition. Whether good or bad, things that happen repeatedly just stop being profound. They become an expected part of our daily life and somehow, we learn to adjust. It's just like Donald Trump, no matter how appalling his statements and actions are, no one is really surprised anymore. We've finessed the art of adjusting the bar lower and lower with every action/inaction. And that's the exact predicament most people are in when it comes to mass shootings, middle-east conflict, corruption in government, racism, sexual assault, xenophobia (and all the other types of phobias we see in our societies) etc. Most people chuck it up to 'the way of the world' while a small handful mobilizes in hopes of changing their realities. Unfortunately, the power is with the masses so a handful isn't enough to change things on a large scale.
One of the things Alain De Botton, my favorite living philosopher, is known for, is his view on modern news and its impact on us (individually and collectively). While De Botton looks into countless aspects of modern news, I will be focusing on the following three:
The Format of News Reporting
Unlike previous decades when news was limited to newspapers or broadcasts at certain hours/programs, today, the news is not confined to any of those restrictions. We have hundreds of news organizations, circulating infinite stories through multiple mediums at all hours of the day. And to make it worse, these are all accessible to us at our fingertips, more so if you have your notifications on. Which makes it virtually impossible to escape the happenings of this world- both domestic and foreign. Not to mention the difference of opinion on what is considered newsworthy, the ratio of positive (boring) news to negative (sensational/scandalous) news and the 'breaking news' culture. These all contribute to the addictive hyper-informative vacuum that we live in, ergo creating people who are overly informed about what is going on (on the surface) but lack the knowledge and in-depth understanding of the whole picture and what to do with said information.
This complex multi-dimensional reality of the news industry caters to the singular fear that all human beings share, which is that we are small simple cogs in a monstrous system, therefore, our singular contribution account to nothing. And if you think like that why even bother to take any action at all?
What News Was Supposed to Be Vs. What It Must Become
The idea of a bipartisan, fact-based news report that empowers the people is a noble one, sadly, it is built on the assumption that all readers/viewers are capable of interpreting the information intellectually and without prejudice or selfishness; which as we can see is not the case. One cannot emphasize enough on the importance of a free, independent and unbiased press; it is the foundation of any/every functional democracy. This is why journalists- who are the gatekeepers of this pillar- must play much more proactive roles when it comes to the distribution of news. Most especially the types of arguments they make available to the general public and the style in which the information is presented. Case in point, when Mark Zuckerberg suggested that Holocaust denial should be allowed on Facebook because it could be unintentional. While some might argue that refusing to give these types of opinions a platform is a form of free speech infringement (which was the intent of Zuckerberg's comment) facts and history state that these events happened. Hence, leaving these opinions and ideas in circulation confuses those who are unsure (and looking for the truth); affirms and excuses the views and actions of those who hold these hurtful beliefs; and disregards the feelings and history of those affected.
Of course, this then raises the question of who makes these decisions and how are these narratives supposed to be selected? However, before we can even begin to look for these answers we have to accept the holes in our unbiased, serious news and its subsection i.e. news commentary.
Distorting and Distancing Us from Reality
For the general public, the news is often the only source of information about the world and its workings. This makes the news-and any platform that distributes information-the most powerful (adult) educator and a perspective shaper in the world. This is why the divisive nature of reporting is alarming. The narrative of ‘us vs them’ has allowed perpetrators to be sympathized while victims are ostracized case in point every reporting of police brutality, racial discrimination or sexual assault before the #metoo movement or its counterparts. The existence of these prejudices in every country/community has made it easier for our differences to dictate how we react to one another instead of our shared commonality and humanity. Another consequence that is easily noticeable is the lack of nuance and one-dimensional reporting we see about countries, communities, cultures, religions etc. The fact that Africa is still painted in single strokes and all Asian people are considered Chinese or all brown people seen as Arabian Muslims in 2018 is astonishing and destructive.
This narrative allows us to be complacent because ‘their’ struggle has nothing to do with me, while the truth couldn’t be further from that. E.g. high suicide rates of Indian farmers affect the country’s ability to reach its production quota, thereby limiting the availability of these products internationally, which reduces availability and increases the market cost of all products which rely on these ingredients, in the end, you have to buy your favorite banana yogurt at double cost. If not for our humanity but for the future of our communities, it is paramount for us to play our part locally and internationally because whether we like it or not EVERYTHING IS LINKED TOGETHER. And the only chance we have is to prosper together or not at all.
With all this said, the question still stands when tragedy happens all the time, and people are becoming desensitized by these events why bother? We have to bother because desensitization is a symptom of the failure of our news organizations which as a whole is a failure of our democracy.
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