Guns, Death and Compassion

24 Dec

Here’s yet another comment on the Newton school massacre.

This time from me.

And this is the thing: I genuinely don’t understand why we have so much news coverage, so much focus on the victims, so much consideration of how to avoid such an awful event in the future, so many statesman-like speeches and commitments to “do something”.

My question is: what is special about this event?

When yet another child is killed by a US drone in Pakistan (178 in the last 7 years and counting) do we see weeping parents? Do we follow the memorial services and hear messages of condolences from the local politicians and imams? Do we consider what went wrong and how to avoid the same terrible things from happening again? Do we open up ourselves to understanding what it would be like to be in their shoes, to be the grieving mother or the orphaned child?

Do we bollocks. We call it collateral damage. Or even “bug splats”. People say it’s just something that happens in war, something out of our control, they don’t put such a high value on life… or so the ludicrous post-hoc justifications go.

More than 30,000 people are killed by guns in the US every year. Over half of these are suicides. More children have been killed by accident every year than all the mass shootings over the last couple of decades put together. What about these deaths? Why don’t we pay more attention to these?

After September the 11th, I was again shocked at the furore in the media and western societies. “But what about the recent Rwandan genocide“, I thought? When we had a 2 minute silence at the office I found myself wondering: “Why are the people who suffered and died in America so important? We didn’t have a silence for so many other tragedies.” At the same time as the terrible events of September 11th, the holocaust in Democratic Republic of Congo was going on. Between 1997 and 2003 well over 5 million people were murdered, not to mention the rape, torture, and other horrors. I didn’t even read about it until 2002 and I read the papers daily over that period. I’ll just mention that statistic again – 5.4 million people were killed. A familiar sounding figure – close to the number of Jews killed by the Nazis. I’m not making crass comparisons for the sake of a competition here – I’m pointing out that these heart-rending atrocities merit equal attention.

When all those Japanese people died in the 2011 tsunami I felt awful for them. That this story was suddenly eclipsed by the story of the nuclear power station was again inhumane. No one died from radiation poisoning. But once nuclear power got involved, I stopped seeing any mention of the 20,000 people who died from this horror, not to mention the hundreds of thousands more affected by it all. Why was that? Perhaps it was something to do with the fear of nuclear power being stronger than the sympathy for the victims?

When I raise this point, most people realise the greater context, understand the unhealthy media bias, and show some empathy with others in horrendous situations around the world. However, worryingly some small-minded people actually accuse me of being heartless. Is it heartless that I feel some measure of pain, not just when a nice middle class white person dies, but when an impoverished person is killed far away from me in a culture of which I know little? Surely this is the antithesis of heartlessness.

People are people, regardless of where they happen to have been born.

I once read that ‘good and bad’ are defined as how things affect oneself, whereas ‘right and wrong’ are the affects of one’s actions on another. The latter category is also known as morality.

Could it be that people make more of a big deal of issues that affect people who are closer to them in culture, colour and proximity?

I’m no psychologist (and wouldn’t like to judge the motivations of others in this regard) but it’s pretty easy to label this as a selfish attitude.

I wholly understand the underlying fear, but personally, the fear of such things happening to me takes second place to empathy for other people.

As such, I’ll go so far as to say that the current media obsession with the minutia of this particular tragedy actually demonstrates a lack of moral values.

This powerful article, in which I read the above comparison, describes these issues well. At the end of the article a commenter said:

Our Professor told us one day that a newspaper had approached him to commission a piece of research to let them quantifiably determine how newsworthy a story involving fatalities would be. He just told them to divide the number of deaths by the distance in km to the incident. No, I am not joking.

So in conclusion, let’s have some more empathy. And let’s apply that empathy with a bit more equality.


2 Responses to “Guns, Death and Compassion”

  1. Natalia January 8, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    Absolutely spot on…


  1. Good News, Bad News | unfebuckinglievable - March 21, 2014

    […] Sometimes the news can be plain tiring. It can feel like a constant roller coaster of fear mongering, being nasty to famous people, and vested interests pushing their views. Worse still, is the power the press wields over most politicians and their choices, essentially subverting our democracy. And the way some stories are prioritised over others is beyond me. […]

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