Monday, November 16, 2015

Paris Terror Attacks and the Compassion Moral High Ground

"Rue Jules-Rimet - hommage Quick" by Chris93 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons.

To be clear, this is not a post about the Paris terror attacks themselves, or what I think should be done about them. Enough has been written and will be in the coming weeks about that. This is specifically my thoughts about the social media reactions to them.

With nearly 150 dead in a mass slaughter in the heart of France, one would think that every civilized person in the world would be on the same page in grieving for the tragedy. I'm not French nor do I live in France, but each time one of these attacks happens I feel physically ill and stricken with horror and anger.

As expected, on social media what I'm seeing is most people expressing grief, condolences, solidarity, and prayers (though an atheist, I understand the sentiment at least) for the victims, the families of the victims, and for France at large. They're doing this because this is the only thing they feel they CAN do. Does it ultimately accomplish anything? Probably not. Offering condolences to the family at a friend's funeral probably doesn't do much either, but you still do it to show the family that you care.

The other thing I'm seeing are a smaller minority of people that seem to be clamoring for the moral high ground against those that are expressing some sort of grief about Paris. The first way I noticed this happening was chastising people for not expressing the same amount of grief or support (if any at all) for the attacks in Beirut the day before that left nearly 50 people dead. Mind you, I'm willing to bet the people making these judgments didn't make a peep about that incident either.

The second way seems to be chastising people for not caring about the terrorist attack that happened in Kenya that killed 150 children and adults at a school, while posting a link to a CNN article. What's most interesting about this is that those people seem to think the Kenya attack happened the same day as the Paris attack. This incident, in fact happened in April (of 2015). A certain amount of moral judgment is also being lobbed at the media for supposedly not covering it. This notion comes partially from the fact that it happened 6 months ago. I can assure you however, that it was covered. It was all over the news. I watched the reports, I read the follow up stories all that week. People even shared stories about it on social media. I had that same physical-illness reaction. I'm not sure if I felt angry as much as I felt disturbed.

What all of this this tells me though is that those posting the article links didn't bother reading when they were posting. They certainly didn't look at the date. Essentially what they've proven is that they're guilty of the very thing they're accusing everyone else of. They obviously didn't know or care about this incident when it happened, otherwise it wouldn't come as a shock when they mistakenly wonder why nobody is talking about it.

Culture & Media
Something that the social media moral judges seem to be missing or are choosing to ignore about who we choose to grieve the loudest for is culture and human psychology. The fact of the matter is that we have more culturally in common with France than we do with either Lebanon or Kenya. It should be no surprise that North American and European social media users would have a stronger reaction to attacks in France than they would attacks in the middle east and Africa. An attack on people that are more "like us" (culturally, religiously and right or wrong, skin color) are going to yield a stronger reaction. The horror seems closer to home.

The other big factor to consider here is media presence. The first indication of an attack in Paris happened at a globally televised soccer match between France and Germany in which an explosion just outside of the stadium can be heard. The entire ordeal took place in Paris, one of the biggest and most culturally visible cities in the world. This being the case, there is an automatic media infrastructure and presence there that doesn't necessarily exist to the same degree in Beirut, and certainly not in Kenya. To say the people in Beirut matter as much as the people in Paris is fair and accurate. To say that the cities themselves (at least in the eyes of westerners) hold the same stature is false however. The media was there, in real time, as the attacks were happening. It got more attention in that respect because we had the technical capability in place to pay more attention to it. Just because the Venn Diagram of these 3 incidents have a couple of clear overlapping areas, doesn't mean that they're not apples, oranges, and pears in other areas.

Profile Pics and Images of Solidarity
The last major point that I want to address is being judgmental of people who change their Facebook profile pic to the French flag, or posted some other image showing support of, or solidarity with the people of France. It's almost silly and juvenile to shame people for doing this. There's very much a "Too cool for school" feel about it. One meme I saw said something to effect of "Changed my profile pic to show support, terrorism defeated!". This is completely missing the point. Not a single person who changed their profile pic to the French flag overlay actually believes they're helping fight terrorism. Not one. They're doing it to show the French people they care. That's all. Is it a small, mostly insignificant gesture? Sure, probably, but it's not a negative thing that warrants criticism.

High Ground
The people that I AM being judgmental and critical of in this post are the assholes who came out of the woodwork this past week to try to scrape and claw their way to the moral high ground over the people who were simply showing innocent messages of grief and support. They seemed more interested in proving moral superiority than they were at showing any concern to the matter at hand.

In Closing...
The notion being presented that if you show support for the victims of 1 terrible thing means that you don't care about or support another is silly. I saw one person refer to it as "selective grief". Don't tell other people what tragedies they should or shouldn't grieve about, when they shouldn't or shouldn't grief about them and to what degree to care or grieve. Chances are you haven't considered all the factors at play and you're just being an asshole.

I sincerely hope that one day global society all reacts the same way to the tragic loss of life. If we ever did get to the point where we had that capacity, chances are many of the human causes of these tragedies wouldn't come about to begin with. Here's hoping. Until that time, grieve for those lost that you connect with, that you relate to, and don't judge those that show more grief for others. A silver lining of this is that it does bring this sort of violence to the eyes of those who may not otherwise think it affects them.

There, now I have the moral high ground.

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