Drowning Victim Mocked By Witnesses: A Call to Overcome the Broader Tendency to Disassociate from the Suffering of Others
A man is drowning in a pond. For most onlookers, the emotional response would range from concern to terror. Certainly, it would involve some level of empathy. Whether due to the altruist instincts most humans share or social expectations, most onlookers would attempt to find help for the victim. Some would be driven to save the struggling victim. Others would be hesitant to help due to concern for their own safety, but they would call for help or, at least, express remorse. That is not what happened when five teenage boys witnessed the drowning of Jamel Dunn.
As Jamel Dunn struggled to stay afloat in a pond near his family home, five witnesses responded to the display by laughing at the victim, taunting the victim, and recording the victim’s death. They later posted the video on YouTube. It would be easy to blame the reactions of these kids on their use of drugs. It would be easy to blame their reactions on a lack of morals. It would be easy to blame their reactions on their age. It would be easy to blame their reactions on some psychological defect or a cultural deficit, but this incident highlights a far broader issue within society.
YouTube is a media platform that instantly makes any and every contributor a superstar in their own mind. It makes real-life more like movie-set where the attention received becomes the priority and the real world consequences lose meaning. It provides contributors instant gratification without any filter or delay, thus it encourages addictive attention-getting behavior. It encourages a single-minded pursuit of any and everything that people might find funny, unsettling, frightening, or just interesting. YouTube and other social media platforms foster an addiction to attention getting.
Furthermore, YouTube and other social media platforms create “distance” between people and the consequences of their actions, while cultivating egocentric, and therefore antisocial, tendencies. Social media is, however, simply a technology that magnifies human nature. When political leaders and business executives, for example, make decisions that endanger whole communities or cost thousands their likelihoods, they are able to disassociate from the consequences, because they are not personally affected by the consequences and their social standing creates distance between them and those affected by the consequences of their decisions.
When US troops die in a foreign or the US utilizes bombs in a foreign land, as another example, most Americans focus on the harm done to Americans, not the civilian causalities who find themselves caught in the middle of a war. The same is true of any country. Similarly, more affluent people rarely reflect on the plight of the poor or take concrete actions to make the economy work for the poor, because they benefit from economic status quo and do not want risk endangering their wellbeing . The problem is that people have become both too egocentric and too removed from the suffering of others to see they are part of a broader community.
Communities exist to bring people together in order to solve their common problems as well as the hardships of individuals. For communities and societies to function, people must be concerned about the wellbeing of their fellow man. Communities cannot function when community members are solely concerned about their own personal gain, whether it is the gratification from attention, money, or any other desire. Society shields people from the harshness of nature and affords people opportunities to thrive as individuals, but society can only exist when people hone their altruistic instincts and live beyond their own desires for others.
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