Thursday, April 25, 2013

Shoot the Messenger

In the last week, ever since the Boston bombing suspects were identified, I've noticed several lengthy messages being shared and liked on Facebook and Twitter. The gist of these messages goes something like this:

I don't want to hear anything about the suspects! I don't want to know who they are, or why they did what they did, or how they planned the bombings, or how the aftermath affects their families! Execute the one that survived the Watertown shoot out and bury their remains in unmarked graves somewhere no one will ever find them!

I understand the emotions and frustrations behind these kinds of comments. In a free society, we should be safe from terrorists, be they homegrown or trained on foreign lands. Our government should protect us from potential threats. Innocent children, women and men should not be blown up, gunned down or cut through by malcontents, zealots, psychopaths or sociopaths.

Yet no matter how hard we might try to wish away irrational behavior and hate, the reality is they will always exist. Society and culture can, at times when the collective will is strong enough, turn away from them or push them to the side. Unfortunately, in the land of the truly free we must allow space for individuals who believe what we find unfathomable and groups that practice what we detest, providing those practices do not bring harm to others.

The crime isn't allowing these people to exist. They already exist, whether or not we want them to. The crime would be closing our ears and shouting like children to drown them out. A wish and a prayer are sweet sentiments, but they aren't practical choices in the face of ignorance. Just take a look at that couple facing criminal charges for the death of a second child because they chose to pray for God's healing instead of bringing their children to a doctor. You think any amount of wishing away their irrationality will change their belief structure?

The way I see it, the real problem is not that the world is a more violent place than ever before. Go back just 70 years and you'll find that World War II was responsible for the death of approximately 2.5% of the world's population at that time, or roughly 60 million people. According to the CDC, in 2010 homicides accounted for a total of 16,000 deaths, or 0.005% of the nation's population that year. Tragic, but a far cry from the worst this world has seen.

Don't get me wrong. In the case of the Boston bombings, I want justice served. I believe in the death penalty and firmly believe it would be appropriately handed down to someone who can come across a young boy eating ice cream with his family and calmly murder him. There are depths of hell not deep enough for some of the twisted souls allowed to crawl the surface of this earth. But I also want to know who they are, why they did what they did, and how they did it, because it's the best way to understand what went wrong with these two men and, hopefully, prevent others from following in their footsteps. All of us need to understand, so we can carry a measure of that understanding and awareness into the communities in which we live. If it takes a village to raise a child, then surely it must also take a village to maintain civility, rationality and order.

What I don't want, or need, is twenty-four-hour media coverage from people with no immediate knowledge of the events. I don't want talking heads on television, enhanced by animated graphics and dramatic musical intros, talking endlessly despite the fact they have no new information to offer. I don't want newspapers so desperate for a scoop to prove their validity in a digital age that they disregard traditional sourcing of information, ruining lives in the process. And I certainly don't want online would-be news sources replacing static informative articles with meaningless Twitter feeds just so some schmuck in Abilene with PhotoShop can pretend he's an extra in "All the President's Men."

In the rush to be first and loudest to scream the latest developments of a disaster from the rooftops, the news media belittle the gravity and meaning of such a situation by turning it into a relentless audio-visual circus that offers plenty of noise and practically no content.

On the other hand, the media is only giving us what we've proven by our viewing habits we want. Maybe if we stop tuning in, the message would change and we'd feel less inclined to shoot the messenger.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

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