Part of me wishes I could say that real people don’t absorb the sins of others, that they’re not outlets for the violent expression of guilt, shame, and regret, but I can’t. However, I will save you the rant that I could likely craft on that thread. And, well, “The Glittering Pearls” shows enough of that to get the point across. Instead, I want to talk about a type of sin-eater that we’re all far more familiar with.
It’s likely in your hands right now. A smartphone, a tablet, a computer screen. Now, I’m not saying these things are evil. In fact, they’re much the opposite, especially when used for their advantages. One of those is that when we’re having a hard time with the realities of the world, we have a plethora of cat videos to soothe our nerves. We can distract ourselves from some really terrible acts, especially as they saturate all medias.
That saturation is the first real bit of the problem with our empathy. We’re used to violence. We’re desensitized. An old saying, but it’s true. And the more we see it on our screens paired with the more we experience life through our screens, the more life seems like a movie or videogame and less real.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I know that when I’m immersed in a dramatic and violent narrative, not only do I root for more violence—my favorite phrase is shoot them in the face, spawned from a particularly aggravating episode of The 100 in which the badass with the gun didn’t listen to me until the last moment when it was essentially too late—but I often root for the bad guy, too.
I know, I’m twisted. But we can get past this. Promise.
A secondary variable is our need to record ourselves and others, even when we really shouldn’t. Filming a crime or abuse or bullying, etc., is all fine and good as video gains better evidence than a simple eye witness, but when a crowd flashes their cameras instead of intervening, we have issues. It’s often referred to as the bystander effect or bystander apathy, which gets worse with the more people present.
A third variable that seems to contribute is those distractions. That video of Miley Cyrus twerking on an award show preoccupied many from the nuclear radiation that seeped into the Pacific from the coast of Japan after an earthquake and tsunami. The continued fake controversies in entertainment industries changes often enough that many aren’t aware that it’s still leaking. How long after a tragic event do we wait before we drop ourselves into a game, a video, a new Buzzfeed article, or whatever your distraction might be.
I teach an entire unit on these ideas, allowing me the many rants that I spend the first third of the semester promising, “You’ll hear more about that in November,” about the brainwashing power of media and advertising; how technology, when used improperly, hurts us so much more than we realize; that the less we care about each other, the less happy we truly are; about how our luxury is consumed off the backs of those tortured souls who are out of sight and out of mind; and that our focus on money rather than the value of our loved ones harms everyone and depletes our happiness.
But the so-called moral to each of my lessons is thus:
One person does make a difference.
Every choice we make either supports or usurps our ideals.
Think for yourself. Don’t blindly follow others.
And treat everyone with the respect that you deserve, not what you think they do.
If they don’t hear it anywhere else, at least they’ve heard it from me.
So where has our empathy gone? It’s been dissolved with our attention, filtered and spread out amongst the hidden corners of the internet and our minds where it won’t bother us.
Wife of a disabled veteran, Alisha Costanzo writes about PTSD, gender norms, environmentalism, violence, and conformity. With a mutually-fueled passion to change the world one person at a time, she often writes about her husband’s rants, conspiracy theories, and trains of logic that seem absurd until the connections line up, and mixes them into her obsession with cooking, coffee, and pop-culture monsters.
Most of all, Alisha is passionate about satire and how it can be used as a tool for learning and criticism. Her stories are aware of themselves and determined not to give readers what they think they want.
A New York transplant, she lives in Oklahoma, teaches English and rhetoric at a local university, runs and edits at Transmundane Press, LLC, and navigates the crazy that comes with her husband, fourteen-year-old step son, eight cats, six lizards, six mice, three toads, two snakes, and a water turtle in the master bath, all confined under one roof.
Featured Image (c) “Are You Lost in the World Like Me” by Moby & The Void Pacific Choir