I followed the Boston Marathon Bombing story quite closely last week. I was in the library writing a paper when I heard about it through social media. Instantly, I was surprised at my lack of shock.
Something about the way I took the news bothered me. Did I have no empathy? Why did I not feel an overwhelming sense of sadness and grief like those on my Twitter and Facebook timelines? Was I horrible person because my heart didn’t jump when I read the headlines?
Before I heard the news, I was working on research for a paper on human consciousness. I was looking at Henry and William James, 19th century theorists who worked on defining consciousness at a time when society and science did not understand the processes of the mind.
It is only now that I see the irony – consciousness is still too abstract to be understood completely.
Jamesian consciousness emphasized how consciousness was formed through the building up of experiences, among other ideas. Our memories layer on top of one another; two events can never be experienced the same way; our knowledge of the past determines how our consciousness filters the present.
Being desensitized is one way to look at it.
In short, my consciousness did not perceive the Boston Bombings as shocking because past “shocking” experiences have built up and now influence the way I interpret these situations.
Only four months ago was the Sandy Hook shooting. That shocked me. I sat on my couch and cried as I watched the instantaneous news coverage from the school. Each new piece of information sent shivers down my back. It was an event that I had never seen before, even in movies.
I have watched the TV news most nights, more so when I was younger, since I can remember. These days, I find out the day’s events from the internet. My point is that I am very familiar with the realities of the world. I know that someone is shot dead around once a day in either Chicago or Detroit – can’t remember which. Deadly car accidents happen all the time just in Vancouver alone. Around once a year in Canada, there is some sort of murder splashed across the papers and news channels for days. And we are often reminded of past crimes when their perpetrators eventually go to trial and create daily headlines summarizing their atrocities.
Across the world, news of violence is so omnipresent that I almost tune it out. I know last Monday about 30 people died in a single bombing in the Middle East. Suicide bombs have killed 12,000 Iraqi’s since 2003. Thousands have died in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including hundreds of children. And these are the ones that reach our media; many more events happen with only a murmur in their echo.
Perhaps if I knew someone in Boston. Maybe if I’d been there. Maybe if I’d run marathons. These were the questions I asked myself as to why the bombings did not affect me. Maybe if I had not followed world events for all these years, like the majority of the public, the event would have shocked me.
No, to me, Boston was another sad act of violence, expected in a news cycle that never runs dry. The loss of life – by numbers – was not significant, perhaps even comparable to a bad car accident. The injuries, especially the amputations, were what saddened me the most, but they received hardly any attention. The manhunt which took place on Friday was a day’s worth of reality TV, suspenseful, sensationalist, drama. It hardly felt real.
In a society where September 11th still permeates every security issue, I find it difficult to be shocked. So when I came to write about the Boston Bombings, writing about how sad and sorry I was for the city felt insincere. It is not that I don’t feel that way, but my consciousness perceives the events differently. I am sad and sorry for every person or place that has to experience violence, and to single out Boston in my grief would be to label all the others as less significant, and less shocking.