What’s Wrong With Us?

29 11 2008

In the last week I’ve seen a few things on the news that make me sad, like the terrorist attack in Mumbai, for example.  But there are two things in particular that happened this last week that really hurt my soul and make me worry about the kind of people we are in America.  

The first thing is the teen who committed suicide on his webcam with others watching as he did it.  If you haven’t heard the story already, read a version of it here.  But it’s basically just like it sounds.  A teenager talked about committing suicide on a live webcam chat and then proceeded to do so.  Some of the others in the chatroom egged him on while others just watched it all happen.  The awful thing is that this isn’t even the first time this has happened.  There have been similar incidents before and not just in America.  Here’s an article about a webcam suicide in the UK a couple of years ago.  All these tragedies are reminiscent of a famous similar incident that occurred before the advent of the webcam and the chatroom: the murder of Kitty Genovese.  Kitty Genovese was brutally attacked and sexually assaulted in the street over the course of a half hour while various people witnessed parts of the attack and failed to get help immediately.  While the media reports of Kitty Genovese’s death and the role the onlookers played were greatly exaggerated, it led to a lot of psychological research on diffusion of responsibility and the bystander effect.  Basically, the research says that when there are more people witnessing a bad event, each individual is less likely to help because they think that someone else in the group will do something.  Even though closer scrutiny revealed that witnesses of Kitty Genovese’s murder probably didn’t actually see enough to deserve the blame they got, the whole thing shed light on what I think is a serious problem we have today and is evidenced by this chat room suicide.  I think it’s a combination of diffusion of responsibility and the nature of the internet and popular media today.  Everyone in those chat rooms could have felt like they don’t have to do anything because there’s a ton of other people there, too.  Also, I think these days, in a world where people just try to be more and more shocking all the time, people just aren’t shocked anymore.  Too many hoaxes and pranks have caused some dangerous skepticism in people.  It’s like the boy who cried wolf on a national scale.  The other sad thing is that the kind of people who do take such things seriously are often ridiculed and regarded as being gullible and stupid.  There’s so many things wrong with this picture.  

The other thing I just saw was a story about a Walmart employee who was trampled to death on Black Friday.  This made my stomach turn.  Read the story, it’s unbelievable.  The crowd shattered the doors to the store and threw back the employees trying to hold the doors.  The man who was trampled to walmartdeath was 34 years old.  I thought maybe it had been one of the frail, old greeters or something, but no.  The store had to be cleared for a while but many shoppers refused to leave even when they were told that someone had died.  Some people are even trying to lay some blame on Walmart for not having good enough security.  We live in America!  Supposedly one of the most advanced and civilized nations in the world!  Walmart employees shouldn’t have to worry about being trampled to death when they go to work!  I don’t care how long you’ve been waiting in line, no deal is worth losing a life over!  Don’t blame the store, blame the consumers who are so desperate for a deal that they forget to be human beings!  But then the whole diffusion of responsibility thing comes into play again.  I’m sure no individual in that crowd feels personally responsible for that man’s death.  The police want to file criminal charges, but they admit that it will be difficult to single out any individuals.  It makes me so sad.  What kind of people are we?

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4 responses

29 11 2008
kira

oh my goodness … how sad!

1 12 2008
Dad

Peter, please do not lose your altruism! As I said in my blog, people in their 20’s slide on the scale from altuistic to cynical with the passage of time. Your most endearing trait is that sense of altruism. Hold onto it for dear life and I know you will become the hope for a better tomorrow for hundreds, more likely thousands, but perhaps even millions of people.

1 12 2008
Aunt Lisa

My heart was also saddened when I read about these events. There is a lot of this that goes on that doesn’t even make the news.

19 03 2009
Malicious Short-Selling Hurts My Soul « “P” is for Peter

[…] a post about some of the things that make me lose faith in humanity a little bit.  You can see it here.  Well, I was recently made aware of something else that has seriously injured my faith in […]

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