Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tragedy and Apathy

I in no way, whatsoever, mean to denigrate or cheapen the tragedy that befell Virginia Tech yesterday. What occurred there was, by anyone’s definition, a horrible tragedy. And yet I can’t shake from my mind a comment an insightful friend made while we walked to class, shaken by the news we’d just seen.

“This nation reacts in horror to this sort of thing,” she said, “as it should. This tragedy has galvanized an entire nation’s attention and grief. And yet, for those people living in Iraq, this is a daily occurrence. 'Only' 33…this would be a good day!”

Heartbreak is heartbreak, no matter what the scale. And yet, I know she’s right. It was a jarring perspective shift, and a good reminder that we so often cavalierly ignore the calamity befalling others, only raising our apathetic eyes to notice tragedy when we ourselves fall prey to it.


Anonymous Paul said...

A good and worthy observation and perspective. Thank you for sharing it.

The question, or questions, that need to be answered are why are these things being done, both here and in Iraq, and how can they be avoided?

Iraq is a relatively easy one, people are still vying for power in the old warlike way, and they're wanting to inflict damage on those in power.
Why we lost so many yesterday is a more difficult one, especially since we don't know anything, other than the ethnicity of and clothing worn by the killer.

May we find these answers and the ability to avoid such needless and senseless loss of life in the future. May God's uncomprehensible peace fall on the victims of both this tragedy and the too often occuring tragedies in Iraq and elsewhere.


9:43 AM  
Anonymous Nate said...

I think the point was that your everyday non-pundit people rarely mention the daily deaths (civilian + soldier) in Iraq, and it's not because they have some fundamental understanding of our foreign objectives or Why We're There. It's because they are apathetic of anything that happens really far away to strange looking people. Brandon could just as easily have used the old tried and true Darfur as just another example, which is pretty senseless in its own right.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

Oh I think they report it just fine: "86 people were killed in a car bomb attack in Baghdad today."

My point was simply that we've been deadened to that news, if we were ever open to feeling it in the first place, which is a big if when it "happens really far away to strange looking people."

We mourn in agony today for what happened in Virginia--as we should--but the point I was trying to make is that Iraqis feels like this EVERY SINGLE DAY.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Jon C. Fibbs said...

excellent post written about a year on this very topic: http://www.lewrockwell.com/rogers/rogers180.html

10:27 AM  
Anonymous Nate said...

Did you misinterpret my post, Brandon, or was I not clear? I'm not sure where we disagree... your point was mine. Particularly when I said "your everyday non-pundit people rarely mention the daily deaths" - because I know it's reported, but is it discussed around the watercooler? No, of course not.

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

It is all tragic. And it is true that if tragedy happens to far away strange looking people we seem to be indifferent. But are you suggesting that that is an American malady, or a human one? I believe it is a human one that happens in every culture.
And are you comparing the U.S. to a deranged gunman? That is easy and simplistic. How cheap, use a tragedy to spout a political agenda. The 2 situations were brought about by vastly different motivations. The war in Iraq is not about power. It is about protecting our culture, our culture is a valuable one too, isn't it? Let's all just bemoan the evil, gestapo like nation that we live in. It is so wicked and deranged. Yeah, they were better off with Saddam. And the other Arabian leaders, now there are some leaders that we want to emulate. Not the scumbags that we have had, Washington, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan...

11:19 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...


I guess I sort of misinterpreted what you were saying. I realized we were in agreement but I guess I thought I needed to clarify a bit...

2:54 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

Andy, Andy, Andy...

I disrupt your Sunday School class for the first time in almost a year and now you get all persnickety on me! :-)

I was not trying to compare America to an Iraqi gunman. You are trying to find subtext where, I promise, none exists. No deeper political agendas here. Have you ever known me to be subtle in anything!?

We are in agreement--it is tragic, that tragedy is human, the war in Iraq is about protecting American cul...oh wait, well, two out of three aren't bad!

I was merely trying to point out that the pain we feel today is something the Iraqi people deal with on a daily basis. And that, no matter how you feel about America's involvement in Iraq, is tragic.

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good post

3:55 PM  
Anonymous robyn said...

good post. Yesterday on the news a couple of the foriegn students said that there parents in the United Arab Emirates and Spain had been watching the coverage on TV. I can't imagine even an event like this not to mention, the war or the situation in Darfur being given much media attention over here. And I can't imagine it being given the same weight or talked about with the same pathos.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Brandon, now you're calling me mean and cruel names, like persnickety :-)
I am just wondering how in the world a tragedy in Virginia ends us up in Iraq. Sounds like empty headed, non-thinking liberal rhetoric. And I don't think that it has a place here.
As to subtelty, I do admire your compassion and empathy with people no matter their culture. How could we love God and not have that? And Brandon, I do believe that you have the love of God and country in your heart. I just believe that this tragedy is not a time to denegrate the U.S.

Many on this blog seems to think that we are unfeeling and uncaring. ALL cultures are basically self-centered! And what do you mean that we don't put other country's tragedies on the news? What about the shooting in Scotland? the suffering in Africa? the suffering in Serbia/Bosnia? the gas in the subway of Japan? the terorist attacks in England?
I do not share your dismal, negative belief about our country.
We do have issues, and we need to guard against our wealth making us calous and indifferent. This I feel passionately about. But, and I may be misinterpreting your thoughts, but I do not see that our country is this unfeeling, uncaring entity.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

It’s called empathy, Andy! Again, there is no need for you to continue to read things into my comments that are not there in the original post (but which I have found myself inserting within these comments in response to you!). I do find it illuminating that you continue to read into my comments, a “denigration” of the U.S. when none was ever insinuated. Freud, anyone?

As for this country not being an unfeeling, uncaring entity, I’ll believe that when Bush supporting, war-supporting conservatives like yourself start seeing this war as immoral and react with the same shock to the daily dead there as you do to the killings we’ve experienced this week in Virginia.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

This is from the AP less than half an hour ago. THIS is exactly what I'm talking about!

"4 bombs kill 160 people in Baghdad"

This is almost five times as many dead as Virginia and yet we continue to muddle through our days confidant that we were right to go in there and that our presence there is making Iraq a better place to live.

OK Andy, now you have me riled up!

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

I do know what empathy is, and I believe that you know me well enough to know that I do, or maybe you don't know me well ...
I was trying to understand what kind of analogy there was between the Virginia shootings and Iraq. To make a connection seemes to me to be making implications. If all you're saying is "how tragic, it's tragic like that in Iraq". Why Iraq? There are many places all the world where dreadful atrocities that should bring forth our empathy occur. There are atrocities in Darfur, girls sold into slavery, human trafficking, violence in many places. But you chose Iraq.

THAT seems as "freudian" as you accused me of being.

My thoughts on the U.S. being so uncaring was more of a response to other posts who seem to be implying that other countries are more caring than us by having this tragedy on their news shows. That seems overly simplistic. We are a country with a lot of influence, what happens here is news in many places. I doubt that Spain or other countries have news about violence in less renowned places in the world. Again, this is symptomatic of humanity, it is not a U.S. phenomenon. It seemed to me that there was a lot of "O how bad our country is". I was responding to that with regards to the caring statements.

4:44 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

As to Freud, I'm quite sure you're right.

As to Iraq, as with mountains, because they are there...so very there.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous nate said...

Oh dear lord, you can name me, Andy. Feel free to stop being so "some other posters..." about it.
I ask you to compare a given hour of the BBC to our nearest equivalent, CNN Headline News, then come talk to me. You can "doubt," if you must, but I tend to trust my own two eyeballs.

6:00 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

Watching "The Daily Show" as we speak. Jon Stewart just asked this exact same question.

12:13 AM  
Anonymous Daria said...

good post, Brandon. my dad and I were just talking about this today, when attacks killed over 180 people in one city alone in Iraq : ( : ( . I totally understand what you were saying: both death tolls were reported, but the strong emotional reaction (here) happened only to "our" deaths....but we are all part of "we" and "our" in the human family.

and that is a worthy thing to point out. As John Donne said so eloquently centuries ago, when one person dies, it diminishes the whole of the human "contintent," since none of us is an island unto ourselves. And, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expanded on these ideas, none of us can be all we were created to be while our brothers and sisters are not allowed to be all they were created to be....and, as Andy pointed out, yes, there are a host of examples of our brothers and sisters having to endure intolerable situations around the world.


3:46 AM  
Anonymous Daria said...

Andy...dude...you *totally* missed what Brandon was actually saying, which is a shame. you're right: this is a human issue, not a U.S. issue. there was no "analogy" between the VA shooting and Iraq: Brandon was making a *contrast*--a contrast that was supposed to help us all reflect on our own selves and our heart toward others in the human family.

And Nate also has a point: if we were to hang out in other countries a bit, if we were to peruse the printed, online, and visual news media from other countries...we just might allow ourselves to see that some countries, on average, do react with greater empathy toward others' tragedies than various other countries do, on average...what does it matter which specific countries happen to have more problems with empathy?--as in, if one of those countries happens to be the U.S., and if we happen to be U.S. citizens, by God, doesn't that mean we should redouble our efforts to be the change in our society that we wish to see (to quote Gandhi)??

If we are Christians, we are Christians *first*, and Americans second. Our call is to reflect Jesus to the world, to speak truth and do justice. Every culture has sin problems, and we need to be alert to *our* culture's specific sin problems if we're going to be effective in proclaiming God's truth and His righteousness *to our culture*. Know what I mean?


3:49 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Wow. A number of things.

Daria, whatever Brandon was doing, and I probably took it where he didn't want to go, but whatever he did was definitiely NOT a contrast. It was not an analogy.

My beef was that a tragedy was used to make a political statement about Iraq. I do not prefer to use personal tragedies in this way. I believe it is a time to let people grieve, not make political points.

And, the points seemed to be negative regarding us as a nation. That also seemed out of place to me.

And I am a christian first and an American second. To what extent that means that I will be emulating Ghandi is an interesting question.

Nate, I have no problem mentioning names. And you did have comments similar to those, but it was actually another person's post that caught my eye on that.

None of you, save Brandon, have ever met me, you don't know who I am, and I didn't want to name names and be interpreted as getting all personal and in anyone's face.

I personally have often wished that I could meet all of you and interact personally as well as on posts.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

It's was never a political statement. It was a moral statement.

Oh and Andy, you've met several of these commentors! Some of them have even shared the hallways of church with you! Dum dum dummm Better be looking over your shoulder buddy! :-)

11:54 AM  
Blogger Jon C. Fibbs said...

A day late and a dollar short, but here is my opinion, for what its worth.

I’ll be honest with you guys. When Brandon told me to check out the news (I live in Japan and didn’t hear about this until after the fact) I was largely unmoved. Later when family and friends would ask me how I felt about it I didn’t know how to respond. It’s a tragedy. I feel sorry for everybody involved (including Cho I might add). But what else do you want from me? It was odd because I felt as though they were expecting me to express some sort of visceral pain when I had none. I was confused because I wasn’t sure why they all felt that I should feel as they did. Why? I didn’t know any of these people. Neither did you.

So right now you are probably thinking I am one heartless SOB with no regard for his fellow man. You would be wrong to think that. I felt nothing (in the way of personal pain) because I lost nothing. Having never known these people or anyone close to them I felt no reason to manufacture emotions that at best seemed wholly disingenuous. It would be just as ridiculous as Bill Clinton biting his lower lip and saying with moistened eyes that he “feels your pain” when in reality he very much doesn’t. I have no idea what those poor people are experiencing and pray to God that I never have to. I sympathize, of course, but beyond my feelings of condolence, what difference does it make?

That is to say, I was not responsible in any way, shape, or form for the events that took place at V-Tech. These were the actions of one man who decided that he would take the lives of innocent others because of whatever injustice he felt he had befallen him. Furthermore, he is now dead and can do no additional harm. So then, what good would it do me or anybody else to wail and weep? Will it bring back the dead? Will it provide justice for those left behind to grieve? No. These are forever removed from our grasp.

Now, let’s say for arguments sake (and I mean no disrespect to friends or family of the dead) that Cho actually did have legitimate grievances with some of his victims, even still this would not justify the taking of their lives But even if it could be established that one of his victim’s life was taken out of justifiable retribution (e.g., they had killed his family - which would appear to be manifestly not the case), this in no way would entitle him to slay the many others that he simply shot at random as targets of opportunity. After all, he can hardly claim that the violations of his rights in the past justify his violating of the rights of others who were likewise innocent.

I posit this not to be crass, but to illustrate the very real difference between the recent events in Virginia and the on-going atrocities occurring in Iraq. The very real difference in the case of Iraq is that I CAN and feel compelled to offer more to the grieving than mere condolences (I should point out that in this I am not referring to the violence of Arab on Arab, but to the violence being inflicted on them by our military). For in Iraq, as in Virginia, there are many who have been slain or maimed for no crimes of their own. We would never suggest that the innocent victims in Virginia are justifiable, so why then do we dismiss such violations of rights of the innocent in Iraq? Conversely, in Iraq, UNLIKE in Virginia, the perpetrators of these wanton acts of destruction are still at large, both on the ground and more importantly in the policy rooms and the White House.

I’m not trying to be obtuse I assure you, but how can one condemn the actions of one as evil and unjustified, while simultaneously condoning the actions of the other as righteous and just? Am I missing something? In essence what I am asking in my long-winded round-about way is why is it OK for the US government (or any government for that matter) to do what is considered reprehensible for the individual?

This is why I feel outrage and indignation towards those dead and dying in Iraq, while at the same time feeling very little about the shootings in Virginia. With one, I had nothing to do with and it is now over, while the other is still ongoing (and shall be for the foreseeable future); done in my name and paid for with my money. I won’t have it.

2:41 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

"In essence what I am asking in my long-winded round-about way is why is it OK for the US government (or any government for that matter) to do what is considered reprehensible for the individual?"


3:04 PM  
Anonymous Andy said...

If they walk the halls of my church I hope that we can meet and share what God has taught us. And we can leave it at that, or debate, I enjoy either. I espescially enjoy sharing with each other what God has brought us from and where He's taking us to.

As to all these posts on Iraq. I don't want to debate the morality of Iraq on a post about this tragedy. Even Jim Wallis refrained from such on his email about the tragedy.
But on another post, I would be interested in the discussion...

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Daria said...

Paul-- I had meant to say earlier that I really appreciate your comment. You heard the heart message Brandon meant and you responded with the core of the Christian life orientation. admirable, sir. : )

"May we find these answers and the ability to avoid such needless and senseless loss of life in the future." indeed. I believe that is the action God calls us to (am thinking of the parable of the good Samaritan).

The task lies near at hand: in the chances to show daily kindness to those with whom we come in contact, to offer a prayer for those near and far who come to our attention, to think carefully about for whom we cast our votes, to speak out for just policies on a local, state, and national level, to carefully, consciously live out God's ways in our own choices and behavior....

may it be so~

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Daria said...

Hi Andy--wondered whether you were a CSCS or Radiant Andy. ;-)

It is a very difficult thing to be a Christian first, and a member of some other primary identity (American, 21st-century-er, man or woman, etc...) second.

It takes a lot of practice, I think, and I believe we need the Holy Spirit's help to show us when we've been sucked into a way of seeing, being, and viewing ourselves that departs from the primary identity God would have for us: a member of the Kingdom of Light, a part of the Body of Christ, adopted into the Family of God, etc.

I've had the help of growing up with other cultural influences, and in another country...it helps me see just how wound together American Christianity is with Americanism...and Republican politics. That just astonishes my Christian friends elsewhere--they know perfectly well there's no "Christian" political party. = )

We are aliens, Andy. = ) fundamentally. Christians are aliens in their time, aliens to their culture...if it's all a little too comfy, a little too cozy, and we're just a little too identified with our culture(s), it might be something we need to have the Holy Spirit check out...

Just some thoughts~

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonathan! >hug< good to "see" you = )

"done in my name and paid for with my money. I won’t have it." you go, brother--and that goes for a host of things!!

it's why I BOYCOTT a bunch of things--I won't buy a host of products and won't patronize many corporations, because of what it means I am deliberatly paying for (no big chain stores, no synthetic clothing materials, only organic produce, no Coke, Nestle, Hershey, Dole, etc. products based on slave labor...you know. the basics. ;-) I mean, how we can sit there enjoying some fruit in our comfy homes, knowing that some child was kidnapped and worked as a slave on the plantation that sold that fruit to the employee-screwing massive chain store that pushed out all the locally-owned shops?)

there's always work to be done, always some small step we can take toward the good...

Blessings in your journey~
Daria : )

5:50 PM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

Over 300 killed just this past week alone. Over 300! That is what I'm talking about. How in the world is 300 dead a political issue? This is a moral issue, plain and clear.

10:13 PM  
Anonymous nate said...

I found this piece in Slate very relevant to the discussion.

10:10 AM  

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