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We feel bigger

Image: yourtechstuff.com
Image: yourtechstuff.com

Article: Aidan Mcnab – Contributor

Have you seen that video of the police officer shooting the dog?

Unsurprisingly, it’s extremely disturbing and difficult to watch. Yet, apparently, many did watch.

Basically the video is of a man out walking his dog, being arrested for video taping police officers with his cellphone. He puts his dog in his car, but doesn’t close the back window. The dog, which appears to be a Doberman, jumps out as the man is being handcuffed. It runs over, instinctively protecting its owner, and is shot repeatedly by one of the arresting officers.

This video, which was filmed in Los Angeles, was an international viral sensation. It was posted again and again to Facebook, and appeared online all over the place. For about a week, I must have come across it a hundred times.

It was always accompanied by passionate captions calling for justice and vengeance and expressing shock, horror and disgust.

Just recently in Santa Rose California, a 13-year-old named Andy Lopez was shot dead by police while playing with a toy gun (an assault rifle replica).

And a about a month ago, former Florida A&M football player Jonathan Ferrell was shot dead by police in September in North Carolina, after being in a car accident and knocking on the door of a nearby home for help. The person wouldn’t let him in and called the cops. When police arrived Ferrell ran towards them, and they felt threatened, even though Ferrell didn’t have a gun. Not even a toy one.

These two examples are not aberrations. This is an everyday reality in the U.S. Americans who aren’t white are more likely to be victims of this excessive and deadly police force.

After the acquittal of George Zimmerman, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now interviewed activist and author Kali Akuno. Akuno’s group ‘The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’ found that in 2012, 313 black men were killed by police officers or security guards, and stunningly, 136 of them were unarmed.

Noticing that anger over the 136 paled in comparison to anger over one single dog, my first thought was of the Disney classic, Bambi.

It’s typical that people will be more upset by, and empathize more with, animals when it is they, not humans, that are the victims of violence. It seems counter intuitive, given that we are human, but we’re used to seeing people shot, beaten, blown up and maimed in a thousand different ways in movies and on the news. When the same happens to a helpless animal, we think of our own pets and tend to be affected much more than when the victim is a person.

So, I thought people were being childish. They were sharing and posting about a dog being killed while oblivious the larger context of out-of-control, racist, police brutality in the U.S.

I was all ready to write about this hypocrisy when I came across something else on my Facebook feed that let me know loud and clear…

I am what is wrong with society.

What did it was Russell Brand’s own recent viral sensation. While being interviewed by British journalist Jeremy Paxman, Brand defended the fact that he doesn’t vote, and justified his role as an editor for a political publication.

He claimed that taking part in a phony political process that yields the same results no matter who is elected is, in effect, taking part in a fraud. It’s a cliché that those who don’t vote shouldn’t offer opinions about government, but Brand rejected this, saying that he doesn’t want to be, “complicit in this ridiculous illusion,” by casting a ballot.

He said that the government or, “political class,” does not serve the populations that elect them; they serve a tiny minority of wealthy individuals and corporations whose interests, often are in direct conflict with the interests of the public.

Therefore, it’s no use to seek answers to what ails us in the existing “paradigm.” We need to venture into new ways of thinking.

Despite describing the world in a horrid state of oppression, poverty, and environmental degradation all aided and abetted by democratically elected leaders, Brand was extremely optimistic.

He said that, “without a flicker of a doubt,” things were going to change. In his view, revolution is inevitable.

What he said that resonated the most with me, and which led to my revelation of my own uselessness, was not his main point. However, I think it speaks to how current events, political and otherwise, are discussed by young adults in the information age.

Brand says that, despite our corrupt political class, we can make progress on the issues that we feel passionate about if we follow through.

“Instead of in some moment of lachrymose sentimentality trotted out on the TV for people to pour over. Emotional porn. If we can engage that feeling and change things, why wouldn’t we?”

But, do we want the world to change for the better? We have such fun pointing out how fucked up it is. When we see fault in others and that fault relates to what we think is an example of what is wrong with the world, we feel a twisted satisfaction. And more than that, we feel vindicated. We’re not culpable for the current state of affairs. We know better.

With all the information in the world at our fingertips, we have the ability to use the online media in all its diversity, not for education, but as a tool for our own self-gratification.

We can do this is by reading tweets, watching videos, or reading blogs and articles about politicians, pundits or celebrities that we disagree with. They say things that we find offensive, then we get angry and indignant, and it feels good.

And it feels even better when we, with a click of a button, get to vicariously win the argument by the use of another blog/article/video/tweet of someone we do agree with. Through their argument, we get to feel even better knowing that the person/group/ideology/cause that offended us was wrong. We are right and we feel victorious.

This is where our conflict of interest comes into play. The worse off the world is, the kinkier this whole process is.

People love being outraged. It’s the emotional porn Brand spoke of. A lot of what we call journalism is just that. Outrage porn. That’s why when you scroll down the Huffington Post you’ll see huge bold one-word headlines like “DISGUSTING”, “SHOCKING” or “STUNNING”.

They’re stroking our ego and selling us our own self-righteousness. We don’t click because the story matters, we click so we can have fun getting mad.

That’s why we talk about ‘war on Christmas,’ and that’s why we know what some fast-food chicken sandwich shop CEO thinks about gay people. Not because it matters, because it rattles us. And for a lot of us, that’s a good time.

I’m not saying not to write blogs, or share ideas, re-tweet, or take part in online political chatter. We should just understand the masturbatory nature of sitting around without any opposition, enjoying our own beliefs.

And it’s not just smug, self-satisfied disapproval that reels us in.

It also feels good to see politicians and other public figures squirm. It’s the same part of us that causes us to tune in to watch celebrity meltdowns, and reality TV. That’s why we love hearing about Rob Ford, and the Senate expense scandal. It’s not because we care about the Senate or Toronto’s municipal politics. When famous, highly educated, and wealthy public figures are chopped down, we feel bigger.

Since journalistic institutions are businesses serving consumers, they’re going to give us what we want. This situation means that we see and hear less of the important, maybe not as sexy, events involving governments and businesses, and more gaffes and scandals and controversy that appeal to us on a tabloid level. We don’t hear about the stuff that affects our lives, we see only what will entertain us, and the entertainment functions as a distraction.

And that distraction, Mr. Brand, is why you shouldn’t be so sure that I, and my fellow twenty-somethings, are going to change anything.

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