There’s an interesting psychological fact I’m interested to explore. Just from looking at the comment section of local and regional news outlets there is a pattern of response to violence and to car crashes which is consistently dichotomous; violence of any kind elicits a bullying/shame response towards the community, while auto related mayhem incurs one of pity or victim blaming.
I could select a few incidents and post screen captures of comments, but I’d rather my readers verify on their own if the pattern holds where they are. I apologize in advance for the wretched world you are about to enter if you have heretofore avoided online comment sections! I am sure that there are communities where particular stretches of road are so dangerous that “another crash” creates a controversy regarding making changes to the engineering of the road, but does anyone make broad statements about the neighborhood, the town, or the city?
You see, when two young men involved in gang or drug related activities shoot it out, or when a young woman dies tragically at the hands of an ex lover it is very common, in cities in the northeast at least, for the comments on news pieces to immediately become direct and over the top criticisms of the entire community where the incidents occurred to the point that they would be considered abusive if expressed toward an individual. Common themes involve expressions like “that’s why I would never visit that hellhole”, or “what do you expect from a bunch of animals”.
Springfield had gone a few months without a murder and my wife had just learned of the city’s fourteenth homicide of the year. She read the headline aloud and immediately expressed disappointment akin to a personal failure; “we” had a murder. I felt the same. There have been three car crashes on this block since my wife moved here: one involving an off duty cop speeding into a huge tree just across the street from the house; and two in which cars slammed into a neighbor’s house. On all three occasions we both expressed anger at the drivers for being reckless, but not once did we feel shame at living on “such a block” which would facilitate such crashes.
To take it further, we live 100 feet from an intersection where there is at least a fender bender a season. We have grown accustomed to the thud and crunch of low speed impacts of automobiles and the ensuing chaos of traffic snarls, police cars, and the occasional ambulance.
Not once have we felt as though these incidents were indicative of a community shortcoming in some moral or ethical sense.
On the other hand, despite all of my blogposts expressing a deep understanding of the roots of endemic urban violence, when an incident occurs in the city, whether a hundred feet from the house or miles away, involving savagery, I do feel as though it impugns me and my neighbors.
I wonder, is it a consequence of the bad journalism I have derided on so many occasions, or is it a cause thereof?
I do not know, but I do not see that I have any more reason to feel ashamed for others’ actions connected to violence than I do for their driving. But I do.
There was an incident the Friday morning after Thanksgiving in which a man’s car was shot at within 100 feet of my backyard. My initial instinct was to reject his report as false given the unusually random nature of the incident. He wasn’t hurt, there was one small bullet hole in his bumper, and the story warranted multiple reports on air, on line, and in print.
Despite the almost infinitesimally small physical damage, the psychological damage of the incident to the man was, understandably, enormous. During the same period that this man’s story was revealed and elaborated, a matter of a few days, a number of people died in roadway accidents in this region and a dozen or so were seriously hurt, with their cars and their persons experience much greater physical trauma than the man with the hole in his bumper. How is it that their emotional scars, and those of the community, seem so much less significant?
Is it only that the shooting involves obviously volitional behavior? Is there something in our makeup which does make being hundreds of times more likely to be maimed “by accident” less significant than that minute chance that someone might some day intentionally do us harm?
We are unusual creatures and rationality does not come easily to us, and I am no different from anyone else in that regard.