Friday, April 20, 2007

Rosa Brooks, "We're not all victims"

Rosa Brooks has the courage to point out the self-indulgence we show by pretending to be victims of the shootings at Virginia Tech.
Convincing ourselves that we've been vicariously traumatized by the pain of strangers has become a cherished national pastime. Thus, the Washington Post this week accompanied online stories about the shooting with a clickable sidebar, 'Where to Find Support' — apparently on the assumption that the mere experience of glancing at articles about the tragedy would be so emotionally devastating that readers would require trained therapists.

At the University of Buffalo, more than 500 miles from Virginia Tech, university counselors announced that they were 'reaching out to students feeling affected by … the tragedy.' In Dallas, area chaplains rushed (uninvited) to Blacksburg, Va., to 'be part of the healing process.' In Washington, an ordinarily hard-nosed corporate law firm e-mailed attorneys a list of 'resources for coping with traumatic events.'

Count me out. There's something fraudulent about this eagerness to latch onto the grief of others and embrace the idea that we, too, have been victimized. This trivializes the pain felt by those who have actually lost something and pathologizes normal reactions to tragedy. Empathy is good, but feeling shocked and saddened by the shootings doesn't make us traumatized or special — these feelings make us normal.

Our self-indulgent conviction that we have all been traumatized also operates, ironically, to shut down empathy for other, less media-genic victims. On the day of the Virginia Tech shooting, for instance, Army Sgt. Mario K. De Leon of San Francisco (like the Virginia Tech victims) died of "wounds sustained from enemy small-arms fire"). On Wednesday, car bombs killed at least 172 people in Baghdad. But no one has set up a special MySpace page to commemorate those dead.
Great column! Rosa Brooks is one of the new op-ed stars. According to what is apparently her web site, she "is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times [which is where I see her columns] and a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. (She is currently on leave from Georgetown to serve as Special Counsel at the Open Society Institute in New York)."

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