[Someone in my google+ circles shared a tragic story.  With the story, she made a philosophical/political point.  I regret that my comments were directed too squarely at her.  I’m guilty of it as well.  The question is: Is using specific cases as a jumping-off point for broader conversations a productive way of learning?  Here is what I said – slightly edited.]

I say those things because I was in a peer group on the other side of this sort of sensational titillating tragedy porn. I know what it’s like to have a bunch of insensitive vulture “journalists” swoop down, desperately attempting to mold the truth into a compelling narrative, hounding people who have just lost someone they cared about, incessantly asking for interviews from people who want to be left the hell alone, and packaging all the crap they dig up in an easily consumable media blimp-vert. Then everyone with a pre-conceived notion about what causes these things to happen – latches onto whatever bit of information that suits their inevitable outrage. 

I understand the appeal – this situation is really terrible and pretty much everyone has difficulty not focusing on the spectacle of the horrendous and the bizarre; and that’s why stories like this are great for advertising dollars.  Media outlets love it.  However, as you pass judgement on all those people that obviously should have waved their magic wand and looked into the future to figure out the right course of action – realize that if you really care about [the subjects you are tying this situation to] you can always read up on those topics and be as proactive as you are expecting everyone else to have been only after they have experienced a tragedy that gets media coverage. 

The advantage of doing academic reading on the subject, is that the people who write those things actually have to follow a set of ethical standards with IRB oversight in order to publish it. The people who write this stuff don’t. After the experience that my friends had with their “high-profile” case, I have a different perspective than I otherwise would. I also think there is essentially nothing to learn from these cases, since they are so atypical. If anything, it distorts reality – especially when we are looking at it through a media lens as well as the filter of our own assumptions. 

When people post stuff like this, I choose not to read it. It just makes me upset about the fact that something horrible happened (because apparently I did develop empathy at some point) – and intellectually, I think that discomfort is useless, and the means of bringing that information to me (and everyone else) is often counter-productive to actually making a positive impact on the situation. 

I’m sorry if my post sounded too much like an attack – I just wanted to share my feelings about it.

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