There were calls this morning on Twitter and Facebook in the aftermath of the carnage in Las Vegas to stop sharing witness videos from the scene of a man opening fire on a crowded strip below his hotel window, killing over 50 and wounding over 500. Here’s a small, relatively tame, example:
I appreciate this sentiment, and there was a time when I think we had the luxury in this country of turning away from the reality of mass executions of people committing the sin of celebrating their existence by listening to music and partying with friends. But I think that time has passed and believe that perhaps the only thing we can do now to begin to address the madness that takes hold of terrorists — and that’s what this shooter was — is to look at the results of their madness, get really uncomfortable, cry, get angry, and get motivated to think outside the box and possibly begin to find some solutions.
I personally haven’t always been so ready to play witness to evil. And, in many ways, I’m still not. I’ve never seen the YouTube video of Daniel Pearl’s beheading because I simply cannot watch it. I watched the French documentary filmmakers’ accounting of their day in New York City on September 11, 2001 one time, but have vowed never to see it again. And I’m not eager to start the new Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam, despite knowing it is likely brilliant and haunting and important to see.
There are some things I am simply not emotionally equipped to handle. And so I choose not to look. But the key word there is choose.
Choice is key in protecting people from the madness that sometimes lives in men’s hearts. If information about what really went down in Las Vegas isn’t available or censored in some way, then that choice to inform oneself is effectively gone. And if you do not inform yourselves, others will inform you of the story they want you to believe. And I know this because I had an epiphany about it following Ambassador Chris Steven’s murder in Benghazi, Libya back in 2012.
If you recall, the original line about Stevens death from Hillary Clinton and the Obama White House was that Stevens had been carried to the hospital by some local good Samaritans. The intent — as we now know — was to downplay the attack on the CIA compound, and spin the narrative away from the truth of what it actually was: a coordinated terror attack on an alleged gun running operation. By selling the men who had carried Stevens from the compound as U.S. friends and helpers, Clinton et al had hoped to control the narrative so the public would be none the wiser that the attack was in fact related to her own policy decisions in the region.
However, thanks to social media, the pictures of a very dead Ambassador Stevens being dragged through the streets and photographed by faceless cell phone users, surfaced. And the narrative of what actually happened, which had been carefully crafted and was even callously repeated to the families of those who died, began to fracture and dissolve. Would the truth of what actually happened in Benghazi have been revealed eventually had those pictures not surfaced? I don’t know, but the images, circulated as they were, forced people to take criticisms of the Hillary/Obama narrative a little more seriously.
The unassailable truth of circumstance is often a difficult thing to process. The world was shocked and disgusted once the Nazi concentration camps were liberated and the full force of The Final Solution was out in the open. Those images keep, to this day, revisionist Holocaust deniers from ever gaining traction with people of good will who know what the Holocaust looked like.
And so it is with our epidemic of mass killings in this country. We should have the choice of uncomfortably informing ourselves. Our freedom depends on it. Do I think some sensitivity and discretion is in order? Of course. And there will unfortunately always be those who are psychologically fascinated by tragedy for reasons too complicated and unnatural to discuss here. They must be called out when we see them.
But they should not force the noble among us to hide in a safe space pretending the world is always good. And anyway, the opposite of having the choice to digest the things that make us uncomfortable is being given the gift of noticing the lights in the darkness as well. Like this guy here. Because while reality can be brutal, it can also provide hope and maybe a little laughter, two of the things evil hates the most.
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) October 2, 2017