How "desensitized’ are we?

This one of those “on my mind in general” thoughts, so I’m not sure where to start.

The George Tiller shooting is a good place. I just watched a video on the history of the Middle Ages that talked about how the Church initially condemned the crossbow as being “too lethal to be Christian”. Since the goal of legitimate self-defense should be to disable, rather than kill, an attacker, a weapon that is almost guaranteed to kill an attacker cannot be morally acceptable.

(Although one could argue that a precise weapon that can disable a person is better–so a gun or bow would be better than a sword in that you can aim for an arm or a leg).

Then there was the profound grief I felt when looking at the casts of Pompeii victims at the museum, which I blogged about last week.
Me on the way home: “I’m depressed.”
Mary: “Why?”
Me: “That poor little girl, killed in that volcano like that!”
Mary: “You really are a sensitive male. . . . “

Then there’s Star Trek, with its depiction of genocide that’s treated like, ‘ho-hum,’ and death of a major supporting character “before her time”. I mean, both are significant for Spock, and the plot, but the movie doesn’t seem to treat them with enough pathos or seriousness. I know the whole “in war, you don’t have time to stop and mourn” argument, but still . . .

I mean, while the story itself involves time travel, and, while the Enterprise crew haven’t “invented” time travel yet, Spock reveals other discoveries and facts.

Two previous films —Voyage Home and First Contact–were about the respective Enterprise crews going back in time to prevent the destruction of Earth. But suddenly, Vulcan gets blown up, in a film that already involves time travel, and there’s not even a consideration of “Can we go back in time and stop this from happening?” No. Suddenly, it’s, “Ah, well, those people will live on in a parallel universe. Let’s move on.”

Viewers praise the action packed movie that’s not “boring” like the typical Star Trek film, yet it also lacks the moral ponderings that make Star Trek what it is.

I really felt traumatized by the film, and a large part of that is not the violence that happened, but the way it was treated, in the context of the Trek “universe” and how similar events have been dealt with in previous shows and movies.

I mean, the destruction of Alderaan in Star Wars A New Hope is sometimes criticized for being too callous, but Alderaan is given a requiem Mass in the film compared to Vulcan in Star Trek (XI). At least we see Obi-Wan Kenobi, from a distant part of the Galaxy, talking about feeling “a great disturbance in the force,” “millions of voices suddenly silenced.”

Another inspiration for this thought process was an old one: in the direct to video film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (critically regarded as one of the best “Batman” movies ever, along with several of the other Batman the Animated Series films, outranking all live action Batman films in critical praise except The Dark Knight), there’s this scene where a good deal of Gotham city is destroyed. The thought came back to me this weekend while doing some Batman research on Wikipedia.

Of course, that was at least in a PG rated animated movie. There is an episode of the old Sunbow Transformers series where the Decepticon Jets blow up an entire building (not to mention the one where they tear down NYC and rebuild it). I guess we’re just supposed to presume those buildings are empty.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand the cathartic purposes of fantasy violence. But I worry about the mentality create when we “distance” ourselves: when we treat the body of someone who died 2,000 years ago the same way we treat an animal fossil or an artifact, when we fail to have some compassion for the human being who died under horrible circumstances–even if those horrible circumstances happened so long ago.

We look at fictional images of mass destruction, and somehow we’re expected to have less emotional impact from those fictional deaths than we do from the fictional death of a “main character.”

When we say that 3,000 potential deaths from a possible terrorist attack outweigh the worth of one human being, who, if not being physically killed, is being spiritually killed by torture.

When we fail to see each and every person as a precious child of God, an immortal soul for whose salvation we should be praying.

Read C. S. Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory”:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no “ordinary” people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

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