The Danger Of Normalising Tragedies

Just forty-eight hours after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, everything seemed to have gone back to normal in Las Vegas. Casinos, clubs and hotels were running as usual; tourists enjoyed themselves on the street; the preparation for the annual Global Gaming Expo was undergoing regardless of past events. The situation was surprisingly calm after this recent tragedy.

Such calmness spread beyond the ‘Entertainment Capital’. Today, one week after the mass shooting, we can hardly find any relevant updates in social media. The Americans themselves are busy discussing the Harvey Weinstein scandal. In other countries, China, for example, people are gossiping over heartthrob Luhan’s new girlfriend. Some may cheerfully claim that this shows the mass murderer’s plot failed.  The world is not seized by fear, nor has the population been traumatised. However, is this calmness we really want? Are we getting so used to such miserable news that we treat it as the norm? Shall we be alarmed by such normalisations of tragedy?

Modern tragedies in the form of mass killing have become rampant in the recent years. Whether they are terrorist attacks are arguable (the definition of terrorism is ambiguous itself). Nonetheless, based on their cause, we can classify them as  ‘mental-health-related’, and ‘race/ideology-related’.

Tracing the trend of the mass killings in recent years, the masses have been paying less attention to the issue. In other words, they have gradually become numb and indifferent. After the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting, the whole world took a firm stand, the slogan ‘Je suis Charlie’ (I am Charlie) was everywhere from social media, street arts, broadcasts, and football matches. The incident had a long-term global impact. The governments had to affirm the resentful masses by taking a strong stand against terrorism and enacting laws and regulations. In contrast, after the first few days of shock by the crowd, the Las Vegas Strip shooting has not gotten enough emphasis and media coverage. Even the USA’s own President, Donald Trump, has not done much other than tweeting the usual words of condolences and condemnations.

There are reasons behind the trend towards normalization of mass killings. The first is their frequent occurrence. From Aurora in 2012, to Boston, Isla Vista, then to Manchester and London in 2017, similar tragedies have recurred. Quoted from an article in The Economist, ‘The regularity of mass killings breeds familiarity. The rhythms of grief and outrage that accompany them become–for those not directly affected by tragedy–ritualised and then blend into the background noise’. The world population have mentally accepted the fact that these mass killings are part of our lives. The casualty stays as a piece of statistics without any emotional appeal to the public. It becomes regular and mundane that when people see the tragedy in the morning newspaper, they just post a sad face emoji online and go to work as normal.

The government shares the responsibility. Based on the government campaigns (especially those related to terrorist attacks), mass murderers are usually attention-seekers. Thus the best response is to ignore them, proving that their threat and intimidation are meaningless. As a result, the persuaded population consciously suppress their fear and uneasiness, sticking to their routine lives. Eventually, the strategy of ‘fake it until you make it’ works and people become indifferent about massacres.

Frankly speaking, such a campaign is beneficial for the society to the extent that it provides necessary stability which prevents further chaos and riots. Nevertheless, the price is high. The creation of an ‘artificially harmonious society’ means people are passive about the danger they live in. They will not hold demonstrations, organize protests or express deep sorrowfulness and unhappiness in public to urge the government to do more. I am not advocating populism but I believe it is at least necessary for the masses to make their voices heard.

Another reason is about the people’s own perception. The public have fostered a mindset that there are no ways we can prevent mass killing. There are some evidence supporting this perception. Indeed, deep-rooted problems like racial and religious tensions have embedded the seed of hatred and misunderstanding. Actual violence by radical individuals are fed by them. It takes generations of education to change people’s mindsets to improve the situation. Also, we must acknowledge that there are powerful lobbying organizations exerting great resistance to prevent potentially effective methods from being implemented. In the case of the USA, the National Rifle Association is notorious for making any regulation or law linked to tightening gun controls almost impossible.

However, the public overestimate the capability of the attackers, believing their actions are ‘amorphous and totally unpredictable’. As a result, people give great tolerance to the authorities for failing to prevent the killings from happening. However, there is great room for improvement. Other than a small number of attackers who receive professional training from extremist groups and are able to conduct mass killings with great expertise (this group is actually easier to be monitored due to governments’ infiltration and surveillance), most of the lone wolf attackers are ‘amateur’ who leave traces or signs before the horror occurs.

Avoidable mistakes or negligence rather than inadequate intelligence can cause the failure to prevent ‘amateur-conducted tragedies.’ Anis Amri, the murderer of 12 in thee 2016 Berlin Attack, had talked about committing an attack before he committed his act; Khalid Masood, the March Westminster Attack murderer, was identified by M15 as a potential extremist as early as 2010. It is frustrating to realize that we actually had the opportunity to stop these tragedies from occurring. If we continue perceiving the mass attacks as unsolvable issues, and give the authorities such tolerance and lack of criticism, similar avoidable mistakes will not stop recurring.

It is clear that the normalization of mass killings is detrimental for society’s well-being. The mass murders do not stop killing when people ignore their acts. There are always people who suffer from mental illness and people who are religious/racial radicals. The public should take a correct attitude towards the issue. We should treat it seriously and urge the government to respond with the correct attitude and solid policies. Posting a sad face emoji on Facebook is definitely inadequate. It is ok to move on from tragedies, but it is not ok to move on without any reflection or action to prevent it from happening again. Voice out your concerns and worries. This is the only way out.


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