The Act of Caring


October 2, 2012 by McDowski

Michael Clarke Duncan died nearly a month ago, and a lot of people tweeted about it. Posted condolences and “RIP” messages on their Facebook (because why wouldn’t Duncan’s family stumble across posts on random people’s Facebook profile, right?) and all in all made a fuss of pretending that they gave a shit. I can’t help but wonder… Why?

Now before I come off as heartless, let me clarify. It’s not the act of displaying care for someone’s demise that I have a problem with. It’s the fact that the majority of people who post such things do not, in fact, really care. We saw the same phenomenon with Amy Winehouse in July of last year. A lot of the people who confess sadness and proclaim the event a tragedy never really cared about the person when they were alive. So why start now?

I can understand feeling sadness over a death, even if it wasn’t someone you personally knew that well. I felt sadness when one of my best friends’ father passed away a few years ago because… well, he is one of my best friends. I felt sadness when Steve Jobs died last year, because he was someone who was an influential visionary. Love him or hate him, it could not be denied that he was a man who had a presence, and was a force to be reckoned with in the world of business and technology. If, say, Jack White were to drop dead tomorrow, I would feel sadness over that, too, because I love his music and consider him to be the last remaining rock star in the industry today.

But Amy Winehouse? Sorry if this sounds crude, but I hardly batted an eyelid when I learned of her demise. I can empathise with her family, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t affect me personally. Because I was not a fan of hers, and sure as hell didn’t know her personally. Same for Michael Clarke Duncan. As far as I was concerned, a person died that day. But then, plenty of people die every day, around the world, and I am not expected to shed a tear for them. If I tell you a person died of starvation somewhere in Uganda, you would say, “Aww, that’s too bad,” and then move on. So why is it expected of us when a quasi-celebrity dies?

Shocking admission: I do not have the definitive answer to that. But I do have a two-part theory. The first part is to do with our interest in other people’s lives, which I consider a form of voyeurism. This is exemplified on a celebrity level by the never-ending interest in gossip news and paparazzi photos of naked Princesses. It even exists on a personal level. How often have you seen a friend or coworker spend hours scouring through every post, photo and status update of people on Facebook? How often have you, yourself, done so? We are endlessly fascinated by the goings on of people that are not us. Our lives are boring and mundane, so maybe someone else is up to something better? And looking at clippings, photos, videos, etc. of someone who has just died? The one final act of voyeurism this person will be subjected to.

The second part of my theory – inclusion. I think people have the need to feel included, to feel that they are not left out, to feel that they are a part of something. I think this carries over to such situations. I think, maybe, that some people have a subconscious desire to be a part of the conversation. A famous person dying isn’t just news, it is an event. And it just doesn’t feel right if we are not part of the event, even if in some insignificant, end-user sort of way. I also feel that this is the reason why people still continue to queue for hours – or even days – leading up to a new iPhone launch. (It sure as hell isn’t for any rational or logical reason.)

But that is just one man’s opinion, of course. An exceedingly bright and philosophical man, true, and one who is right more often than just about anyone. But just one man, nonetheless.


5 thoughts on “The Act of Caring

  1. Jon Snow says:

    Yeah, it’s the same when it comes to “it” books like Twilight, Hunger Games, 50 Shades of Grey and to a certain extent Harry Potter. People just want to be able to talk about it, don’t want to feel looked down on when they say, have you read X and they so no.

    People are sheep man.

    (Now you might have an iPhone I don’t know) but I hate how people constantly talk about buying free range eggs and free range chicken etc, but they go out and buy an iPhone. It’s like they care more about animals than they do humans (re: deaths at Chinese iPhone factory) and they don’t care that a company is morally and ethically corrupt as long as they get some shiney toy that they can tout around and show to all their friends and random passerby on the street.

    My friend who has an iPhone said “If there was a device that could do all that i want, then I wouldn’t buy Apple.” She used that as a defence which I barely contained myself and wanted to shout out “BUT THAT’S FOR MY SIDE OF THE ARGUMENT!”

    Good rant by the way.

    • McDowski says:

      Thanks. That was pretty much the purpose of the blog; a place for me to vent and rant and post random shit as it comes to me.

      And, yeah, I agree about the animal bit. I have nothing against animals, but let’s not kid ourselves that animal rights are somehow equal to human rights. No, they are not. So if you don’t give a shit about civilians dying in Palestine or Syria or Pakistan, or rampant poverty and civil war in parts of Africa, then don’t expect me to believe in your ’cause’ of trying to stop KFC from mistreating fucking chickens.

      (And for the record, no, I don’t have an iPhone. I have been using an HTC One X since April, and am loving it.)

      • Jon Snow says:

        I have Galaxy Nexus, but that’s the phone I would want (at the moment) if I didn’t have Nexus.

      • literaltherapy says:

        Going to have to disagree with your understanding of animal welfare. That fallacy is always leveled at vegetarian and vegan activists. One can support people and animals at the same time. In fact, the people i know who are most likely to be concerned about Sudan or Palestine tend to also be vegetarian. That probably has something to do with social liberalism in general, bit I won’t turn this into a political thing. My point is that most people in general can’t do much to stop the suffering of factory workers in China and some people would argue that the jobs that they have are better because of capitalism expanding into their country. I don’t even own an iPhone, but I acknowledge that my cellphone probably came from another factory in China that many would consider “wrong”, just like the clothes we buy or all the other electronics sold in the West. So what can I do? I can vote for politicians who support stronger trade agreements that pressure countries to maintain better labor standards, but short of dedicating my life to international worker welfare (I won’t because I’m in the field of science), there’s not much else I can do. And somehow i doubt all the people claiming vegetarians care more about animals than people are doing that much more. Similarly, I am not an animal welfare activist, but I have problems with how we treat animals and it was very easy for me to stop eating meat, so I did. End of story. I don’t think that makes me a hypocrite, just someone who lives as best as I can according to my personal ethics.

        • McDowski says:

          “Going to have to disagree with your understanding of animal welfare. That fallacy is always leveled at vegetarian and vegan activists.”

          I didn’t really say much about animal welfare. My comment was about the attitude of people. And what, exactly, is a vegetarian activist? I have never heard of that beast.

          I agree with the essence of your comment. My previous comment (the one it seems prompted your response) was not about animal rights activists in general, nor did I insinuate or call anyone a hypocrite. I had actually been referring to specific people/instances that I have come across in my life where someone who claims to care about animal welfare displays little to no empathy for the plight of their fellow man.

          I have actually had someone shrug at the idea of atrocities committed to people, claiming something to the effect of, “They’re humans. They can take care of themselves.” A kind of attitude that I find very callous.

          I don’t think you are a hypocrite for thinking the way you do, nor do I expect you or every other individual who supports animal welfare to necessarily turn their lives upside-down in order to affect change. Lord knows I wouldn’t.

          Thanks for your well reasoned and thoughtful comment.

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