Paris: A Study in Terror Amplification
Asking questions is ok
Any attack in which one innocent person dies is a tragedy, so when we see multiple deaths as happened yesterday in Paris and Beirut and recently over the Sinai Desert these are huge warning signs to humanity. At the same time it is necessary to say that the magnitude of these attacks should not stop us from asking difficult questions; indeed perhaps because we haven’t been forceful enough in asking these questions it is more probable that catastrophes like these can happen?
We live in a pressure cooker environment of 24 hour rolling news, instant updates and opinion. We no longer have the benefit of time to consider things. Welcome to 24 hour instant opinions. No sooner something happens it becomes a social media sensation and a fait accomplit. There are countless examples where this has happened in recent history, it would seem that we are remarkably comfortable with no independent investigations, no public information, simple good and evil narratives and apportioning of blame on some indefinable foreign terror groups whenever anything happens. Somehow we slurp up the lazy media mush satisfied that there are boogiemen and goodies and that we are under attack.
Goodies & boogiemen
At no point is the inconvenient fact aired that the boogiemen were trained by guys working for the goodies. Indeed they were financed by guys in the goodies country. Yes, that the weapons they use in the Middle East are manufactured and supplied by companies in these goodie countries and create goodie jobs. There’s no questioning of the possibility that there may be some possibility of the involvement of security services that have a mandate to “consolidate public opinion” in a country or region in favour of definitive military action. Perhaps to generate support for starting a war to topple a dictator that whilst an undesirable despot responsible for thousands of deaths in his country is not guilty of the various crimes he has been tried for by western media. Indeed his country has been half taken over by baddies trained and financed by the goodies creating a humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen since the second world war. Yes, we’re talking about Syria. Every other country in the region has either been “democratised” or agreed to play ball with the goodies on their terms.
Less quality journalism
Due to the fact that our media has changed completely in the past 20 years we no longer have the more reliable voice of the foreign correspondent from Damascus, instead we have faceless agency reports from Reuters or AFP that just get lazily syndicated. We have no real barometer of what’s going on, no journalistic insight — as a result we are worse informed than we have been for a long time. We feel incredibly smart with our smartphones, tablets and always on data connections, but in fact we have less idea than we did 20 years ago when at least there were some quality newspapers and television channels with budgets and a public service mandate that delivered quality journalism that actually informed. Now we are just floundering in an echo-chamber. It’s down to us to be interested, to seek out multiple sources… if we are to be informed. Yet of course this is something that costs time and energy, something that we have little time for. It seems like there is nowhere to turn, which feeds a sense of hopelessness.
Terror as a media event
To return to Paris, which has seen 2 serious co-ordinated terror attacks this year it is perhaps worth examining these as media events. The first attack, on a satirical magazine, happened at the quietest moment in the Western news cycle, it was guaranteed to get maximum media attention, in addition to which the attack was on the media itself which guaranteed massive coverage. The #JeSuisCharlie social media action was so perfect and indeed same font fully on-brand co-ordinated graphics and signs were available so fast after the event that one could question if these were not pre-prepared? Is that allowed? Or are we just supposed to change our profile pictures and shut the fuck up?
This most recent attack happened on a Friday night before holiday season in Western democracies, the news will reverbarate across all channels making everyone feel anxious. Make no mistake, this is an attack on you and me, an attack on our minds.
Right now millions have used the Facebook change your profile photo feature to make a tricolore of your profile picture. Naturally on the one hand that can be seen as an act of solidarity, and of course that is how those doing it intend it. On the other hand what does this do? Does this amplify the terror? Remind us of it every time we check social media on our phones and tablets no matter where we are at whatever time of day or night? What does this do to us? How does this make us feel? I’m not suggesting there’s any wrong or right in this, I’m merely asking questions that we should perhaps consider?
The human brain and terror
The human brain is pretty bad at dealing with terror, or pretty good depending how you look at things. Through our evolution we have developed mechanisms that put trauma to the back of our minds almost instantly it happens, this is an essential for survival — for imagine back in hunter gatherer days your nearest and dearest were slaugtered by a rival tribe, those that were equipped to keep going would survive, those that stood around in grief got wiped out. We are equipped with survivors brains. It’s quite remarkable how humans that have witnessed terrible violence, death and destruction are able to recover. Perhaps not all completely, there will always be traces, but enough to function.
Most of us don’t know what a dead person looks like. Most of us don’t know what a dead person that has just been killed in front of us looks like. Most of us have been exposed to terrible death and violence through movies, computer games and TV and can put that to the back of our brains. Most of us are unable to comprehend a real situation where hundreds of people are being maimed and killed on the streets in front of us. If we think about it for a short time the survivor brain kicks in and pushes it into the subconscious so that we can function normally. But what happens when we keep seeing reminders of this awful terror that we have pushed to the backs of our minds to get on with doing what we need to do day to day? I don’t have the answers, but I do think it’s a question worth asking.
Lessons from East Germany
Public opinion is something that is shaped and formed, there have been extensive studies made on the effects of trauma and the use of mass media to control populations. Each of us has a responsibility to consider how we react to this, if we let it continue or if we want to do something to make this stop. If we want to make it stop there is a good example from 1989 when the citizens of East Germany decided to start peaceful Monday demonstrations. They would meet every Monday at Churches and collect candles, they would then walk through the cities holding candles aloft to demand reform. This phenomenon grew so much as to make clear to both the Government of the GDR and the occupying forces of the USSR that the will of the people was reunification. These demonstrations brought down the Berlin Wall. What about demonstrations for peace? What about demonstrations for no more arms sales? What about demonstrations for a complete investigation of all the dangerous and provocative actions of Secret Services both in the Middle East and at home? What about demonstrations for the proper and humane treatment of migrants outside of the borders of Europe?
It really is up to us.