The Blind Monster

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The word ‘conscience’ is not used much these days. Even though we understand conscience as ‘the awareness’ of a moral or ethical aspect to one's conduct together with the urge to prefer right over wrong, as the saying goes “Let your conscience be your guide.” But how can we be guided by something that we don’t use much? May we assume that the limited use of this word signifies our deteriorating ability to use this source of moral and ethical judgment?

Submitted: January 30, 2008

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Submitted: January 30, 2008

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 The word ‘conscience’ is not used much these days. Even though we understand conscience as ‘the awareness’ of a moral or ethical aspect to one's conduct together with the urge to prefer right over wrong, as the saying goes “Let your conscience be your guide.” But how can we be guided by something that we don’t use much? May we assume that the limited use of this word signifies our deteriorating ability to use this source of moral and ethical judgment? If we review the written heritage of the previous centuries we will be surprised to find that this word enjoyed much more use back then. 
Since it is reasonable to believe that language reflects current trends within society we can identify the problem as a case of modern times not encouraging us to employ our conscience in conformity to our own sense of right conduct and wrongdoing.
According to Freudian theory our behavior is based on the concepts of id, ego, and super-ego. While the id comes from our subconsciousness and supports our ego, the super-ego is imposed within us by the influence of society. Conscience is defined in psychoanalysis as the part of the superego that judges the ethical nature of one's thoughts and actions, and then transmits such determinations to the ego for consideration.
It seems that one of the developments of modern society is that the behavior of its members is more regulated than it was before. We appear to get more and more freedom, and this is true; however with new freedoms come new responsibilities and therefore the regulatory functions of society are becoming overwhelmingly omnipresent. For example, a century ago the laws of honor were as valid as the laws that were issued by the legislature, and if a person had the feeling that he had been insulted the laws of honor dictated behavior that allowed him to resolve the dispute by duel, which would in fact overrule any court procedures. I’m not trying here to be an advocate of resolving conflicts by fighting one another; my point is that the system of traditions and laws that regulated life in society in the past was much more complicated and sometimes contradictory.
In our day the super-ego is mainly manipulated by the rules within society and doesn’t leave many decisions to the individual himself. Things are less complicated today.
The development of a welfare society that guarantees a minimum to everyone frees us from the responsibility of involvement in direct assistance to the poor and narrows our responsibilities to the timely payment of taxes. 
With the tremendous progress in media and communications that has been made individuals are no longer part of any particular national state, and we are becoming witnesses to numerous man-made and natural tragedies almost as they unfold. Our abilities to provide the help that is needed are also virtually unlimited. It is a well-known fact that for the price of one dollar a day the citizen of any western country can support one needy individual in many Third World countries who would otherwise face the risk of almost inevitable death from hunger and disease. 
Even though the dream of a “Welfare World” has been around for quite a long time, so far we haven’t managed to resolve this pressing issue. Most of us suppose that it is not our responsibility to worry about what is going on in some village in the Sudan. If we were responsible for that, the thinking goes, our government would introduce some sort of special tax for this purpose and if it was successful in “selling” this idea to the general public then we would comply. We don’t use our conscience to decide on a personal level whether we really need to have some extra treat rather than use those dollars to save someone else’s life halfway around the world. 
Most of us consider ourselves to be moral beings. According to some thought-provoking statistics only slightly over ten percent of North Americans believe that they will end up in hell. The question then arises as to why on the one hand we watch hour after hour of terrifying reports from all over the world and on the other hand do virtually nothing to provide help.
Why is the media overwhelming us with images of corpses, dying children, and other truly dreadful scenes? Apparently, these images are used to attract our attention, during prime time especially, in order to maximize advertising profits for the broadcasting networks. 
We are peacefully having dinner and watching TV. Between the main course and dessert we observe dead bodies floating along the streets after a tsunami or a bunch of dismembered corpses after a terrorist attack and all these images assail us day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. These were the first images that met us on TV in our tender years and these will be the last images we will witness in some sort of nursing home. Why is that? Why has death become an entertainment, some sort of horrific hors d’oeuvre? 
As we have mentioned earlier, most of us don’t realize how strongly we are influenced by the images we see on TV. Sometimes we can’t distinguish between the images of real violence and death we see on TV and those we encounter in fiction, which can also be filled with bloody scenes. We employ all sorts of protective mechanisms to cope with exposure to these distressing images. And just as we have learned to consider what we see in the movies as simply not real, we easily extrapolate our feeling of non-reality to real scenes of violence. It must be admitted that the movies have managed to execute certain shots with such a degree of realism that the actual news fades in contrast. So in a situation where reality is less dramatic than fiction, we can easily employ our coping mechanisms. 
Many people would claim that the media plays a very small role in their lives, and that even if they do spend long hours in front of the TV it affects neither their behavior nor their state of mind. If this were really true we would have witnessed a spectacular downfall of the news/entertainment industry, because people simply would stop watching television and therefore halt their contributions to the advertising campaigns which provide the financial support for this controversial area of modern life. 
We react to these scenes of violence and aggression on a physiological level. Our heart rate along with our blood pressure rises slightly, which means that we are constantly experiencing stress whether we realize it or not. It is hard to say at what point such stress contributes to the development of different pathologies in our psychological and physiological systems. When we experience threatening situations, like acts of violence or dead bodies, we have subconscious urges to respond by fleeing or fighting, and this is what stress is about. Adrenalin is a stress hormone that helps us to decide what we are going to do in a stressful situation, and watching contemporary TV programs certainly causes us to experience a slight but steady overproduction of adrenalin. It would be the same if we were given a certain dose of pharmacological poison every time we switched on the TV, but in the case of just watching TV we are spared the destructive psychological influences.
We possess complex psychological systems that allow us to cope with different sorts of stress. We use them in cases where we become subject to feelings of tension and stress—for example, the cognitive dissonance and potential shame of doing or not doing something outside our values. To handle this discomfort we use various coping mechanisms. Watching news almost always creates such feelings, because normal moral beings cannot quietly and joyfully consume a hamburger while viewing some one dying of hunger. We can deal with this only by using some of the following psychological defenses: 
One of the simplest mechanisms that can help us to solve the problem is avoidance. We can mentally or physically avoid something that causes distress. We can either change the channel or try not to look at the TV screen during certain problematic moments or, even better, avoid watching the news altogether. But as with any other inefficient defense mechanism this approach cannot solve the problem, because complete withdrawal from modern reality can hardly be considered the behavior of a normal individual. 
Another way of dealing with this problem is compartmentalization. We can separate conflicting thoughts into separated mental compartments; for example, we might view eating a hamburger as having nothing to do with dying children so we treat these issues separately. This is probably the most frequent solution that we employ. By doing so, we avoid the possible internal conflict within our conscience that might naturally occur if we weren’t separated by a TV screen from the child dying of hunger. 
But as a result of such compartmentalization we may experience conversion: the subconscious conversion of stress into physical symptoms. Unexplained headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and other so-called non-specific minor symptoms can have their roots in such defense mechanisms as conversion. 
Another popular choice is denial. By refusing to acknowledge that an event has occurred we try to brush off the problem, which can be difficult, especially if you have a large-screen TV and the dying child appears life-size and couldn’t be more real even if he was in the same room with you and your half-eaten hamburger.
If all these defense mechanisms don’t work for us than we might use displacement, which means the shifting of an intended action to a safer target. Instead of going with our hamburger to board a plane heading to Sudan we might decide to sponsor a child through one of the charity organizations, which are in fact doing a great job, although obviously not with complete efficiency or in sufficient numbers because we still can observe dying children on TV. If such defense mechanisms were to really work for all of us, we could actually solve the problem and on the next day enjoy the daisies aired on TV rather than pictures of horror. 
 
Another way of dealing with threatening or disturbing news is dissociation, which allows us to separate ourselves from this part of our life. We try to convince ourselves that this event has nothing to do with us, and that is how we actually leave all these horrors and persist in sinking into the fantasy that all this is so far away that it virtually doesn’t exist.
We might use idealization by trying to play up the good points and ignore the limitations of the things desired. For example, we might say to ourselves that if such scenes are being aired this must mean that public attention has been drawn to the issue and as of this moment everything will be done to provide all needed help and to prevent such horrors happening again.
Another way to cheat our conscience is intellectualization. This is most often attributed to the mind’s ability to think scientifically or philosophically. Using intellectualization as a defense mechanism involves avoiding uncomfortable emotions by focusing on facts and logic. We might argue that in nature there are certain mechanisms of natural selection that are still working even in human society, and that people have always been dying of hunger in various places and by feeling bad about that and depriving yourself of a modest supper which consists of that ill-fortuned hamburger won’t help anyone. We might check out world statistics and argue that children have always died of hunger and disease, and as a matter of fact the mortality rates in medieval Europe were probably higher than in modern-day Sudan. Every nation has to overcome certain periods of ups and downs, and who knows what is going to happen to us with all the potential catastrophes, both natural and man-made, that await us in the future. Since it is reasonable to expect a certain degree of reciprocity, will this make the Sudanese do something to help us out, or is it more probable that we will be left alone to die?
By taking this path we are getting close to another mechanism of psychological defense, rationalization, by which we create logical reasons for problematic situations. We might say these Sudanese people should take the blame for what is happening to them, because they are lazy and arrogant. If we were to stop working we would also start dying of hunger, so there is nothing we can do to help them because no matter how hard we try they will still find a way to stay in a most miserable state of life, because from their perspective it is perfectly normal. It is the same as trying to improve the life conditions of gorillas in the African jungle. We might say that some wild nations have just recently restrained themselves from cannibalism and who knows if they are really determined to keep up with this restriction? Could you have imagined that our reflections on our half-eaten hamburger would bring us to a discussion of cannibalism? To put it simply, they are dying of hunger because they have ceased to eat one other. Of course we won’t express such thoughts in public, but we have to admit that some of us are likely to think this way.
The weakest among us would use repression by subconsciously hiding uncomfortable thoughts that sooner or later will find their way back into our lives unexpectedly, impacting our psychological and physical health.
But the worst of all possible mechanisms of defense is trivialization, where we try making something small that is really something big: for example, when we think of dying children as something trivial and unimportant. 
Only rare individuals like Bill and Melinda Gates, who provide financial support to African nations in amounts comparable to the efforts of the World Health Organization, can quietly deal with their consciences with no need of inefficient defense mechanisms. But still such people will have the problem of consuming that previously-mentioned hamburger while viewing dying children, no matter how hard they try to help hunger and disease in the ill-fated parts of the word.
We have looked in great detail at the defense mechanisms that help us to avoid doing certain things that our conscience is pushing us to do. Now it is time to examine the opposite situation, the one where some of us do things that our conscience would normally object to. 
If we consider modern cinematography as a means of learning about the ways members of our society think and act, we can draw the following conclusions:
Positive characters usually will rob a bank if they think they have a good chance of avoiding being caught. They can also kill, but of course such killings should be justified by aggressive actions on the part of the victim. Often these killings happen unwillingly and by default should be blamed on the victim himself, although we generally don’t see evidence for any traces of regret for the murdered negative characters. 
Endings where the lead characters live ‘happily ever after’ in a paradisiacal situation somewhere on the coast of a warm sea, far from the country where the benign crime has taken place, are the norm in most movies.
 In other movies we witness numerous less grave offences that are attributed to the positive characters like cheating, deceiving, stealing, and abusing others physically and verbally, and all these along with more serious crimes are considered to be ‘normal’ behavior. It is assumed that the viewer understands that such exaggerations are made in order to enhance the main idea of the movie as a creation of art. As a matter of fact, human behavior is almost entirely based on following the behavioral patterns of other people and whether we like it or not, we are forced to accept almost on a subconscious level the imposed stigmas of behavior we witness in so-called ‘creations of art’. Another problem is the fact that most viewers don’t possess the ability to view critically and such antisocial behaviors as the ones above are becoming deeply imprinted, not only on the subconscious but on the conscious level as well. 
This situation creates another type of stress, because we are becoming a sort of battle ground between the standard norms of social behavior and the impulses to act unsociably that are rooted in these works of art. How can a decent clerk come to work in a bank the day after he has watched a movie where other decent bank clerks robbed the bank and blamed it on their despised manager, whose only reason to be despised was that he demanded that his clerks follow the bank procedures. These formerly decent clerks then live happily ever after, enjoying their fortune stolen from the evil bank which is considered such only because it pays them low wages.
There are so many other movies that proudly present criminal behaviors as an example to follow. The most common official explanation is that movies present ideas that the life of the average individual is not ‘good enough’ or ‘leaves a lot to be desired’. In movies, characters go to outrageous measures to change their circumstances. Viewers watching such movies are entertained by the notion of change, and fantasize about going to the extremes that they see in the movies in order to change their own lives.
 
Instead of teaching the viewer how to succeed in his own life or finding a way to entertain the viewer with some sort of positive moral message, these movies create a constant feeling of dissatisfaction in the general public. Along with the destructive influence of televised news mentioned here the overall impact of the media in general can be devastating in terms of creating fertile soil for the depression and anxiety disorders that feed the pharmaceutical industry and encourage its production of antidepressants. 
According to “Depression Facts and Stats” by Bob Murray and Alicia Fortinberry from January 15, 2005, “depression is one of the greatest problems and killers of our time.” Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults in a given year or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older.
Everyone will at some time in their life be affected by depression—their own or someone else's. Preschoolers are the fastest growing market for antidepressants. At least four percent of US preschoolers—over a million children—are clinically depressed. The rate of increase for depression among children is an astounding 23%. p.a. 15% of the population of most developed countries suffers severe depression;.30% of women are depressed, but 41% of depressed women are too embarrassed to seek help.
Please note that according to the same source, 15% of depressed people will commit suicide! Depression will be the second largest killer after heart disease by 2020, and studies show that depression is also a contributory factor to fatal coronary disease. [1]
The main causes of short-term depression are agreed to be caused by loss or extreme trauma when little or nothing can be done to prevent such unfortunate occurrences, which are likely to be a part of the individual’s life for quite a long time to come. We are talking about successful Western countries where acts of war and repressive human laws are rare, although even here things are not as simple as they seem to be.
As a matter of fact, according to polls published in Le Figaro on September 24, 2005, in the article “Le bonheur en équation” (“The Happiness in Equation”) by Gilles Denis, in answer to the question, “Are you satisfied with your life?” people in France were less satisfied than people in Ghana! This shows that a well developed economy does not necessarily serve as a decisive factor in people’s happiness.
Chronic or life-long depression can be caused by trauma in childhood, which includes: emotional, physical or sexual abuse; yelling or threats of abuse; neglect (even with two parents working); criticism; inappropriate or unclear expectations; maternal separation; conflict in the family; divorce; family addiction; violence in the family, neighborhood or on TV; racism; and poverty.[2]
If we analyze the above list of causes of long- term depression we can see that we might want to re-order them according to their cause and effect relationships.
Confusing, frustrating, and stressful media that is mainly delivered through TV may increase the odds of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. There is hard proof that violence on the screen increases violence in the community, and we will present appropriate statistics later in this book. 
What is not caused by abusive behavior on TV is often caused by mixed messages coming from the movies that present moral double standards and ultimately create inappropriate or unclear expectations which in their turn complete the list of causes of depression.
So, as the above statistics indicate, besides all these negative effects the media actually kills some of its viewers by causing depression and substantially increasing the rate of suicide. 
Why is this done? Is there some kind of conspiracy that stands behind what is aired on television? It is a commonly-known fact that children spend close to 20 hours per week watching TV. Many adults are engaged in the same activity with a comparable number of hours. During the cold war we might have suspected that the KGB was somehow trying to destabilize Western society by bribing the media and making them work for the Communists. Who are we going to blame today? Are the radical Islamists making us air nudity? Or are the North Koreans trying to corrupt our youth? 
Apparently we have no one to blame but ourselves. It all starts with the deteriorating morals of individuals who wouldn’t employ their conscience as a guide for their deeds. Our well-developed society with its schools and prisons is educating the general populace in such a way that we barely need to employ any of our conscience, and therefore we end up with blind monsters like our modern media that corrupt our babies and push us to a suicidal path. 


[1] http://www.upliftprogram.com/depression_stats.html, October 5, 2006.
[2] http://www.upliftprogram.com/depression_stats.html, October 5, 2006.


© Copyright 2017 Bruce Kriger. All rights reserved.

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