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Shin: The danger of instantaneous indifference towards violence

Heiwon Shin, Columnist

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While giving a speech in Seoul on Thursday, Mark Lippert, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, was injured after an assailant slashed him with a knife. Media reports have said the attacker was opposed to U.S. military involvement in Korea. The assailant, who identified himself asKim Ki-jong, blamed the United States for interrupting Korean reunification. He already has records of attacks on foreign ambassadors: In 2010, Kim threw a concrete block at the Japanese ambassador to Korea.

When I first saw the news, I was caught by surprise because I live so close to the political district of Seoul, where the closest we usually get to “violence” is active but peaceful protest. Although these protests are hardly ever dangerous, Thursday’s terrorist act happened at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, which I pass by several times a day back home. I just couldn’t believe it.

In light of all the recent terrorism and violence around the world, I started wondering whether beliefs have become more violent or if the manifestations of beliefs have become more violent — or a combination of both.

I thought about this for a minute or two. Then I went back to Facebook, YouTube and my homework and returning to my own business. That’s when it occurred to me that perhaps the structure of modern information consumption and expression could be a potentially overlooked source and platform of violence — the type we don’t frame as “violence” per se.

We now live in the culture of “the instant” — instantaneous fame, instantaneous news and because of all the numbing provocations, instantaneous indifference or forgetfulness.

I initially thought that maybe people’s short attention spans cause people to express more extreme opinions in an effort to grasp on longer to the attentions of less publicly opinionated people and actually change other people’s thoughts or behaviors. Then I considered the possibility that because people who bother to voice their opinions visibly and audibly are the extremely opinionated, we naturally become surrounded by more poignant sets of views that in turn influence us. Although we may think that the extremely opinionated are dangerous because we can clearly see their thoughts and actions, the extremely non-opinionated can too be dangerous — if not more — because they are not visible. They are bystanders who may not only propel extremism from the extremely opinionated but also stand aside, watching and not caring about anything.

I wonder if the most dangerous of all is the instantaneous indifference or forgetfulness.

Consuming the news — the instantaneous kind — and quickly consuming other things could be a key cause of such instantaneous indifference or forgetfulness. We try to find patterns in the news and look for the absolute newest content because the moment we consume the “news,” it quickly becomes not new any more. The content of the news becomes almost secondary and soon negligible because my act is focused more on constant newness of the consumption.

I hate to admit it, but deep down I know I have pre-construed notions of what patterns of news I will encounter. I expect suicide bombers, ISIS terrorist acts, people suffering in places that seem “foreign” to me. The more we see events that fit into the templates we have created, we merely reaffirm our templates and move on. The reason I spent more time on the news of the attack on the U.S. ambassador to Korea is that it was a little out of that template because Korea to me is not where I expect such terrorist violence.

The recent attack made me realize how instantly blinded I have become to all the violence around me. I may be one of the many who quickly drift onto the next new headline. I don’t know what’s more violent: the actual violence itself or the subconscious acceptance, anticipation and ignoring of the violence.

Heiwon Shin is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at heiwonshin2017@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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