We cannot bear to witness a set of circumstances that remain private and resistant to our obsessive compulsion to know all and pass judgment.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
The late philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm wrote in the 50s that if prevailing trends that put economic production before human engagement continued, we would all eventually occupy a dangerously unbalanced society, peopled by alienated individuals living atomised existences, lacking in empathy, quick to judge because judgment by others is always anticipated, equipped with “the greatest material power without the wisdom to use it”. What might halt the march to misery, he argued idealistically in The Sane Society, was sharing experience, living by “love, reason and faith”.
Certainly, in the decades since then, aided more recently by the instant opinionator Twitter, blogs and social networks, our inclination to judge, critique, analyse, blame and scorn, often on the basis of next to no knowledge, has grown incrementally. We are propelled like narcissistic toddlers in a permanent state of tantrum to place ourselves in the centre of the dramas, scandals and terrible tragedies of total strangers. We cannot bear to witness a set of circumstances that remain private and resistant to our obsessive compulsion to know all and pass judgment, no matter what the consequences to the sometimes random recipients of blame.
On Friday, Jacintha “Jess” Saldanha, a 46-year-old mother of two, is believed to have taken her own life. She had been duped by the prank phone call to the King Edward VII hospital, during the time the Duchess of Cambridge was a patient. The call was made by Mel Greig and Michael Christian, two Australian DJs working for 2DayFM in Sydney, pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles. Mrs Saldanha had worked at the hospital as a nurse for four years and was living in its nursing accommodation. A family statement issued on Friday night said: “We as a family are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Jacintha.”
The hospital has spoken highly of Mrs Saldanha; the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have expressed their regret. However, much else that has been said and done since then displays an alarming lack of perspective and a malevolent desire to exact restitution on a scale that appears to minimise the plight of a family grieving for the loss of a mother, daughter, wife and sister in circumstances nobody yet can know – and may never know.
The two DJs have been threatened and abused on Twitter and accused of having “blood on their hands”. Much joy would be lost to the world if it was calculated every prank could possibly end in tragedy. The two are suspended from their radio station. The post-Leveson press are accused of hounding a woman in such a way that it might have contributed to her death. The hospital says Mrs Saldanha had not been disciplined over the call.
Some suicides do result in valuable lessons being learned and they require behaviour to be changed. A bullied child, say, or the desperate, overlooked mental health needs of a woman, or the death of a father who also kills his children, an act of terrible aggression, impotence and rage. Lessons may yet emerge from Mrs Saldanha’s apparent decision to kill herself, but when and if that should happen, that is the time, if required, for genuine culpability to be accorded. For now, the vindictiveness of much of the reaction is perhaps a small measure of just how alienated from our better selves so many of us have become.
• This article will not be opened to comments
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010