November 22, 2008

Responsibility to Strangers

Take what I assumed was the popular opinion that suicide is a Very Bad Thing and should be prevented at all costs and put it in the blender.

This is what comes out. (Thanks to Lexie for finding it first.)

In addition to the BBC, here's the articles from The Times Online and Fox News, which both give more details.

Also, here's the young man's MySpace. Take a look at the comments (these aren't all that bad, for the most part) on the last blog entry.


It has to be the curiosity, or fear, of death that makes people want to watch that. We, as humans, want to know as much as we can about it, but only from a safe distance. After all, we're all going to have to face it sometime.

This also brings up personal responsibility. It's considered normal to care about the well-being of close friends and family, but almost no one feels obliged to do the same for strangers. So, I'm guessing the Internet has its own philosophy about suicide. It's the "screw him and his fucked up life" motto, or "not like I know/knew him," as opposed to "I should do everything I can to keep someone from committing suicide."

Years ago, when I was still happy and in middle school, personal responsibility to strangers came up as one of the themes of some now-forgotten book we were reading. The teacher purposed this question to the class: Person A walks by Person B who is homeless and begging in the streets. Does Person A have personal responsibility to Person B to help him?

Most of the class, as I recall, said that A was under no obligation whatsoever to give money, food, or some other kind of assistance to B. This was not really all that surprising- it's what all of them usually did when they came across homeless people.

OK. But in that scenario, B isn't dying- yet. What if A saw homeless B with a broken leg or hypothermia? Should he give him emergency treatment and bring him to the hospital?

The teacher didn't ask this question, so I don't know how my classmates would've responded. But something tells me that the answers would've changed. So why is the Internet any different? Is it because people don't know who to contact first? Or something else belonging to this slightly off-kilter culture?


  1. I'd suppose Gabriel's Greater Internet Fucktard theory theory explains it (anonymity + person = fuckwit). It's just so easy to foget that people over the internet are real human beings. Plus, people are inclinded to believe that anything over the internet is fake.

  2. Good answer, ZoriN!

  3. Good posting. (I also like ZoriN's formula: anonymity + person = fuckwit.)

    I am still amazed at how unthinking, uncompassionate and cruel people can be online. I believe that it IS the anonymity. Yes, there are people who are really rude and heartless in person. But I think that more people feel a sense of freedom to say/write things online that they wouldn't say to anyone's face.