Monday, May 16, 2011

Did you have the urge to see Osama dead?

Got a Facebook account? 

Then you'll know all about the torrent of invitations to see photos of Osama bin Laden dead that have invaded the social networking site. I didn't take the bait. That was just as well, because those who did unleashed a Trojan message that invaded their friends'  list and posting itself on everyone else's walls, luring them to the trap of those "graphic photos". 

Monday and Tuesday, the debate raged over whether or not to publish the dead Osama pics. Today, the White House officially announced that they would not make the kill-shots public. Personally, I'm glad they made that decision, because I'm too squeamish for blood 'n guts. But, there are many others who want to see proof that global enemy #1 is actually dead, and still others who want to revel in his death.

Over 56 million Americans flipped on their TV sets to watch President Obama announce that Bin Laden had been laid to waste. Considering that it was almost midnight for many of them, that's a massive viewership. An episode of the wildly popular American Idol series "only" grabs about 25 million viewers. Even Obama's inauguration clocked in at under 50 million viewers. Americans seem obsessed with this story- and they want to see every detail. Obama himself (along with VP Biden and Secretary of State Clinton) purportedly watched the special forces' assault live.

What's with the American people and their urge to witness misfortune? Al Qaeda played on the American fixation with live TV when they slammed United flight 175 into the second of the Twin Towers in front of the disbelieving eyes of millions.

It's not only the Americans who harbour this urge to see it for themselves, it's a global phenomenon. Traffic backs up regularly on our roads as people "rubberneck" when passing car accidents. Online videos or photos of disasters clock up incredibly high hit rates (think of the Japanese tsunami footage). Even when we know that the images will traumatize us, we look anyway (like the recent Fogel family murder in Itamar, Israel). Right now, hundreds of Jews on "March of the Living" are visiting the most horrid places on Earth, Nazi concentration camps and mass graves. We don't suffice with reading reports, we insist on witnessing events personally.

Napolean, Hannibal and Alexander the Great successfully directed complex military campaigns over thousands of kilometres in foreign territory, relying on sketchy, dated information procured by scouts and couriers. Back then, you often heard news long after it had happened. The Talmud describes how the residents of Tur Malka in Israel celebrated victory over the Romans on one side of town, unaware that the Roman legions had destroyed the other side of town and were mere metres away from killing them all. 

Until the 20th century, you saw perhaps half a dozen significant events in your lifetime, possibly heard about double as many and remained blissfully unaware of most of what went on in the battles, famines or epidemics anyway further than 100km from home.

Our great-grandparents picked up stale stories in newspapers. Our grandparents heard somewhat fresh reports on the wireless. Our parents picked up the day's events during the 8 o' clock news on the Telly. We have access to a dazzling array of multimedia formats that stream directly onto the devices we carry in our pockets, so that we can be updated by the second.

Reality TV, streaming video, online cams and social networking have turned society voyeuristic. We expect to see. We enjoy seeing. We want to see. If we can't see, we feel robbed.

The classical model of study always relied on hearing. You heard a lecture or listened to a teacher and that was how you learned. Studying from a book would follow a similar cognitive process to hearing- taking in one byte of information at a time.

What you hear is never as real as what you see.

There is only one change that will occur when Moshiach comes. Instead of just hearing; we will start to see. We always hear about G-d and about how great He is, but we see a world that seems devoid of a Boss and a life that lacks meaning. We've heard all the religious rhetoric before, but what we see contradicts what we hear. Moshiach will usher in a time when we see differently. It will be a time when we see realities, rather than study concepts. Then we will see the whole picture and life will start to make sense. Then we won't have to rely on hearsay about what is and isn't true, who is or isn't right. We'll see it for ourselves.

Society is now primed for the Moshiach paradigm shift. We are the generation that won't settle for what they tell us, we want to see. Psychologically, we're there. The time has come for G-d to allow us to see what He's been hiding all this time.

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