Writers and Violence: Our obligation to at least wonder if there’s anything we can do

I have written the first draft of the article describing the publishing panel at the LitFest in Anguilla last weekend, an event that seems somewhat seminal to me – situated as it was amid the mudslide of turmoil that surrounds the impact of electronic technology on our industry. So it is taking me a while to write that post. But today did not seem like the right day to be polishing sentences. After several days of relative isolation from the news online, and the shock of coming back to it, I felt I needed to stop and think about the bigger picture for a moment.

Today in Seattle, a gunman killed five people and himself. Here in Toronto, a young man shot another at a subway station after an altercation on the train. These are just two senseless incidents of violence out of thousands I could report from today’s headlines alone that have not only affected the hearts and minds of those immediately concerned, but aroused the horror of bystanders and online readers and viewers everywhere.

A few days ago, a drugged-up man in Miami ate the face off another man, and was shot to death by police on camera. A man in Montreal killed another man, chopped him up, put his torso in a suitcase and a few of his other body parts in packages and mailed them to innocent recipients: the murder scene is now open for public viewing. A couple in England has been charged with setting fire to their home and killing their six children. A young woman in Sudan is about to be stoned to death for adultery.

It makes me wonder if there is any justification at all for sitting around and writing stories. We should be doing something more constructive. Jackie Chan is starting to look like the only sane person in the news.

On the other hand, the eminent and distinguished speakers at the conference last weekend seemed to be fairly unanimous that it is the loss of story/heritage that leads to a lot of this insanity, drug abuse, and senseless violence. We must give people back their voices, and we must tell our stories. This new publishing era is certainly facilitating that.

But I think at the very least the endless endless horrific headlines should make us, as writers, think about our ethical responsibility to push away the chaos, instead of adding to it.

Along with talent, growing expertise at writing, the universal ability to publish whatever we want to say, and our increasingly fevered and competitive efforts to reach (i.e., capture) audiences, comes responsibility. That’s all I’m saying here.

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June 6, 2012: Adding a link to PEN International, and one to Amnesty International. We can at least write letters.