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The depressing trend toward desensitization

William Rein

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Illustration by Miles Huffman

Maybe this is the only serious thing I’ll ever write.

I’m taking a child development class this semester, and last week we watched a videotaped live birth, with the stretching and blood and screaming and crying and every factor essential to escaping the uterus and entering a world of more contortion and blood and screaming.

At least half of my classmates grimaced or commented on the visual offensiveness of the tape.

A girl fainted, paramedics and all, just from viewing slides of placenta.

And it all made me wonder: What happened to my sensitivity?

Why can I stare into the gaping face of bodily discomfort and not feel anything? It’s not just because I lack a birth canal. It goes beyond that.

Why can I never feel any sort of foreboding, suspense or drama when watching a horror movie?

Why do simulated images of blood, guts and brutal death sequences elicit zero response, while my peers will gasp and shield their eyes? Why do real images of gore, savagery and murder not appall me?

Further, how can I, or anyone, look at images of starving children and not shed a tear? Death itself has become calculable, humans expendable and emotions secondary.

Why does the touch of a woman no longer enrapture me, no longer spark the same jubilation? Sex transformed from the exceptional and invigorating to the drab and predictable.

The world knows all this too.

My poetry disappeared sometime after junior year of high school. I was calling upon the gods of high emotion – maybe they wore thin or even broke, resulting in spiritual bankruptcy.

I think I lost it in the fourth grade, but I remember my innocence. In a sense. It included grievance and empathy, celestial pillars of the mythical human soul. Perhaps since, I’ve been propagandized by society to be a hard-ass.

I used to think this sort of dissociation was integral to my humanity, vital to my nihilist acumen and pioneer of my interactions with the world.

Now I’ve realized it’s just depressing — patheticism enriched by culture’s mechanical and limited focus.

It’s not just me.

Maybe humanity has become too practical, the only quality in the ethical universe I’ve ever considered virtuous, alongside efficiency. Perhaps my generation is the one where we all become mindless, frigid robots.

Maybe this is the epitome of giving up. One can only see so many old white men control the world before losing all faith in humanity.

Or maybe this is the invocation of sociopathy, and all pseudo-friendly experiences are quietive attempts at power play, devoid of gravity.

I find myself wondering if losing altruism is part of the human experience.

Or a trifle less profound than that – if it’s merely a factor in growing up.

William Rein can be reached at [email protected] or @toeshd on Twitter.

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The depressing trend toward desensitization