Brian Philips observes how our sympathy arises only when we see abuse

by Mr. Sheehy

Really, of course, you watched one video: Rice’s. But these other cases exist. All of them, in overwhelming numbers. And yet when people get angry about Ray Rice, the other cases tend to slip through the cracks, replaced by outrages specific to football. Roger Goodell should lose his job. But if you’re angry enough to want Goodell fired, shouldn’t you be angry enough to think about the other victims of violence? To talk about them? The absence of footage, just as in Mixon’s assault of Amelia Molitor, doesn’t make them any less real. What we saw on the Rice tape was horrifying. But the moral failure wasn’t only Rice’s. It wasn’t only Goodell’s. It’s ours, too, if we can’t bring ourselves to sympathize except when we can see.

Brian Philips makes an important point about the nature of our attention and sympathy. This is different from the purported Stalin point about tragedy and statistics, as knowing the details about Rice’s action and seeing Rice’s action clearly engendered different responses.