In times past, the general public could only witness what they say directly or what media outlets produced on their shows. If something was deemed to risqué or too grotesque or too profane, most of us would never see it. This has all changed with the advent of the Internet.

While there are definite downsides, I believe that this change has been a great advance for global civilization. It might seem counter-intuitive how showing, for example, grotesque images could be good for civilization, but not if you take some time to consider it.

Take for instance, the recent Boston Marathon bombing. Two relatively small explosives set off in a busy area. Imagine this situation without the aid of photos from the bombing site. I don’t know about you, but to be honest, for me, it wouldn’t feel — feel being the key word here — extremely terrible if I didn’t see any images related to the attack. Even if you told me the death count and a list of terrible injuries, it wouldn’t feel as terrible as it truly is. I perhaps wouldn’t say this in order to not offend anyone, but if I’m honest with myself, I would just think, well, that’s terrible, but there have been much more terrible terrorist acts in order to justify the lack of sadness or horror I’d experience. This kind of erroneous thinking can only happen when someone is “spared” the genuinely horrific images of such a scene.

However, after seeing the grotesque image below, the abominable nature of this incident suddenly flowed over me.

Of course I know every bombing that has injuries that are terrible. However, it doesn’t matter how great of a writer you are, you will never create the same impact with words that this picture can create.


As much as we may like to think otherwise, we are visual creatures. Words can only say so much. Perhaps other people are more sensitive than me and can imagine the gruesomeness of a bombing much better and therefore feel empathy much more easily. That’s great for them; they don’t have to look at these images. I’m not arguing that anyone should be forced to see such images. I don’t have this skill, unfortunately and I don’t believe that I’m the only person who needs to see these kinds of pictures to get a greater understanding of the tragedy. And if I’m right about that, then it logically follows that we all should have access to any such images.

So, why do grotesque images make civilization better? Because they have the ability to instantly create a connection between the viewer and the victim — that is, empathy for the victims. Caring for strangers is one of the greatest achievements that modern civilization has achieved over our base instincts: many of us accept as our own people who may have very different DNA. There is one more step toward a empathetic global civilization: we need to expand this empathy beyond those who we personally encounter to all humans around the globe. This can only be fully achieved if we are allowed to see the great achievements and terrible sorrows of all people in some visual form. A decision to censor images or video of human suffering is therefore a decision to block empathy. Freedom from censorship is, in this way, the most humane decision.