Author Topic: Western disasters are worse  (Read 606 times)

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Offline magicmiles

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Western disasters are worse
« on: April 16, 2013, 10:16:51 PM »
In the wake of the tragedy in Boston I'm reminded again of something that bugs me from time to time.

Why does a terrorist attack in a 'western' country like the USA attract so much more attention than a similar attack in, for instance, an African nation. A plane crash killing 5 in some countries is front page news but a storm killing 100 in Bangladesh barely gets a mention.

Does it mean that those in charge of news distribution accurately forecast that we are more interested in deaths in countries similar to our own than we are deaths in countires with cultures we don't relate to?

If so, does that trouble you at all? It troubles me. It makes me wonder how I've got to the point where I seemingly value some lives above others.

What do you think?
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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2013, 02:38:37 AM »
Does it mean that those in charge of news distribution accurately forecast that we are more interested in deaths in countries similar to our own than we are deaths in countires with cultures we don't relate to?

Almost certainly.  And I'm pretty sure that it is universally the case.  My next-door neighbour getting brutally murdered has a lot more impact on me that someone being murdered in exactly the same way ten thousand miles away.

In similar vein, someone I love - my daughter, for example - suffering tragedy means more to me than someone I don't know suffering in the same way.

And yes - I think that DOES mean that we value some lives above other lives.  But I'm not convinced that is a bad thing.  So long as we still value life, all life, to some degree. 

Someone who truly valued every single life the same would be an unreliable friend.  He'd never appear to pick you up because someone he didn't know who had a slightly more pressing need would be taking up his time.  If he heard of someone needing a kidney, he would be persuading his children to donate theirs (after he'd first given all of his spare organs away on day 1).  And he would almost certainly be living on the street with no possessions or money because he would have given everything away to people who need it more.

Is any of that really bad?  Hmm.  What I DO know is that we HAVE to rank people in some way, in order to live something even approaching a "normal" life.  And provided that our ranking doesn't lead to great harm to those lower down in the order, I don't see it as a worryingly bad thing.
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Offline magicmiles

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2013, 03:05:59 AM »
Does it mean that those in charge of news distribution accurately forecast that we are more interested in deaths in countries similar to our own than we are deaths in countires with cultures we don't relate to?

Almost certainly.  And I'm pretty sure that it is universally the case.  My next-door neighbour getting brutally murdered has a lot more impact on me that someone being murdered in exactly the same way ten thousand miles away.

In similar vein, someone I love - my daughter, for example - suffering tragedy means more to me than someone I don't know suffering in the same way.

What I described goes a bit beyond that, though. I can understand prioritising those dear to us. I do it consciously.

But it seems that, possibly unconsciously, we attribute more value to those who lead similar lives to us, not just to those we have personal involvement with. Before the tragic facts started to come through, for all we knew those killed in Boston might have been wife-beating child molesterere. But because they were in a western country, their sudden death was somehow more shocking than if they had been running the Mozambique Marathon.

Or so it seems, anyway.


What I DO know is that we HAVE to rank people in some way, in order to live something even approaching a "normal" life.  And provided that our ranking doesn't lead to great harm to those lower down in the order, I don't see it as a worryingly bad thing.

I hear that.

But I'm not sure how succesfully we're achieving it. Our 'normal' life consists of absolute luxury when compared to a huge percentage of the world's population. I have no doubt that the reason I do enjoy such luxury is that so much of the worlds population has no choice but to work for tiny wages producing the materials used to provide the luxury.

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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2013, 04:52:14 AM »
I can understand prioritising those dear to us. I do it consciously.

But it seems that, possibly unconsciously, we attribute more value to those who lead similar lives to us, not just to those we have personal involvement with. Before the tragic facts started to come through, for all we knew those killed in Boston might have been wife-beating child molesterere. But because they were in a western country, their sudden death was somehow more shocking than if they had been running the Mozambique Marathon.

Again, I think that's only natural.  As a white, male, 40-something living in the West, I identify more with the death (or whatever) of other white Western 40-something males than I do with old black women living in Africa, or teenage asian girls living in China.  It's just the way we're made, and I don't think feeling something more for those who are ostensibly similar to us makes us bad people, provided that we're not saying that we don't care at ALL about those who lead dissimilar lives.


What I DO know is that we HAVE to rank people in some way, in order to live something even approaching a "normal" life.  And provided that our ranking doesn't lead to great harm to those lower down in the order, I don't see it as a worryingly bad thing.

I hear that.

But I'm not sure how succesfully we're achieving it. Our 'normal' life consists of absolute luxury when compared to a huge percentage of the world's population. I have no doubt that the reason I do enjoy such luxury is that so much of the worlds population has no choice but to work for tiny wages producing the materials used to provide the luxury.

If it bothers you, do something!  (And I'm saying that nicely).  If you feel that your life is supported by workers in other countries, don't buy those goods.  Boycott the companies.  Write to tell them.  Sign petitions.  Sponsor a child.  The fact that it bothers you at all you should take as a good sign - it means you aren't callously and amorally living off others without giving a toss.
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
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Offline Nick

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2013, 06:04:48 AM »
Because we value American life more than others.
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Offline Graybeard

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2013, 06:35:34 AM »
Not to be offensive, but I value British lives more. There was a headline in "The Times" "Earthquake in Chile, No Britains Hurt." and that sums it up.

We are not bothered when we hear that X Afghanis have been killed by a stray rocket - after all, that's what happens to Afghanis, right? The fact that it was women and children is just irritating - we wanted it to be Al-Qaida leaders or at least Taliban, didn't we? - so better luck next time. Of course, we understand that there are unavoidable deaths and maiming in war... except, of course, if they are our people, then we should seek out and unmercifully destroy all those involved and anyone (inc. women, children, the elderly) in and around the area.

We are human, and that's what humans do.
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Offline kindred

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2013, 01:13:52 AM »
Isn't that just a matter of logistics? You can create objectively more shit to help with shit if you prioritize shit thats close.

Helping your countrymen amounts to less wasted resources on logistics like transportation, politics getting in the way, scheduling conflicts etc., whereas helping people in a faraway country wastes a ton of resources just getting your shit there. You have to spend a f*ckton on airplanes, customs, even more political positioning, even more scheduling conflicts, cultural conflicts & misunderstandings etc.
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Offline Azdgari

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2013, 03:46:36 AM »
Isn't that just a matter of logistics? You can create objectively more shit to help with shit if you prioritize shit thats close.

Shit that's close, and that involves people who are more cooperative.  This makes sense.
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Offline Quesi

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2013, 05:16:19 AM »
What a HUGE topic MM.  Thank you so much for bringing it up.

As someone who does not believe that a shiny afterlife is awaiting anyone, I am driven to value every single human life as precious.  Obviously, I suffer more when someone I love dies, than when someone I don't know dies.  As a New Yorker, I suffered more in the aftermath of 9/11 than I did after the subsequent attacks in Europe and the South Pacific.  That is human nature.

But perhaps an even larger question is the why we continue to be capable of ignoring the impact that our life decisions have on the rest of humanity.  And a Bangladeshi storm is  a poignant example of our ability to fail to acknowledge our contributions to the pain and suffering of others. 

Climate change, which is a result of "first world" overconsumption, is devastating huge percentages of humanity.  Drought in the Sudan, and flooding in Bangladesh are really easy to ignore.  Climate refugees look so different from "us."  They are dirty and hungry and they have a desperation that is so far from our own life experiences, that we cannot identify with them.  We can't, or won't empathize.

And we certainly don't believe that these suffering masses have anything to do with us.  But humanity is all connected.  And in this case, my lifestyle, and your lifestyle, have contributed to this suffering.

A friend of mine posted this video on facebook a while back. 

 

When sweatshop workers die to bring my daughter her sneakers, or bring me my favorite jeans, I have contributed to their deaths.  When corporate farming displaces folks who used to be subsistence farmers, in order to cultivate the coffee I'm drinking as I write, I am responsible for the malnutrition of the children of those farm families.  When wars break out to control the mines that provide the metals that inhabit the innards of my cell phone, it is my demand for these metals that contributes to the death of the people in those wars.

We are all connected. 

Need to get my daughter up and to the bus.  But I have a LOT to say on this topic. 

Online Mrjason

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2013, 05:17:18 AM »
I think we are more interested in things close to home but that doesn't mean that we don't care.[1]
The problem is that when reporting things that aren't close to home errors do creep in which can be embarrassing- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2306182/Margaret-Thatcher-dead-Taiwan-CTi-Cable-uses-footage-Queen-Thai-Channel-5-uses-Meryl-Streep-picture.html so a lot of news channels steer clear unless it's something massive
 1. Most (if not all) western governments give aid for disaster relief and development to countries outside of the west.

Online Mrjason

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2013, 05:30:31 AM »
Quesi, I do totally agree with you but we have to be sooo careful when trying to help.

I think its difficult for the west not to come across as patronising when trying to do the right thing

I LOVE this article - http://www.dailytimes.com.ng/opinion/covering-africa%e2%80%99s-rear
This is pretty funny too - http://www.africafornorway.no/

Offline screwtape

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2013, 08:18:02 AM »
I am driven to value every single human life as precious. 

I understand the principle, and it is a very nice, rational principle.  But I do not honestly feel it.   I don't see most of my co-workers as precious.  Suffice it to say, I do not feel any kind of connection to some random guy in Uzbekistan, let alone see him as precious.  And don't get me started on China.

I buy into the idea of monkey spheres.
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Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #12 on: April 18, 2013, 09:03:19 AM »
Do keep in mind, as we discuss this unequal treatment of death, that much of what we are reacting too is stories from the news media. And those news sources are mostly for-profit institutions. Which means that they are defining what sells. The closer the dead, the better.

Of course that is not the only factor in mm's question. We Americans are indeed culturally brainwashed (via media and other sources) to value American lives more than others. Hence I probably react more vicerally to a disaster in Miami than I do in Vancouver, BC, which is far closer, physically.

Related to that is this: the American media to which we inhabitants are exposed to incredibly prejudiced for America and ignores the rest of the world in general. Any foreign visitor to the US will tell you how shocked they are about the dearth of news we are given about the rest of the world, if we rely on American sources. I certainly became more aware of the global situation with the advent of the Internet and the sudden availabliity of the Guardian and the Paris Match and the Jerusalem Post and The Times of India, sources I had never had before. Not that I read them daily, but at least now when I hear of a major calamity elsewhere, at least I can find sources that aren't quite as interested in addicting me to Pepsi.

I can't speak for others, but I am not immune to tragedy elsewhere. When US drones killed 60+ schoolchildren in one attack, I was stunned and shocked. However, I have to admit the killings in Connecticut stunned and shocked me more. Which means that not only do I have prejudices, but that I see a difference between military-caused deaths and those caused by madmen. When there isn't always such a difference.

Of course we are also always up against this reality: How much can one person take in, shock-wise. I don't think that many could react with equal shock/horror/disgust at the news of a local disaster and one halfway around the world that were otherwise equal in scope. An earthquake killing 100 people where I live would certainly affect me differently than an earthquake killing 100 in Iran. I do not have enough cellular matter in my body to call them both equal and survive.

One more factor. The aforementioned money-grubbing media reports disasters that 50 years ago would go practically unnoticed. In the sixties, I was exposed to 15 minute news programs on TV and one local newspaper. And there was nobody to teach me that everybody mattered. And since we won our revolution, I was not part of the world-wide empire of a European nation.

mm's question is a good one. We should all ask it. But the blame for our shortcomings has a wide range of reasons. Some need to be addressed personally, such as prejudices. Others socially, such as suck-ass news sources.
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Offline The Gawd

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #13 on: April 21, 2013, 08:44:53 AM »
It disgusts me to no end MM. Personally, unless its someone I know, I dont put US deaths over Afghan deaths. I cant lie, the people who die that werent targeted by our attacks, but happened to be there weigh heavily on my conscious because I feel like I buy these weapons of mass destruction with my payroll tax. Sadly I dont even have an option to vote for someone who wont kill other people willy nilly.

And I'll be even more honest. I see stuff like this along color lines. For instance I dont think we would have EVER dropped an atomic bomb on Germany. But Japan, why not, they dont look like us... But there in lies the problem, I dont look like the people who made the choice, and I also see the same thing on a smaller scale here at home.

Until we can start seeing EVERYONE as people just like ourselves, I will probably be disgusted.

Offline LoriPinkAngel

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #14 on: April 21, 2013, 09:56:02 PM »
bm
It doesn't make sense to let go of something you've had for so long.  But it also doesn't make sense to hold on when there's actually nothing there.

Offline Odin

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #15 on: April 22, 2013, 05:49:59 AM »
Why does a terrorist attack in a 'western' country like the USA attract so much more attention than a similar attack in, for instance, an African nation. A plane crash killing 5 in some countries is front page news but a storm killing 100 in Bangladesh barely gets a mention.

I also believe that familiarity breeds complacency, somewhat.  You could prepare the following headline for any days' newspapers in the US or UK, and most folks would not give it a thought:

"A suicide bomber killed [himself/herself] and [XX] others, including women and children, yesterday in [Iraq, Afghanistan]."

"Palestinian rockets were fired into Israel today from the [West Bank/Gaza Strip] killing [XX].  Israel retaliated by attacking and killing [XX] suspected Palestinian soldiers."

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Offline Jag

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #16 on: April 22, 2013, 12:17:59 PM »
BM
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Offline mrbiscoop

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Re: Western disasters are worse
« Reply #17 on: April 22, 2013, 04:41:33 PM »
Tribalism.
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