November 23, 2005

What do you care?

Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent, was in Toronto tonight. He gave a passionate speech centered on the Western newsmedia’s complicity and complacency in misrepresenting the war on Iraq. His mixture of humour and horror leaves a strong impression on the listener. He manages to bring to life fairly abstract subjects such as the old and new crimes of the Western powers in the Middle East finally revisiting them in the form of terrorism, now and in the future. He should definitely not be missed if the opportunity to hear him presents itself.

His historical analysis is highly engaging. Possibly because of his great passion and humanity, though, and the fact that he has witnessed so much death and suffering, he seems to look in the human heart for a solution to the problems he identifies. I found him rather Dickensian in believing that if only enough people were made to care about the suffering of strangers, war would turn to peace. He seems to think the problem is that most people in the West just don’t care about people in other countries. I find this point of view inadequate. No-one really cares about the situation of people in other countries. In the same way that Americans, for example, don’t care about the suffering of Iraqis, Iraqis don’t care about the suffering of Americans... Heck, most of the time people don’t care about the suffering of their next-door neighbour, not to speak of the suffering of strangers on the other side of the world, except perhaps when a natural disaster strikes.

So I don’t think the problem is a dearth of caring. People need something they can personally connect and relate to before they can care. The case of natural disasters is a case in point. People who on a day to day basis have no comprehension, and hence no sympathy, for the daily suffering of a Latin American shanty-town dweller or a victim of military action, suddenly open up their purses, albeit briefly, when a natural disaster strikes. I think they can imagine, at least at the back of their mind, the same thing happening to them and how they would feel if it did happen to them. Normally, people justify the suffering of others to themselves, which allows them to disregard it. You know the usual line: people suffer because they are lazy, have been brought up badly, and so on. I think such people can be made to care if they see the absolute irrationality and futility of what is going on, that is, by taking all justifications away from them.

It is useless to try to raise anti-war sentiment in the US by appealing to people’s compassion. People, at best, have compassion for their own group. It is, therefore, much more useful to help them see the irrationality and futility of the suffering of members of their own group. For instance, by pointing out to them that although the war on Iraq is going nowhere, more and more American soldiers are getting killed by the enemies that they themselves have created, and that the Iraqi Resistance is growing stronger. One indication of this is the number of American soldiers that are getting killed by the action of so-called “improvised explosive devices” or IEDs, that is, “home-made” bombs, a resistance movement’s weapon of choice. The number has been steadily climbing since the beginning of the war.

The November 2005 figure is preliminary, and covers only the first 21 days of that month. At the current rate, the final November figure will probably exceed 50.

My other posts on related topics:
Unity, progress, and purpose
The Poodle's UNcle


crallspace said...

This is why we should draft Republicans. Then, they might wake up.

I have this theory that everyone who voted for Bush in 04 should have their wages garnished until the debt this monkey has rung up is paid off. Why should those of us who are 100% against him and his atrocious policies have to suffer?

Juggling Mother said...

I bet that chart doesn't get a lot of publicity in the US!

In the UK, if asked, the vast majority of people would say they are against the war & feel some sympathy towards the plight of the Iraqi's. But it doesn't directly affect us individually (not even enough military deaths to be noticeable to be honest) so we forget about it for 90% of the time.

Big natural disasters are platered all over the news, papers, talk shows etc 24/7 for a short while, so we get round to giving money. wars get boring quickly. It's not about caring, but about caring enough, at the right time, to do something a bout it.

we're basically lazy & apathetic unless we can see a direct benifit to ourselves! I'm sure this is true of all western societies.

Obob said...

I feel sorry for the innocent Iraqis who are butchered by the cowardly insurgents/invading horde who are massacring them to insure they do not have the right to vote, speak their minds, dress as they wish or even choose thier fate. I heard a very ignored fact the other day, insurgents in Iraq are being paid more as a result of the lack of recurits Z man and clan can recruit. From $50 a job to $2000 plus. Tells you a couple things, anyways, thanks for the time and take care

brainhell said...