Monday, July 09, 2018
The rule of rescue
I've written about this before, but right now we have an extremely vivid example. The world has been riveted by the story of the 12 soccer players and their coach trapped in a cave in Thailand. As far as CNN and the rest of the corporate news media are concerned, this is the single most important story in the world right now.
Okay, it's dramatic. While this is going on, about 15,730 children under five years old die every single day, almost all of them from preventable causes. To be sure, the world has made a lot of progress on this in recent years. Child mortality fell from 93 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 41 in 2016. Still, it does seem rather odd to be obsessed over 12 kids while a couple of hundred thousand are dying completely unnoticed. (Child mortality is relatively rare in the United States and the other wealthy countries. Most of these deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.)
This is a quirk of human psychology. The plight of a few identifiable individuals, in clearly definable peril, attracts our attention and our compassion. Thousands of undifferentiated people, in more diffuse peril, we happily ignore.