Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

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.


Don Quixote said...

For research into the relationship between single vs. multiple deaths and people's reactions, see:

Once again, on the matter of using the power of human imagination for compassionate causes, see J.K. Rowling's 2008 commencement address at Harvard.

mojrim said...

Didn't Stalin say something about statistics vs. tragedies?

Don Quixote said...

Here's a rather lengthy article on the subject:

The conclusion seems to be that many people have said such things; it can't be directly attributed to Stalin. But it does seem to be a reality in a world of rampant cynicism and ignorance.

Don Quixote said...

While we're discussing this, I have to say that when I think of the Thai boys being rescued, of which I'm glad, I don't have any major emotional reaction. But I do wake up with a sickness in my gut each morning when I think of the latest move Shitler has taken to consolidate his hold on the presidency--or at least to evade prison. I never would have imagined, even having been an American for 57 years, that a self-styled "Mafia Don" who seeks to intimidate because of the fear at his core would be running this country into the ground as he seeks loyalty from each of his appointees, with the cooperation of the Mitch McConnells of the world, at the cost of our Republic. It is beyond sickening to watch my country being dismantled by traitors.

Anonymous said...

Somewhat off topic but worldwide abject poverty has been drastically reduced since the nineties. Thought you'd be interested.