Social psychologist Dr. Paul Slovic has conducted experiments to determine how and when people feel compassion. I’ll quote directly from Genocide Watch:
“In one experiment, psychologists asked ordinary Americans to contribute five dollars to feed Rokia, a starving seven year old girl in Mali. About half would donate the five dollars. The same percentage would donate to save Moussa, a little boy from Mali.
But when photos of both Rokia and Moussa were shown, the percent who would donate dropped to thirty percent. And when the photo of Rokia was shown representing 21 million hungry Africans who could be fed by a group of trusted relief organizations, the percentage who would donate dropped to less than ten percent.
Professor Slovic calls this phenomenon ‘psychic numbing.’ He believes human beings are usually unable to feel compassion for large numbers of people. The more victims, the less compassion.”
In a recent interview, George Clooney stated that for years he has tried to appeal to people’s hearts regarding the ongoing genocide in Darfur, but it hasn’t worked. He’s given up. So now he is going to appeal to various countries’ economic interests in the region, in hopes of getting these countries to intervene.
How could a man like George Clooney not get people interested? I assumed it was because there is just Too Much Shit going on in the world—we simply can’t care about it all. Now I’m wondering if maybe, as the study above suggests, we won’t care. Not until we hear a specific story (the “hook”), or until we can relate (there’s always the question of possible underlying racism), or until the horror is so beyond our realm of thinking that we can’t help but pay attention–e.g., The Holocaust.
A few weeks ago, I read an article about a Holocaust survivor who, every year, tours schools speaking about his ordeal. A particular quote struck me:
“We have to keep it alive so it doesn’t happen again,” a teacher at one of the schools said.
I hear this a lot. What do we mean when we say “it”? Six million specifically? Does the genocide have to be as efficient as the Nazi system—do the victims need to dig their own graves? Do engineers need to be involved, figuring the quickest way to exterminate millions of people? Does it have to be unique as well as horrific?
Because, in reality, genocide is occuring. Right now. Today. In various places around the world. And it has been occurring in every decade since World War II.
Children in OUR world are being forced to kill their own parents. They are being kidnapped, drugged, and turned into soldiers. Seven year olds. Ten year olds. Women and girls are being raped tonight, now, by men who burned their homes and killed their families. Millions have been, are being, murdered and displaced.
There’s a quote: Everything’s a circle. Nothing’s ever new.
Is that true?
- George Clooney discusses Darfur, oil prices in Houston (bizjournals.com)