Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Need to Combat Moral Numbness with Compassion & Clear Moral Argument

In a 5/10/07 NY Times piece, Nicholas Kristoff offers some disturbing thoughts on the moral decision processes of vast numbers of people:

"Time and again, we’ve seen that the human conscience just isn’t pricked by mass suffering, while an individual child (or puppy) in distress causes our hearts to flutter....Evidence is overwhelming that humans respond to the suffering of individuals rather than groups ....Even the right animal evokes a similar sympathy....after I began visiting Darfur in 2004, I was flummoxed by the public’s passion to save a red-tailed hawk, Pale Male, that had been evicted from his nest on Fifth Avenue in New York City. A single homeless hawk aroused more indignation than two million homeless Sudanese. Advocates for the poor often note that 30,000 children die daily of the consequences of poverty — presuming that this number will shock people into action. But the opposite is true: the more victims, the less compassion."

Kristoff calls our attention to a journal article by Paul Slovic of the University of Oregon. "'If I Look at the Mass I Will Never Act': Psychic Numbing and Genocide." The title of this journal article paraphrases an insight offered by Mother Teresa of Calcutta:


"Most people are caring and will exert great effort to rescue individual victims whose needy plight comes to their attention. These same good people, however, often become numbly indifferent to the plight of individuals who are 'one of many' in a much greater problem....

"In a deeply disturbing book titled A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, journalist Samantha Power documents in meticulous detail many of the numerous genocides that occurred during the past century, beginning with the slaughter of two million Armenians by the Turks in 1915....In every instance, American response was inadequate....media news coverage is similarly inadequate....the intense coverage of recent natural disasters stands in sharp contrast to the lack of reporting on the ongoing genocides in Darfur and other regions in Africa, in which hundreds of thousands of people have been murdered and millions forced to flee their burning villages and relocate in refugee camps....

"Images seem to be the key to conveying affect and meaning, though some imagery is more powerful than others....When it comes to eliciting compassion, the identified individual victim, with a face and a name, has no peer....Going beyond faces, names, and other simple images, writers and artists have long recognized the power of narrative to bring feelings and meaning to tragedy....nonfiction narrative can be just as effective....

"we need to create laws and institutions that will compel appropriate action when information about genocide becomes known....we cannot depend only upon our moral feelings to motivate us to take proper actions against genocide. That places the burden of response squarely upon the shoulders of moral argument and international law"


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About Me

I am an enormously blessed husband and dad. In regard to my Catholic theological background, I have a certificate in social ministry & a master's degree (moral theology concentration), as well as a catechetical diploma from the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Clergy (Nope, I am not now - nor have I have ever been - a seminarian, deacon, or priest.). I feel particularly proud to have a mandatum. I also have a doctorate in Christian counseling psychology.

And yup, that's me!

And yup, that's me!
(from page 1 of the NY Sun, 3/22/04)

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