Tuesday, February 5, 2013

If it didn't happen here it doesn't matter.

EDIT: Due to blogger being kind of a jerk-face to me this week, today is apparently a double up-date day. This post wasn't supposed to go up today, but blogger felt really strongly about this, and since I didn't catch it before at least one person saw and commented, I feel weird taking it down to put it back up later with some edits and tweaks. So, enjoy the double update, and make sure you check out the post below this one.

So there was recently a fire of a cheese factory that's near my home town. It's sad, was really good, and lots of people will be out of jobs now. These are bad and sad things. My Facebook page has been filled with news of it, and there was something that struck me. I have seen more about this cheese factory fire than I have about any national tragedies or global issues. That.... is concerning.

I was talking to a friend of mine after, and he made an argument that kept my faith in humanity somewhat intact. He pointed out that people are going to be more aware of what happens in their own back yard, and the level of coverage the event its self receives will be proportionate to how much you see of it. School shootings are going to be covered in the papers, but a cheese fire? Less likely, and it's one of those strange specifically sentimental things that get to people.

I get that, and I do understand that it is a very human thing, but I can't help but feel it's reflective of a larger societal trend. If something doesn't happen and affect us directly (or someone we know directly) than it just... doesn't seem to matter. Not as much, anyways.

There are wars, there are children being abused and denied education, there is a struggling economy and so, so much more. I'm not implying or saying that people can feasibly care about all the big world issues all the time- it'd be emotionally exhausting. I get that, but seeing the news people are picking up on, and concentrating on (celebrity gossip, anyone?) often makes me really sad. The fact that, to preserve our own... mood? we ignore bigger issues to concentrate on things that affect us (or our interests) more directly. I'm not sure if humans are just selfish or if we as a culture are becoming less empathetic. Maybe we've never been empathetic and my own optimism is just weaning down, I'm not sure. Which ever it is, this realization is both concerning and depressing.

Sound off in the comments, I'd like to hear your take on it.


  1. Really interesting question. I think there's maybe another element to it too - when something happens in your own back yard it often feels more like you might be able to do something to help, whereas the bigger issues on the news often leave you feeling powerless to do anything. I was really struck by the recent research on climate change imagery which seemed to show that some images made viewers feel helpless and less likely to engage, whereas others encouraged a more active interest. It may be the way that some news is presented - empathy is a good thing of course but sometimes it can just leave you feeling like a misery voyeur.

    Obviously not everyone will get involved but where there's a clear call to (or even just a clear opportunity for) action there's often a very positive response.


  2. The psycho-babble I've on that subject is that humans are simply hardwired to care most about their own individual circle of experience, our own "tribe," since humans were for centuries and centuries only in contact with a limited number of people. Something about our brains tends to categorize news about real disasters that we only see on TV with fictional disasters in movies or TV shows.

  3. I agree with what you're saying. The animal abuse commercials also are messed up. In my opinion, we should focus on children abuse more. Don't get me wrong, I love animals (sometimes more than people) but I would help a starving kid over a dog anyday! We should focus either on people more or they should be dealt with equally.

  4. Yes, I think you are exactly right. I mean I care for starving children in Africa and national disasters, but what could I do to help? So I focus on smaller issues, that I CAN help. =)

  5. Way late to this, but here's a good essay on the same subject.