Which is Worse, Murder or Genocide?

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This is not a moral invective but a scientific fact: We care more about one murder than a genocide.

It’s a truth both Joseph Stalin and Mother Teresa lived by. He said, “One man’s death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.” She said, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at one, I will.”

The mental flaw responsible for the moral one is exposed in this psychology study: “Donations to aid a starving 7-year-old child in Africa declined sharply when her image was accompanied by a statistical summary of the millions of needy children like her in other African countries. The numbers appeared to interfere with people’s feelings of compassion toward the young victim,” writes Paul Slovic.

So the more people dead or in danger, the less we care. It’s the reason we’ve said, “Never again,” over and over again after the Shoah, then Cambodia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kosovo, and Rwanda. But still so few Americans recognize the name, Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president who has already orchestrated the killing of at least 200,000 people. That’s at least 199,999 too many to grasp—are your eyes glazing over already?

For more on “psychic numbing” or “compassion fatigue,” check out Slovic’s slide presentation. Also watch our photo essay on Darfur.

From a previous Blue Marble post, another explanation of our blindness to injustice is system-justification theory. People want to see the world as fair and just, so they blame the victim to help themselves feel better about the status quo.

Rwandan_Genocide_Murambi_skulls.jpg

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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