"65,000 death toll 'may be dwarfed'"

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That's the horrifying news coming out of the earthquake/tsunami zone in Asia, where more than 65,000 are believed dead–and the situation is far from stable:

"The initial terror associated with the tsunamis and the earthquake itself may be dwarfed by the longer term suffering of the affected communities," [warned one aid worker].

As in all these stories, the details of individual tragedies and images make a harrowing story all the more disturbing. Whole story here.

More stories here.

NEXT: Maintaining Their Dignity

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  1. Interesting story about mobile technology saving some of the stranded victims.

    link

  2. On a typical day, with no disasters or anything, 100,000 people die.

    At some point this whole thing is firmly in the news entertainment genre. It’s always there partially, but the fraction is growing pretty fast.

    I guess it’s a matter of at what point you’re repulsed by making the misfortune of others entertainment. Entertainment doesn’t mean made happy, it means engrossed or fascinated. The news biz works on it about all the time.

    The point of sympathy (“Sorry about your father”) is not to say you’re sorry, but to tell the guy that you’re cutting him some social slack for a while. He actually has a use for that, and that’s why it’s offered. But only _if you know the guy_.

    If you don’t know the guy, you’re entertaining yourself with it.

    The news biz is parasitic on a healthy instinct, namely the instinct to help out; but it goes on holiday very easily. That instinct also draws your audience, and you sell the audience to advertisers. The audience is your product, not news.

    Never be certain you’re doing good; it will come out retrospectively if at all, and it may never come out, if it’s really doing good.

  3. The point of sympathy (“Sorry about your father”) is not to say you’re sorry, but to tell the guy that you’re cutting him some social slack for a while. He actually has a use for that, and that’s why it’s offered. But only _if you know the guy_.

    If you don’t know the guy, you’re entertaining yourself with it.

    because, mr hardin, the point couldn’t be to express your common humanity, reminding oneself of the inevitability of eventual tragedy in one’s own life while reminding the affected that tragedy does pass, thereby reaffirming the social bond — could it?

    individual narcissism isn’t the only possible viewpoint, mr hardin, even if it is our society’s prevailing one.

  4. I think we know we’re humans. It’s not necessary to kill anybody. It’s true every day.

  5. I think what Mr. Hardin is trying to say is that by feeling sympathy with anyone outside of your immediate sphere of existence, you’re actually just buying into a self serving ritual of roughly the same gravitas as watching Survivor.

    Also, you can never know if your altruistic attempts to help others aren’t actually just causing harm, so you might as well sit on your ass and mock the sappy fools who’ve been duped into acting on something besides their self interest.

    Does that about sum it up, Ronald?

  6. I think what Ron is saying is he’s an ass hole.

  7. buying into a self serving ritual of roughly the same gravitas as watching Survivor.

    lol — i’m the last, mr pavel, to defend celebrity from ridicule. hero-cults are a strange (and deleterious, imo) phenomena.

    but such simple acknowledgement, as it occurs in a normal setting, has a healthy social function even when it occurs between strangers. it needn’t have romantic “gravitas” to be important.

  8. So far I haven’t read anything that I think Ron’s wrong about. I agree with Gaius that expression of common humanity is one point of sympathy, but when talking about a remote disaster on such a large scale, it’s really hard to work up any strong feelings. Accidents happen. Natural disasters happen. It’s bad luck.

    Ron’s right in that the news organizations eventually always take over the situation, turning the initial sympathy that most people feel upon hearing of such a disaster into simple rubbernecking.

  9. actually, the number of dead may be the fault of the US!

    http://derstandard.at/?url=/?id=1903534
    “USA wussten, dass Flut kommt ”

    some of the postings below are hilarious. sheesh.

    what is “social slack”?

  10. I actually heard from a report on NPR this morning that the “race to bury the dead” is a wasted effort. A doctor somewhere (sorry for lack of detail) mentioned that disease doesn’t spread as much through dead bodies as is imagined, and that the rush to bury only makes worse the psychological impact on survivors by bypassing their mourning and ritual.

    I don’t know the truth behind the dead body not spreading disease thing, but I’m sure that misconception and plain false information can make things worse.

    Does anybody know more of this than I?

  11. the point couldn’t be to express your common humanity, reminding oneself of the inevitability of eventual tragedy in one’s own life while reminding the affected that tragedy does pass, thereby reaffirming the social bond — could it?

    No, I think that’s a misreading of the ritual.

    Here’s Stanley Cavell in a passage that by a miracle I’ve refound,

    If it is a mark of insanity not to know that we have duties to others as human beings, and that we show our humanity in performing them, wouldn’t it be an equal mark of insanity to surmise that others are owed some unrestricted revelation of our humanity? What would they want it for? Why place such a burden upon them? Isn’t this surmise a part of Lear’s state of mind when he comes upon Edgar and interprets him as a “poor, bare, forked creature”? Then how does he translate this interpretation into action, what does he _do_ on the basis of this knowledge? – What would you have him do? Reveal himself to Edgar as his semblable, as yet another poor, bare, forked creature? A lot of good that would do! He takes the creature into his shelter with him, out of the gathering storm. How better to have shown his humanity? What more could reason claim from him?

    _The Claim of Reason_ p.435

    It is the latter that is analogous to cutting the guy some slac

  12. My friend in Bangkok says the death counts released by the Thai government are ridiculously low. If you look at footage from Phuket, you can see that he’s almost certainly right. Apparently it would be some kind of disgrace to admit that you “allowed” tidal waves to kill tourists.

  13. gaius,

    I don’t think my sarcasm translated very well. I was trying to parody Ron’s “I’m too media savvy to care about anyone I don’t know” routine. I was just agreeing with you.

    That said, I just watched CNN’s segment on “South Asia’s Littlest Victims” and dammit if I didn’t have to strain to continue caring *despite* the obnoxious news reports.

  14. what is “social slack”?

    The guy has duties to you, like laughing at your jokes and being otherwise normally responsive. You’re telling him that you’re not holding him to those duties for a while. It lifts a burden that is there sort of as background.

  15. “Ron’s right in that the news organizations eventually always take over the situation, turning the initial sympathy that most people feel upon hearing of such a disaster into simple rubbernecking.”

    Bingo. I hate watching the news about this stuff. Give me the facts, and I’ll ponder the suffering myself. Seeing over and over weeping people telling awful heart-rending stories makes me hate the news. Yeah, I get it. Stop exploiting it.

  16. Give me the facts, and I’ll ponder the suffering myself

    Bingo. When did our news become so touchy-feely? Every story has to have a angle about “feelings”. Does anyone actually *like* that crap?

  17. While it may not make sense to REASON regulars, showing humans suffering creates these things called “emotions” in certain less evolved human beings, emotions which can inspire action. Present company excluded, of course.

    Although, if I didn’t know any better, I might suspect that it was exactly this inspiration of emotion that certain posters above are objecting to.

  18. Emotion is great. I just don’t like it being spoonfed to me.

  19. hey joe!

    no caps here but a question – do you really think that such pictures provide most (any?) with the necessary emotion and horror of what happened?

    i feel you’re giving the media/press/ narrative much more credit for 1) “honestly” portraying the emotions 2) their power in actually being able to deliver and 3) ensuring that the audience actually feel the “appropriate” emotion.

    it is this final point where you’ve totally lost me. i don’t think the media can affect such emotion, whether it be through calling insurgants in iraq by an other name or through the pathos of showing people stuck in horrible tragedy.

    what kind of action would you suggest? and is it the media’s job to force us to action? i would suspect you would object to having your emotions manipulated into thinking that saddam were a greater monster than he actually is to, say, get a call to war? when is it “good” and when is it “bad” and is it at all right?

    reporting what’s going on = good. forcing emotion on us to call us to action (an action approved of and planned and hoped for by the reporting team) by remembering the maine = bad or questionable at best.

  20. Bingo. When did our news become so touchy-feely? Every story has to have a angle about “feelings”. Does anyone actually *like* that crap?

    The largest reliable audience for news, women. _Not most_ women, but 40% of them.

    The media would like a larger audience, but there isn’t one you can get daily that’s nearly as big as this one, the soap opera news audience.

    If you don’t get audience, you don’t make money, and your business folds. It may be that there is no workable business model for hard news (think city council meetings); one-off’s like JFK Jr. augering into the sea or Princess Di don’t happen often enough; there are too few of them.

    Scaring women is the most reliable audience grabber (“Dust Balls, a New Menace, more at eleven), but children torn from arms will do.

    I have no explanation that’s any good of how the NYT survives however. Maybe a source of retorts for lefties to use is another market.

    The point would be that wishing for just the facts is idle if it can’t make money. But clearing up a confusion of business model with morality is worthwhile. It winds up as, as somebody put it, enjoying rubbernecking.

    I think in women that’s a virtue, in that it wants to stay involved and to relate; but it’s empty if it’s not in the neighborhood. It’s sort of women’s porn

  21. OK, Ron, you kind of lost me with the “women” thing. Why is it a virtue in women and a vice in men?

    You had some good points before you decided to break up the audience into classes. There’s really no need to say that media are pandering to some sort of “womanly feelings”; there are plenty of men who rubberneck as well. I just played a lunchtime poker game with a bunch of guys from my office that wanted to talk about the tsunami too.

  22. Yeah well it goes off into another analysis, trying to explain what’s going on, what force is generating this.

    Men tend to rubberneck over the mechanics. Are tsunamis cool or what. How do you get relief there and leave it to them properly.

    Women tend to be more comfortable with unresolved issues, meaning that they’re not unsettled by an urge to resolve them into a direction for action.

    Both are virtues in the neighborhood, and need each other. The relating-instinct happens to play into a news business model, so that’s where it comes up.

    An essay bit I copied on this from Vicki Hearne http://home.att.net/~rhhardin9/vickihearne.womenmath.txt on gender differences that I think is right, in the sense that a poet is concerned if they’re right.

    Her version of feminism, what it should be http://home.att.net/~rhhardine/vickihearne.astrology.txt and the enterprising surfer can find a page with more links with a little effort if they like the points she’s making. I find that most people can’t follow her, and others, some, really really like her.

    It seems right to me, and I just apply it to what the hell is going on with the media question.

  23. Oops scratch the astrology link and replace it with http://home.att.net/~rhhardine/vickihearne.feminism.txt which is from the same essay but the right part of it.

  24. The point of sympathy (“Sorry about your father”) is not to say you’re sorry, but to tell the guy that you’re cutting him some social slack for a while. He actually has a use for that, and that’s why it’s offered. But only _if you know the guy_. If you don’t know the guy, you’re entertaining yourself with it.

    Ron, it is certainly true that some people express sympathy for the reasons you do — four percent of humans are sociopaths, after all. But it’s a bit silly for you to presume that that’s the reason most of us express sympathy with people we don’t know.

  25. “Ron, it is certainly true that some people express sympathy for the reasons you do — four percent of humans are sociopaths, after all”

    didn’t you like what “social slack” is? and can’t you imagine people trying for sympathy to give them an “out” from certain sotuationally-appropriate behaviors?

    check this out
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociopath

    they give it (citing the dsm, not martha stout’s 4% figure) 3% males and 1% females.

  26. But it’s a bit silly for you to presume that that’s the reason most of us express sympathy with people we don’t know.

    Alphonso Lingis, Emmanual Levinas’s translator, has a book with a great title, “The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common” which I could not get into in spite of high hopes, but am nevertheless struck by the title, which ties into what perhaps you want to say.

    I think though that its power is tied to the needy stranger who you meet, and the absolute claim he has on you, this claim coming from a call on you. That in the abstract is the origin of morality.

    Levinas thinks that it is moral (as opposed to say epistemological) because that call, a vocative, makes you unique and irreplaceable.

    The classic version is

    Q: Why do we have the poor always with us?

    A: So we are not damned.

    You only become yourself if you take on the suffering of another. Or another way, another version, every man is the Messiah.

    (So they take away the pets of old people, so they cannot do something for anybody and become more manageable.)

    The form however is only a form. It takes an actual other and something of deep knowledge and work on your part. You can’t do it by proxy.

    You can’t analyze an error without analyzing its appeal

  27. drf, when “what is going on” is 80,000 people killed and an ongoing health crisis, it doesn’t require dishonesty or manipulation to generate emotion in people.

    Ron, what you’re describing as female is actually human, and it’s a shame you’re so eager to collaborate in the denying yourself that aspect of human experience.

  28. It’s no virtue to seek out pain and misery, even if it’s to “share the experience” with the unfortunate.
    Feeling their pain does nothing to assuage it, especially if you’re 10,000 miles away. Now, if you decide you want to help and go volunteer or donate to help out, fine. But just empathizing does nothing to help the situation.

    And overhyped media attention goes a lot farther than empathy. Who really wants to see the camera’s eye view of mourning people crying their hearts out for their beloved dead? I’ve seen enough in person, thanks. If I were in that situation I’d be less than pleased with a photographer sticking a camera in my face.

  29. “showing humans suffering creates these things called “emotions” in certain less evolved human beings, emotions which can inspire action.”

    going back to that is somewhat different from stating “drf, when “what is going on” is 80,000 people killed and an ongoing health crisis, it doesn’t require dishonesty or manipulation to generate emotion in people”

    and what kind of action should this cause me to take? and why am i obligated to have this exact reaction that you suggest?

    when you would have images specifically designed to force action, remembering the maine, i would suggest a level of going beyond reporting the 80,000+ tragedy.

    so again, why the appeal to emotion (earlier post), when just the sheer magnitude of the tragedy (later post) suffices?

  30. Hey drf, what was the gist of that German site you listed? Afraid I don’t understand German.

  31. sorry shem – thought it was the english translation

    there was a suggestion that the us didn’t warn the affected countries fast enough and that led to more death. several posters below really blamed the us something fierce.

    cheers,
    drf

  32. First off, love the discussion.

    As for my two electrons, for those who seem to think collective mourning is a required experience to be human, I would argue that if you felt empathy every time some human disater or ailment occurred – you would be hard pressed to find time to live a normal life. We couldn’t possibly function normally.

    Just think about all the ways people die daily, cancer, aids, car wrecks, none of these are pleasant and all could illicit empathy – and as for massive disaters, while some are man made, Dafur and other places could drain you emotionally for some time.

    In the interest of self-preservation, people may think about the enormity, but to “feel” the pain of others 10K miles away with no relation to yourself is too much.

  33. so again, why the appeal to emotion (earlier post), when just the sheer magnitude of the tragedy (later post) suffices?

    Because it is human nature to want the people telling you about an emotionally-charged event to share in that emotion with you. Most news figures just suck at it, because they spend too much time covering tragedies and lose their ability to feel genuine empathy for the people experiencing them.

    We remain rationally ignorant about most human suffering because we’re naturally empathic. As SixSigma noted, if we really stopped and thought about every horrible thing that happened in the world we’d go completely insane — simply because we are empathic, and naturally inclined to offer sympathy to suffering people that we become aware of. At some level, consciously or unconsciously, we choose not to think about most of the death in the world — but when something happens to draw our attention to a tragedy (such as, for example, a deadly natural disaster) we naturally offer our sympathy to the victims.

  34. Ron, what you’re describing as female is actually human, and it’s a shame you’re so eager to collaborate in the denying yourself that aspect of human experience.

    Actually gender differences are very interesting. I recommend the Vicki Hearne above.

    The essay that it’s from goes into testerone poisoning, but she said that she’d do one on estrogen poisoning someday under a pseudonym; alas too late, she died in 2001.

  35. Ron, what you’re describing as female is actually human, and it’s a shame you’re so eager to collaborate in the denying yourself that aspect of human experience.

    Another response occurs to me, from Stanley Cavell’s Introduction to _Disowning Knowledge in Six Plays of Shakespeare_, on how philosophical skepticism (“is that really a ball of wax? You don’t see all of it. At most you see only the front surface…”) does not arise for women, it being a male obsession, and wondering what the corresponding female vice is :

    Again, skepticism on the feminine side might bring into focus not, or not only, a different object but a different passion. And different not as doubt is different from jealousy – these still share the sign of negation – but differently as negative differs from positive. Take the origin of skepticism as an intimation of, in Kant’s concept, human conditionedness. Then what philosophy calls skeptical doubt is a drive to reach the unconditioned. Philosophy may think of the unconditioned, the inexplicable, or limit of the explicable, as the “given.” … Then a feminine passion toward the unconditioned, construed as a drive toward the given, may be representable not as doubt but instead as love. And what masculine philosophy knows as skepticism feminine philosophy will know as fanaticism. Fanaticism is explicitly one of Kant’s names for a distorted expectation of reason, one form taken by the desire to refuse human limitation, the limitation of finitude; hence it is exactly measurable with skepticism. (p.19)

    In other words, it’s a desire to love beyond the human conditions of loving, in women; where it’s a desire to know beyond the human conditions of knowing, in men. The former strikes me as interpreting the desire for sharing a bare humanity, referred to somewhere above.

    The finite conditions of humanity require though a specific context.

    Which sex remembers anniversaries

  36. Here’s a thought:

    Yeah, the news, and most especially the cable channels, replay it ad nauseum.

    Ever consider that YOU don’t have to constantly tune in? That maybe ONE part of their 24 hour coverage is the rotating schedule of their audience? (i.e., what you’ve seen for the last 4 hours is news to the person coming off the night shift, etc.).

    If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. Obviously some of them (if I recall correctly, 360 on some cable channel kept hammering home how they don’t want to be grisly…while wallowing in grisly) are going for the sensational. And repeating on the quarter hour whatever “new” news nugget leached out.

    If you think they are handing you “sop” — don’t watch. And send an email/letter/phone call to their editorial board.

  37. The clear solution to avoid future tragedies is to declare a war on orogeny.

  38. The damage is that the media deal takes over all the terrain. It’s the echo chamber and nothing else will be said while there’s still an audience for whatever angle they can find that still plays well. Public debate is reduced to that level, pretty much, as a result. The permanent level is that of the soap opera news audience.

    It doesn’t affect me directly; I threw out my TV in 1971 in disgust. Video takes over the room anyway, where radio is willing to admit that you might be doing something else.

    The relief of blogs is that you can find your own voice there, finally; somebody else saying it better than you can, eve

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