A truth untold is a lie. A fact hidden is censorship.
Last week, Hurricane Harvey made landfall and was the center of media attention in the West. It is likely that the death toll will cross 50, and almost 200,000 people have already been displaced. Harvey was a Category 4 storm, while Katrina was a Category 3, so it follows that media would report on what could be one of the most destructive natural disasters in the United States this century.
At the same time, floods of unprecedented degree have wreaked havoc in the Indian sub-continent, with more than 1200 people dead and 40 million people displaced. Reporting on this was at a minimal, and certainly far lower than reporting on Hurricane Harvey. A few days ago, flash floods in Yemen have made the desperate country even more so. Again, reports on this from Western sources are minimal.
It would be disingenuous to pin the blame solely on the media, as that would imply that given no reporting bias the population would pay equal attention to the issues. That thought is nothing but a comforting lie, it allows us to not confront our own biases. The truth is a building fire in India will never receive the same attention as a building fire in the UK, famine in the third world will never draw the same attention as famine in the first. Indeed, I’ve had to argue against someone who thought death should be measured on a per capita basis, and thus disasters in America are worse than disasters in India.
We treat death differently depending which side of an imaginary border it occurrs on. It’s easy, and indeed we are predisposed, to not care about things that don’t immediately affect our survival. It requires varying degrees of persuasion from sources such as the media to care, and even then it requires time to understand the gravity of these disasters and the human cost. I mentioned 1200 people have been killed in the floods in India. That’s a number that’s nearly, if not completely, impossible to comprehend. Dunbar’s number, the number of people you can maintain a meaningful relationship with at once, is 150. Everyone you know, or could know, died in those floods, 8 times over.
Of course, the role of the media in this apathy must not be understated either. If not in natural disasters, media attention and portrayal shapes public perception of foreign policy decisions [Soroka, 2003]. I mentioned the flash floods in Yemen. These floods wouldn’t be nearly as disastrous as they are if the country’s infrastructure hadn’t been annihilated by Saudi Arabia’s US and UK backed reign of terror. The UN has labelled Yemen “The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis”, and yet in June Trump approved a tentative list of deals with the Saudis, which at it’s lowest would net the United States $20bn, and at it’s highest 5 times that amount, to limited outcry.
This is not to say that Democrats are not just as, if not more, guilty in the destruction of Yemen. Obama approved $94bn in arms deals to Saudi Arabia over the course of his presidency and a further $100bn to various other countries in the Middle East, more than any other President since World War II. Irony of Obama being a Nobel Peace Prize recipient aside, these deals have largely been forgotten, if they were even remembered in the first place. The United States has an unhealthy habit of whitewashing it’s history, which is in no small part possible due to the concentrated control of media.
As a recent example, Trump’s ban on Transgender troops has received more attention than Obama’s arms deals. One directly affects Americans, one does not.
Ultimately, how one divides the blame is up to them. The American people are notoriously disenfranchised from government, and notoriously averse to change. As history has shown us time and time again, a disruptive event such as The Great Depression is often needed for people to change their views, more likely than not because they’re forced to. At the same time, the population has untold amounts of capital working against them and in a sense, they stand no chance.