Change of plan folks, I’ll get back to my omphaloskepsis another day. Today we need to talk about some serious shit. And we need to ask some questions.
First, a little lesson in the psychology of marketing (and propaganda).
What makes you more likely to make a donation? The picture of a big eyed, gorgeous, yet deathly thin African child or a study by the WHO quoting the number of children who die from hunger each year? Psychological studies show over and over again (as do the coffers of successful nonprofits) that when humans can identify and name the suffering of another human they feel a connection. They donate. They write their senators. They join Doctors Without Borders. We are driven to help the pain that we can identify. It seems manageable. It seems plausible. It seems unethical and cruel to ignore. We feel like we can make a difference.
On the flipside that which we cannot comprehend, we tend to ignore. We can save one child, but we feel hopeless in the face of saving 5.9 million.
People that know how to tug your heartstrings have known for even longer how this works. Remember the Christian Fund commercials to end child hunger in the 80s? The reason they ran over and over and over, is that the commercials were EFFECTIVE.
The Wharton School did a big study over a decade ago that demonstrates how this works. This study is classic material in nonprofit financial development courses and it demonstrably shows that we as humans are more likely to care about identifiable victims than say, stories of mass famine.
This is why, when the image of a father and his dead infant twins crossed your screen, you felt the need to make a statement about the horrors in Syria. This is why during the bombing of Aleppo at the end of December everyone cared, because we were shown the image of a little girl. Before that it was the toddler that washed up on the beach. All horrible, identifiable scenarios. But why these images? What was their effect? Why were they chosen? How did you act when these images were in front of you? And how did you act when they were set to rest?
Honestly, tell me, between each of these propaganda movements, because that is what they are, what did you do for or think about Syria? Yes, some of you may have donated, some of you may have held them in your prayers, but mostly you forgot them.
And so now, I ask you, to whose benefit is it that you remember Syrians this week? Is sharing your horror across social media going to bring back the twins? No.
16,000 Children die EVERY DAY
According to the WHO, in 2015 about 16,000 children died in the the world EVERY DAY for a total of 5.9 million that year. Not 27 Syrians, but 16,000 children around the world, every day. Yes OUR WORLD. The world in which you and I get up and go to bed.
What will happen if we take out ASSAD?
Let me ask you a question, is taking out Assad going to bring back those 16,000 children that died yesterday or the day before? No. But I can tell you that an effort to take out Assad is guaranteed to do:
- It will KILL MORE INNOCENT children.
- It will kill more American and allied soldiers.
- It will kill some moderate rebels, some not so moderate rebels, some immoderate (huh?) rebels, it will kill family members of bad guys, who like to keep their families with them.
- It will increase the coffers of the US military complex business side, while increase US debt.
- It will pad the bank accounts of oil executives or whomever it really is that wants Assad out so badly.
Before we let our heartstrings blindly lead us into more war and destruction, we need to ask some questions. I will suggest a few, but I suggest that you also make your own list of questions:
- Which news agency distributed the picture of the dead twins first, and why? Who are they owned by? What kind of foreign policy will benefit the owners of this news agency?
- What does it mean to be a “moderate rebel” in Syria?
- Can some please draw me a chart: a tree graph of all the groups in Syria, who supports who, who is allied with who, who gets money from who, who gets weapons from who…?
- If you read online news sources, even SYRIANs can’t seem to agree about what is going on…so how can we in the USA (or France) even trust our sources? What options do we have for heuristic analysis of the situation?
- Can I find a solider or aid worker who has been on the ground in Syria and talk to him or her face to face? If you do, one thing you will learn very quickly is that what the media says, what the military policy purports, is not inline to action on the ground.
- Why is Donald Trump’s position changing? Perhaps he is not so naive after-all. Before the election Trump knew he needed the military vote and the military vote doesn’t support taking out Assad, because it will further destabilize the region. (Have we already forgotten Iraq and Vietnam? Is anyone paying attention to IRAQ???)
- Who are the other players and what do they care? Russia? Turkey? Everyone else within a stones throw?
In conclusion, pictures of dead twins in their father’s arms make us want to vomit, to curl up and cry, to scream, to hit the walls. The images are very powerful. But what is the purpose of that power? How is this image being used to manipulate public opinion? How many more children will die, because we mobilized public opinion around the death of the twins?
I don’t know the answer, but I do question the direction that the US’s latest military actions are taking us…