Why Not Beirut?

November 20, 2015Comments Off on Why Not Beirut?

Or better, why don’t we show the same level of support for Beirut? Or Ankara? Or victims of the Russian plane bombings?

It’s not the number of people affected, the level of media attention (although it helps), nor geographic proximity. It’s not explicit racism nor lack of empathy.

It’s largely a result of how our social brains operate.

  • The easier a group can visualize an object, the more they respond to it. We can visualize Paris pretty easily. We can name landmarks. We’ve been to Paris. We can imagine idyllic baguette stalls being blown apart. Most of us would struggle to name a single landmark in Beirut.
  • Strong affinity with Paris. Parisians are a lot like us. We know people from France (and probably Paris). We know they’re WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) like us. They’re mostly white too. We feel a stronger affinity with Parisians than Russians (sadly).
  • Once a trend has begun, people join in to avoid being left behind. Facebook made it easy for us to make a temporary change to profiles. This made it easier to show support. Once it grew, people want to jump aboard the moment of collective unity for safety.
  • Easier story to understand. We can make sense of ISIS attacking France, it’s easier (albeit disagree) with the rationale of revenge. France attacks Isis. Isis attacks France. It’s harder to understand disrupting local elections or spillover conflicts.

None of these makes showing solidarity to one group over another any better. But it does explain why some issues receive greater priority than others.

If you want a group to respond better, make the objects easier to visualize, highlight commonalities with those affected (and differences with those not), make it easier for the message to spread, and design a simpler story.

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