It’s Weird What Becomes Part of the Zeitgeist

Nicholas Kristof’s May 10th column (behind the Times’ Select subscription wall):

“Our capacity to feel is limited,” Paul Slovic of the University of Oregon writes in a new journal article, “Psychic Numbing and Genocide,” which discusses these experiments. Professor Slovic argues that we cannot depend on the innate morality even of good people. Instead, he believes, we need to develop legal or political mechanisms to force our hands to confront genocide.

So, yes, we should develop early-warning systems for genocide, prepare an African Union, U.N. and NATO rapid-response capability, and polish the “responsibility to protect” as a legal basis to stop atrocities. (The Genocide Intervention Network and the Enough project are working on these things.)

is weirdly similar to John Allen Paulos’ March 4th piece that Abbas posted earlier.

At the annual meeting last month of the American Association for Advancement of Science, Paul Slovic, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon, recommended a review and overhaul of the 1948 Genocide Convention. He offered two related reasons. The first is that it has been completely ineffective, and the second is that it doesn’t accord well with our human tendency to be moved by dramatic individual tragedies and unmoved by mass killings.

The sentiment is not new. Stalin famously noted, “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.”

What is new are a couple of experiments that elucidate this unfortunate tendency. Slovic remarks, “We have to understand what it is in our makeup — psychologically, socially, politically and institutionally — that has allowed genocide to go unabated for a century. If we don’t answer that question and use the answer to change things, we will see another century of horrible atrocities around the world.”