Which is Worse, Murder or Genocide?

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


This is not a moral invective but a scientific fact: We care more about one murder than a genocide.

It’s a truth both Joseph Stalin and Mother Teresa lived by. He said, “One man’s death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.” She said, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at one, I will.”

The mental flaw responsible for the moral one is exposed in this psychology study: “Donations to aid a starving 7-year-old child in Africa declined sharply when her image was accompanied by a statistical summary of the millions of needy children like her in other African countries. The numbers appeared to interfere with people’s feelings of compassion toward the young victim,” writes Paul Slovic.

So the more people dead or in danger, the less we care. It’s the reason we’ve said, “Never again,” over and over again after the Shoah, then Cambodia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kosovo, and Rwanda. But still so few Americans recognize the name, Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president who has already orchestrated the killing of at least 200,000 people. That’s at least 199,999 too many to grasp—are your eyes glazing over already?

For more on “psychic numbing” or “compassion fatigue,” check out Slovic’s slide presentation. Also watch our photo essay on Darfur.

From a previous Blue Marble post, another explanation for our blindness to injustice is system-justification theory. People want to see the world as fair and just, so they blame the victim to help themselves feel better about the status quo.

Rwandan_Genocide_Murambi_skulls.jpg

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate