Insignificant Others: The Value of Human Life Rant

Westerners are killed and it's a tragedy, non-Westerners are killed and it's a minor item. It goes on and on like this. It drives me crazy! While watching the news this morning I was once again completely struck by the different value put on Western lives compared to those of The Insignificant Others. I mean, I notice it just about every single day, but today was pretty extreme.

I know I've talked about this before, but what I saw this morning was quite striking and telling. Disturbing, actually. And I just can't keep quiet when I continuously see how little we as a country, and Western society in general, seem to value non-Western lives.

I mean, for instance, you'd have to have been a very keen reader of pages 23 and 24 of the paper at the time to have even known a war was raging in the Congo back in the late-90s, even though three million people are estimated to have died there in 5 years of fighting. Three million people!

But I'm not here to write about the Congo. Nor about the general indifference we in the West seem to feel towards the tens of millions dying of AIDS in Africa and Asia. Nor about the killing of the hundreds of thousands in Darfur. No, I'm here to simply point out something I saw today that made me quite disgusted, amazed and sad. Perhaps you'll agree with me... or, if you're one of those who holds Western lives to be far more dear than those of the Peripheral People, perhaps not.

What I saw - and I should point out that I'm talking about Canadian news here, not American - was a 12-minute lead-off story rehashing the killings at Virginia Tech two days earlier. They weren't reporting on any significant new news about the case. It wasn't until later in the day that it was announced that the killer had sent out a package to NBC with a taped message, letter and photos. No, this was just a rehashing of what was basically already known the day before. Well, it is a huge, tragic story, of course. But what followed that 12-minute opening story is what really sickened me.

The next story was about the massive bombings that had occurred hours earlier in Baghdad, bombings in which 157 people were reported to have died (they now say over 200 were killed). Here's the thing, this story lasted no more than 30 seconds. I am not exaggerating. Thirty seconds! So, I switched to the other national 24-hour news channel we have here in Canada and it was basically the same thing. Endless coverage of the 32 killed in Virginia two days earlier and only very brief mentions of today's massacre in Iraq.

Yeah, you can say it's a war that's been going on for 4 years now and that people have become a bit numb to the carnage and killing over there now that the Iraqi dead number in the hundreds of thousands. And that may be true, but, still, over 150 people were known to have died and it only warranted 30 seconds, while the Virginia killings had already received more than 50 straight HOURS of coverage.

But what about the West's massive response to the Asian tsunami of December 2004, you ask? That must show that I'm wrong in accusing the West of indifference towards the suffering of non-Westerners, right? But, come on, that was 300,000 people wiped out in a matter of moments. Even we self-absorbed Westerners, it seems, could feel something for the Insignificant People when 300,000 were wiped out so quickly and tragically (though you, of course, must remember how the media spent close to equal time on the handful of Western victims).

I should mention that I originally started writing this rant two years ago, right after the London Bombings of July 2005, but I never got around to posting it back then. So just let me say this about those bombings:

If the victims had been Canadians I'd have understood, and even expected, the Canadian press to make a big deal out of their deaths, but why does the media in Canada care so damn much about 52 dead Londoners when they couldn't care less about 3 million dead people in the Congo? That's what I kept thinking. And that's what I still think today... obviously.

But let me go a step further and ask why the world was supposed to change so radically just because 3,000 Americans were murdered on 9-11. It sure the hell doesn't change one bit whenever 3,000 (or 3 million) innocent Africans are massacred. And let's not even get into the 3 million massacred Vietnamese, the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis...

Now you may actually think that three thousand murdered Americans is a much worse tragedy than, say, three million murdered Africans. In which case I've got nothing much to say to you. But perhaps you might consider that you, like so many others, were simply brainwashed into thinking that those deaths were so much more tragic and significant simply because they were Americans and Westerners.

My point obviously isn't to disparage or minimize the tragedy of those killed in London or New York or Virginia, it's just to point out what to me is such a blatant disparity. It's quite simple, really: If 52 killed in London or 32 brutally murdered in Virginia is considered front-page and lead-off news for days or weeks at a time, then tens of thousands, or even millions, murdered in the Congo, Sudan or, say, Iraq should obviously be given more than just a passing mention.

I first became conscious of this whole topic back in the late-80s when San Francisco, Tajikistan and Armenia were all hit by big earthquakes a few months apart. Anyone reading a newspaper in Canada back then would most certainly have thought, considering the coverage, that the San Francisco quake was by far the biggest tragedy. I mean, it was the front-page story for over a week while the other two quakes got a day or two before being relegated to page 23.

You know I tried. I tried not to be cynical, I tried to believe, I tried to under-value, I tried to think they were "only" Tajiks and Armenians, but, try as I might, I just couldn't do it. You see, 63 people died in San Francisco, 25,000 in Tajikistan and 45,000 in Armenia. It was then that I realized something wasn't quite right with our media.

Anyhow, the good news is that someone else came to a realization about how repugnant today's coverage was and by the time the evening news rolled around on CBC they had decided to open with the mass slaughter in Iraq, rather than the relatively-minor-in-comparison (and 2-day-old) slaughter in Virginia.

I guess, to look on the bright side, at least the Virginia massacre was indeed real news. Usually the 24-hour news networks, especially down in the States, are busy ignoring Darfur, AIDS, the Congo, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Nepal, Bangladesh, etc. etc. for much more important "breaking news" stories, such as those about Anna Nicole Smith's baby, Paris Hilton's drunk driving arrest and Britney's shaved head. Talk about truly Insignificant Others!


Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

Relativist Revelation; Who are we to critique genocidal maniacs?

Dear Mr Cowie. As a student, advocate and devotee of the university academy, it was with some dismay that i recently perused your "Rant on the primacy of western life". In that aforementioned script, you mentioned that the media focuses too much on the loss of western life as opposed to southern life. If some people choose to kill others, who are you to judge them? Just who do you think you are to make such general, absolute claims? What makes you think that your opinion is of more value than that of our media? Doesnt that strike you as arrogant? Dont you know that there is no such thing as 'truth', just different values? Yet you go on to claim that your values are the 'right' ones and that the reporters' are 'wrong' or 'evil'. Such false dichotomies are the creations of the mind, Mr. Cowie, the mind. You need to have one for the other, just as you need yin to have yang or tutti to have fruiti. Such polarities indicate an unenlightened being, or as i used to say before i became enlightened, 'a dumb shit'. Who are you to judge the value of each life, to say that they are all equal? Am i the equal of someone who didnt get a college education? While i must be tolerant of such a persons beliefs, we all know how ignorant they really are, and how unworthy of consideration or discussion, even though we should be 'open' to what they say. Or someone who weighs less than me, like a pigmy. How can our lives be of equal value, when there is so much less of him than me. Do the math Mr. Cowie. Can you call that 'equal'? Next you'll be saying i havent the right to get an abortion, because its 'killing'. How could you refuse me the right to kill, i mean terminate, my unborn child, i mean fetoueus, when i find its potential existence vexxing, and inconvienient. Im planning to change the flooring in my lakeside cabin to brazillian cherrywood next year, and such an unplanned for event could curtail this. Please keep your moral compunctions off my body, thank you very much. Or tell me that i shouldnt put my old man down when he becomes a vegetable, or starts taking too long on a crossword im waiting for? How can you so inhumanely value human life over animal life, or presumtously supplant vegetable life? or mineral life? Or the planet earth's life? We are all interconnected in a very organic way. Dont you know that humans are killing the world? How can you say its not better that all of humanity doesnt just became extinct for the betterment of the Earth? Who are you to say genocide is wrong? Such anthrocentricism is typical of someone so chauvanistic towards their own species. So Mr. Cowie. If you cant see beyond your own limited cultural conditioning, and the prejudices you have been so obviously indoctrinated with, please dont be so inconsiderate as to litter the cyberspace of enlightened people, like me and Richard Gere. Yours in lovingkindness

Dave R.