Summer 2012

"Psychic Numbing of Genocide"

Shutterstock/Lipowski Milan
Open University recently hosted Prof. Paul Slovic founding President of Decision Research Institute at the University of Oregon in an eye-opening talk on "The Psychic Numbing of Genocide."

Prof. Slovic covered the painful, thought-provoking subject on how good, caring people often become numbly indifferent to the plight of individuals who are "one of many" in a much greater problem. Why has the world shown little interest to really act effectively, too late in the genocides that took place in Rwanda, South Sudan, the Belgian Congo and even now in Syria?

"There is no one reason," Prof. Slovic claims, but rather an amalgam of possibilities – "ranging from lack of leadership to cost, racism to distance, lack of compassion to diffusion of responsibility."

Prof. Solvic's basic premise is – the more who die, the less we care. He points to the arithmetic of compassion that dulls the senses on overload, when the caring person loses sight of the individual among the masses of victims.

What needs to be done? Slovic had a number of suggestions:
  • Media has to be more pro-active; perpetrators must be exposed – "Do any of you know the name of the president of Sudan who is responsible for the genocide in Darfur for the past nine years?" Change the method of reporting, so that the media gives more personal details about the victims rather than just the statistics.
  • New international laws and institutions that can operate effectively. The Genocide Convention, written in 1948, has repeatedly failed.
  • Empower people around the world to facilitate their access to social media to get their story to the world.
Prof. Yair Auron, of the Open University's Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communications, who wrote the curriculum for the University's Genocide series course, the most comprehensive course given on the subject among Israeli universities, added one other element: "education. We must be educating children about genocides and sensitize them to the needs of others."

Prof. Paul Slovic was a guest of Prof. Ruth Beyth-Marom of the Open University's Department of Education and Psychology.