Wednesday, January 07, 2009


We certainly like our numbers. News isn't news anymore without specific reference to numbers. In fact, numbers is all I hear when I listen to sport news and I don't particularly like sport so I just turn off when the incantation of numbers begins.

I wonder how others react to the constant stream of numbers that is broadcast in news items when it comes to death statistics.
Do people get increasingly passionate as the numbers steadily climb up?
Is there a sliding scale of response? Something like...
outrage at the death of 20.
horror at the death of 100.
Shock at the death of 500.
Total emotional numbness at any number over 1000.
Disgust at the idea of 500,000
Disbelief at the thought of six million.


So here are a few statistics to contemplate.

Islamic terrorist victims since 9/11 12567

American soldiers killed in Iraq since takeover 4221

87 children killed in latest Gaza conflict

Rwandan genocide 500,000


I bet I know which statistic triggers the greatest emotional response.

The one that mentions children.
Innocent civilians are not quite as innocent as "innocent" children. That is the ultimate horror.

And don't get me started on how we value lives. White lives are more valuable than black lives. That's probably why 500,000 dead Rwandans barely raises an eyebrow and the news of the death of one member of the family rates highest in the emotional scale. Followed by friends, acquaintances, celebrities ( I was numb at the news of Elvis being declared dead). People in our own community, people from our home town. etc etc. down the scale of significance.

It seems that war is like a perverse version of poker.
"I'll raise you 200 dead and raise you 600 wounded" "I'll match that with 12 innocent children"

And so the statistics stream in endlessly until one side in conflict decides enough is enough. For now anyway.
In fact American foreign policy is dictated by how many (or how few) casualties the military can withstand before a campaign is considered successful or abandoned.

In WW1, the military strategy was to thrust whole divisions of troops recklessly into live fire to score a prime position. Statistics of casualties didn't seem to matter at the time.

Numbers these days are all important.
That's progress for you.
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10 comments:

Red Squirrel said...

Very well put Lexcon.
Happy new Year! I would like to think that it heralded the dawn of a new Age of Enlightenment,a quantum leap for the whole of the Human species. Sheer optimism though, unfortunately.
Although glimmers of light do pop up all over our planet!
I raise my Mead horn to you in salutation! Even though the ingredients for this beverage are still in the kitchen cupboard awaiting my attentions. LOL.

Jeannie said...

Honestly, when they spout the numbers killed in war these days, I'm totally unimpressed. They spend how much on a bomb? And it kills only 3 people? Not much bang for the buck in my view. How many died in WWII? In Vietnam? Now those were numbers! How about how many people are murdered in Detroit each year? So is it safer to live in the Gaza strip? or Detroit?

nanc said...

50 million babes plucked from their supposed safe place since roe v. wade - that number never seems to stir a liberal...

mindnumbing, yes.

FJ said...

Most of the "children" killed in Gaza were hauling AK-47's & RPG's... so those numbers don't bother me in the least.

FJ said...

...and what's the old Socratic addage, "the unexamined life is not worth living".

Perhaps that's why some lives may seem more valuable than others... with perceived 'values' arising from degrees of self-identification.

Lexcen said...

5 comments and counting ;-)

Lexcen said...

Red Squirrel, I have a huge lexicon but I do wince at the dyslexic misspelling of Lexcen.

FJ said...

One of these days I'll get around to fixing the label for that link... ;-)

Red Squirrel said...

Please accept my apologies for the spelling error Lexcen. I had been without sleep, or sustenance for some time, and upset about many things.

Lexcen said...

FJ,hope you're feeling better soon. I never take offense.

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