Last month, Human Appeal and YouGov reported that 42% of the UK do not even know there is a war going on in Yemen, even when considering the UK government is supplying the arms to Saudi Arabia whose coalition are responsible for much of the current bombing on innocent civilians. How can there be so much ignorance and lack of interest, not only with Yemen, but with all international conflict?
An American psychologist argues that there is a limit to human compassion as the human mind cannot empathise with millions or billions of people, he argues that such large statistics simply become incomprehensible and the idea that these are individuals become lost in the numbers. The murder of Journalist Jamal Khashoggie sparked international discussions and led to global leaders questioning their relationships with Saudi Arabia, it took that one individual to trigger this skepticism, rather than the masses of victims who have been being targeted by the Saudi coalition and forced into famine.
Beyond struggling to find compassion in statistics I found five main reasons for the lack of interest in global conflict:
- Complicated warfare – Conflict does not have a universal template and often has many contributing factors that led to the outbreak of war. The fighting may be taking place in a country that a person is not familiar with, a minority group they have not heard of or the violence may be a result of a complex history of grievances in a region which has resulted in years of on and off again conflict. This complicates the outcome for peace and further perplexes the situation. Unless you were studying a relative degree or had a general interest beyond the basics, the general public wouldn’t spend their time trying to understand these complications and therefore wouldn’t have any long term invested interests.
- No Definitive Good and Bad guys - If there is no obvious team to side with then there is no immediate interest in warfare. Without a clear Hollywood narrative of a victim and Villain and a conflict that follows the general dynamic of war, there is often a lack of interest due there being no obvious winner and support for making a solution to the war is detached.
No Direct Connection from the UK/West - If a conflict does not directly or at all affect the average westerner why would they care? Few cared about the refugee crisis until it hit Europe, beyond our own borders there is little compassion for refugees. There is lack of interest in international conflict and concern for the conflict is only offered if it works in favor of the national interest, which means many cases of war in African countries go untouched.
- No Direct Connection from the UK/West - If a conflict does not directly or at all affect the average westerner why would they care? Few cared about the refugee crisis until it hit Europe, beyond our own borders there is little compassion for refugees. There is lack of interest in international conflict and concern for the conflict is only offered if it works in favor of the national interest, which means many cases of war in African countries go untouched.
- Lack of Media Coverage - this is too often the case, with no or minimal media time for international conflict. There are more relevant stories, such as Brexit which take center stage, forcing these global acts of violence to be benched and wait for their time in the spotlight. During the 1994, Rwandan Genocide, the tragedy was played down as “ancient tribal disputes”, when in reality it was a brutal extermination of a minority group that had not been done on such a scale since the Nazi persecution of the Jews. This follows similar today, with the brutalities in Yemen, Syria, Myanmar and many more being minor end notes, rather than full coverage stories expressing the true scale of the tragedies.
- Too Much Media Coverage - On the other side of the spectrum, repetition and recurring news story can convince a news viewer into thinking that they have heard it all before and that they know all they need to know, in this case the coverage can simply become boring and irrelevant. The initial shock horror and original interest can wear off easily. For example, with regards to Brexit most people are tired of hearing about, and instead are actively choosing to avoid reading up about it, the same happens with other general negative news, and instead of engaging an audience, the audiences become fatalistic. The general public begin to see the same pictures, similar titles and stories and are no longer drawn in but instead can become plain exhausted from hearing about it.
How can we counteract this and engage the public more?
Discuss! Debate! - By simply having a conversation with a friend of attending a public meeting, debating about the issue, keeping the topic relevant basically, you can spark and maintain others interest.
Inform and Promote - Maybe write your own articles or blogs about an issue, or promote and share a piece that does address the cause.