Mass Death, Critical Thinking, and Media Distortion

There is a digital sign, very close to where I live, that lets the passerby know that 457 people have been killed on Texas roads this year.  That is 457 people killed on the roads in the state of Texas only, in just over three months of one year.  There were 2,877 victims during 911.  So roughly one sixth of all of the people that were killed as the result of 911 have been killed through traffic accidents in the state of Texas this year from January 1st to March 24th.

Yet, no one is particularly troubled by this, unless of course they have been some how touched by one of these accidents in a personal way.  Meanwhile when 911 happened we lost our collective shit, resulting in the invasion of a country that in no way was related to 911.  That invasion led to far more death and destruction than 911 did.  I am not saying 911 was not a horrible event.  I am not saying that no response was necessary.  I am only saying that if you compare the results of 911 to the results of what happen all the time, it didn’t warrant the kind of response that it created.  We did not need to change every law in the land, drop bombs on other people, etc.  We should have gone after the people directly responsible, mourned the dead in the way that we should mourn all people that have fallen before their time, and gotten back to business as usual.

I would imagine that most people would agree with this now, especially in concern with our ill advised adventure into Iraq.  So why am I bringing this up?  (And I’m even bringing it up again as I have touched upon this idea before.  I am constantly reminded of this idea from the sign that I see every time I leave my house to go out into greater Austin.)  Today over at Huffington Post the headline is about a plane crash in the Alps where right now 150 are feared dead.  This number is less than a third of all the people that have been killed in Texas highways this year, and it is far away, so the chance of us knowing someone that died is even less.  Yet, this is the HEADLINE at Huffington Post.  I can only imagine what cable news is going to do with a story like this.  I assume, and hopefully I’m wrong, but I doubt that I am, that cable news is going to have a fucking field day with it!

We live in a democracy.  To have a democracy that functions efficiently, it is important that the citizens of the democracy can assess what’s going on and make educated choices concerning problems.  Yet here in America, a sort of tabloid lizard brain runs the show in determining what is important to focus on.  That is if you take the view that things aren’t being actively manipulated to keep us afraid and in the dark.

When horrible events occur, which with news cameras in almost every part of the globe, they are going on consistently in some form or fashion on a daily basis, we must try to maintain some kind of perspective on things.  As citizens of the United States and as citizens of the greater world, what actually concerns us?  What is a tragedy and what is a threat?  Given that we as humans only have so much time in a day to devote to understanding the world around us, what is really important for us to know and what is not?  When is something blown out of proportion to where it actually prevents us from making wise decisions?  This does not meant that we should be callous to suffering.  It only means that we should not let suffering blind us into creating other suffering in the world.

The way that our news media operates actually causes us to be less informed, as we are overloaded with the horrific and the sensational.  Anytime a news story comes on one should ask, “Does this affect me and my life in anyway?  Does this increase the likelihood that I am going to make better decisions about the world?  If it does not, can I acknowledge that I am watching this for mere entertainment or escapism?”

I would prefer that all Americans quit watching TV news.  If they can’t, I would at least prefer that they limited the amount of time they spent viewing it.  TV news, even though I mentioned Huffington Post up above, is the worst at pumping up false threats, while ignoring real events that we should be learning about.  However, if one is not going to stop watching TV news, I think people should at least take the right set of tools with them, as they try to sort through the insanity of the day.

Critical thinking is more important than ever.  In a world full of information, it is those that understand how to interpret information that are going to stand the best of thriving in this world.  Unfortunately our schools are moving more towards standardized testing, more towards rewarding the unthinking worker bee.  These are the exact opposite of the skills that are truly needed in the modern world.

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