Not With The Band: Why Don’t We Equally Care For Everyone?
When a tragedy occurs somewhere in the world, we all cope differently, and after the massacre which occurred in Paris last week, you may have seen most of your Facebook friends update their profiles with the tricolor French flag… People have complained that there was not a similar option presented for the Lebanese victims, and just today a hotel in Mali was attacked by an al Qaeda-affiliated group killing at least 21 people according to CNN, but it hardly made the news and Facebook does seem to even know about Mali? The sad truth is that there’s always a tragedy somewhere in the world, but should we feel guilty to care more for some victims than others?
Yes and no. You have to use your common sense, anyone always cares more for what hits close to home than for a remote country, it’s just human nature as anyone always cares more for his own children and siblings than for complete strangers. Being French-American, I have all the good reasons to care more for what happened in France than anywhere else, and I would even say this, I even cared more about the people killed inside the Bataclan than those killed at the other Paris locations, because I go to concerts not to soccer matches, and I even go to these types of concerts… so am I really bad?
Altruism and empathy are strange things, our potential to care about others has been in debate for centuries and there are probably thousands of studies and articles from evolutionary biologists and psychologists debating whether it is an innate or learned feeling. It’s probably both, and we are certainly more inclined to care more about the persons who look most like us. Call it innate racism, call it I-rally-to-my-tribe-first, but studies on very young babies demonstrate it is the case: ’These results suggest that biases in face recognition and perception begin in preverbal infants, well before concepts about race are formed. It is important for us to understand the nature of these biases in order to reduce or eliminate [the biases],’ explains study researcher Lisa Scott, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
The study shows that 9-month-old white babies processed emotional expressions among Caucasian faces differently than those of African-American faces, which is troublesome but which is the reality. I don’t take this for a justification of racism of course, but it shows that racial bias may be hard-wired in us and the same studies show that ‘babies are also more likely to help those of their ethnicity, an effect known as in-group bias, where people favor those with the same characteristics.’
It doesn’t mean it is morally acceptable, but it is our nature, something probably favored by evolution. Evolutionary biologists talk about kin selection which says that an individual behaves more altruistically towards others who share its genes, and who are more closely related to it… Loving your children more than yourself is a hard-wired feeling explained by the theory of kin selection.
Since Syria’s civil war began, more than 220,000 people have died, it’s horrible, still we are far from mourning these poor people as we did for the 150 Parisians who died last week. And this can be explained for all the reasons above. It’s human and if I admire the sentiment which would want to make us equally caring for everybody on earth, I truly believe that people who say to be offended by our partial empathy, are more preoccupied by their political correctness than expressing a sincere sentiment.