Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Anastasi Lecture Series: 2012

Presentation: The more who die, the less we care: the arithmetic of compassion

Presenter: Dr. Paul Slovic
President of Decision Research and Professor of psychology at the University of Oregon

October 23th, 2012

Bio: Dr. Paul Slovic studies human judgment, decision making, and risk perception. He received a B.A. degree from Stanford University, M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Michigan, and honorary doctorates from the Stockholm School of Economics and the University of East Anglia. He is past president of the Society for Risk Analysis and in 1991 received its Distinguished Contribution Award. In 1993, Dr. Slovic received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association, and in 1995 he received the Outstanding Contribution to Science Award from the Oregon Academy of Science.

Abstract: Most people are caring and will exert great effort to rescue individual victims whose needy plight comes to their attention. These same good people, however, often become numbly indifferent to the plight of individuals who are “one of many” in a much greater problem. Why does this occur? The answer to this question will help us answer a related question that is the topic of this paper: Why, over the past century, have good people and their governments repeatedly ignored mass murder and genocide? I shall draw from psychological research to show how the statistics of mass murder or genocide, no matter how large the numbers, fail to convey the true meaning of such atrocities. The reported numbers of deaths represent dry statistics, “human beings with the tears dried off,” that fail to spark emotion or feeling and thus fail to motivate action. Recognizing that we cannot rely only upon our moral feelings to motivate proper action against genocide, we must look to moral argument and international law. The 1948 Genocide Convention was supposed to meet this need, but it has not been effective. It is time to examine this failure in light of the psychological deficiencies described here and design legal mechanisms and political institutions that will enforce proper response to genocide and other forms of mass abuses of innocent human beings.

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