Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Statistics, Truth and the Manipulation of Thoughts

Statistics have always fascinated me in how they can be utilised in the generation of propaganda, fear mongering and formation of public opinion. Perhaps more amazing is the contrast of effects on the masses. A single death with a name and face has more of an impact on people than tragedies in the hundreds, with some exceptions such as 9/11. Intriguing. There is so much psychology invested in convincing people to buy or believe that it frightens me as truth becomes more and more difficult to discern.

For example, take the global war on terror. In his book, Future Tense, Gwynne Dyer delves into the statistics on events surrounding 9/11. Dyer illustrates how the notion of an international bogeyman was necessary after the collapse of the Soviet Union to maintain the sense that America was still the only safe place to invest and to keep its super power status. Dyer goes on to state: "According to the U.S. government's own figures, only 625 people, the vast majority of them non-American, were killed by "international terrorism" in 2003, down from 726 people worldwide in 2002: about two people per day, far fewer than die from dog bites." Dyer continues to examine the role of media sensationalism around the tragedy of 9/11 where 3000 innocent people lost their lives, stating "the lives of the other three thousand Americans who died violently that same month in gun-related murders, suicides and accidents were just as valuable… But gun deaths happen singly or in small groups, generally out of camera shot, and as a routine monthly tragedy they are not newsworthy – so nobody called for a "war on guns" in September 2001."

The Canadian news today was headlined by the death of our 100th soldier in Afghanistan since our troops deployed there seven years ago. In the same paper, it announced Edmonton's 30th homicide of 2008.

What conclusions are we to draw from such information? Some might argue that Edmonton is a more dangerous place for it's citizens than a hostile war zone is for Canadian soldiers. Many would believe this, oblivious to the fact that many other coalition troops are dying, not to mention the number of Afghanis. As for Dyer's statements, how can we minimise an event live 9/11, media spectacle or not, while not acknowledging his other statistics? It is all a murky soup that most people never take the time to delve into (look at the last federal election in Canada a few weeks ago where we had 57% voter turn out, and now we have an overthrow of government happening and folks are finally saying "hey!").

The world woke up when 9/11 happened, despite genocides and terror being carried out regularly around the globe both before and after this event. How often will people discuss 9/11 in contrast to the genocide in Rwanda or the appalling statistics of HIV/AIDS in Africa? Will the world remember last week's violence in Mumbai, India in two weeks time? Or of the many mudslides that killed thousands time and time again in South America? How is it we choose to remember some things such as Hitler's murder of 6.5 million Jews, but are oblivious to the 20 million killed by Stalin at the same time? Why were the IRA called terrorists for fighting the British in their country, while the Rebels of the American Revolution are called Patriots as they overthrew the British government that created the colonies now known as the USA? My intent is not to argue either side, but rather to illustrate how many of our thoughts have been formed through historical and media bias.

Ultimately, I believe many are depending too heavily on the mainstream media for their information, often subscribing to a source that compliments our thinking rather than challenging it. People are thus being lead at this is terrifying. Is there any wonder why fundamentalist religions are on the rise? People long to belong, yet do not want the journey into belonging to be overly arduous. We learn that "yes-men" get ahead and that those who challenge thinking become exiled to the fringe.

I forget who said that "History belongs to the victors", but this seems to resonate as truth. As engaged citizens of the world, we need to become more engaged in our world and apply filters that assist us in making sense of things. This can't be done by simply watching the CBC, BBC or CNN. We need to read from a number of news sources, and supplement that with reading literature written by people in other cultures to see the vision they paint of their society. If you can, travel. When I taught in the former Czechoslovakia just after the fall of Communism, it amazed me as to how they were so much like everyone else, solidifying my beliefs that the Cold War was nothing more than a bunch of powerful dickheads flexing their muscles with the common people whose desires were simply to work and be with friends and families. If this is so, how do we condone the sabre rattling of governments and the construction of massive weapons caches while children are going hungry in the same society? It's just not places like North Korea and Russia that I'm alluding to, but also Canada, Britain and the USA.

My belief is that one person can make a difference, and if you get one person to live more mindfully of the world around him and her, then you've already begun a revolution. But don't believe me – this is something that becomes real only when we see it for ourselves, and, in the end, we may not see the same thing.

Such is life.



  • At 5:11 p.m. , Blogger Andrew Louis said...

    Ahhh statistics, my field of expertise…..

    You’ve said a lot here, I shall have to do some absorbing and come back to you later.


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