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>in the face of tragedy, moral reasoning along ‘Whodunit’ lines

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>“WHEN nearly 200 people in India were killed in terrorist attacks late last month, the carnage received saturation media coverage around the globe. When nearly 600 people in Zimbabwe died in a cholera outbreak a week ago, the international response was far more muted,” Shankar Vedantam writes in teh Department of Human Behavior section of the Washington Post.
The Mumbai attacks have raised talk of war between India and Pakistan and triggered a flurry of diplomatic responses. Nothing remotely on the same scale has occurred over the Zimbabwe cholera outbreak, even though many more people have died as a result of the disease compared with the toll in the Mumbai rampage.
Comparing tragedies is problematic, because human lives cannot be reduced to arithmetic. Yet it is unquestionably true that nations tend to focus far more time, money and attention on tragedies caused by human actions than on the tragedies that cause the greatest amount of human suffering or take the greatest toll in terms of lives.

Is this because terrorism poses a greater threat to us than epidemics? Not likely. If you were to make a list of the world’s top 10 killers, suicide bombers would be nowhere on the list.
In recent years, a large number of psychological experiments have found that when confronted by tragedy, people fall back on certain mental rules of thumb, or heuristics, to guide their moral reasoning. When a tragedy occurs, we instantly ask who or what caused it. When we find a human hand behind the tragedy — such as terrorists, in the case of the Mumbai attacks — something clicks in our minds that makes the tragedy seem worse than if it had been caused by an act of nature, disease or even human apathy.


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