Wednesday, December 29, 2004

A Wave Of Guilt

The predictable liberal self-flagellation has gone into full swing in the wake of the tsunami disaster in Asia.

Why don't we care as much or more about this than 9/11? they wail. This death toll is dozens of times that of 9/11! And why are we so stingy with our relief money? It's probably more evidence that we're a racist nation!

Now as any reasonable person knows, the United States far and away gives (and will give) far more money to the relief effort than any other nation. And all Americans (including liberals) are free to write checks to the disaster relief organizations of their choice. (Which, by the way, is a much better and more efficient way of helping than our government giving tax dollars to the United Nations--money that will inevitably be skimmed by the corrupt U.N. bureaucracy.)

It's quite telling, however, that liberals want to frame American generosity purely in terms of tax money sent overseas through the United Nations. The only money that really counts as "generosity" to liberals is government funds raised through taxation, because that's where they get to engage in their favorite activity: spending other people's money to assuage their own consciences.

This disaster is one of biblical proportions, and it warrants our prayers and our giving. But I'm not going to participate in a liberal guilt-fest over my level of emotional reaction to this tragedy.

There are perfectly good reasons why we cared more viscerally about 9/11 than we do about this disaster. These make sense to any thinking person--which is why liberals are having such difficulty comprehending them.

  • 9/11 was a unique event: a foreign terror operation carried out on American soil. Nothing like it had ever happened before. In contrast, Third World death tolls in natural disasters, while regrettable, are nothing new. Nearly a million Chinese are estimated to have died in earthquakes in the 20th century alone; 400,000 of them in one quake in 1976. 20,000 people died in an earthquake in Turkey only three years ago. Natural disasters kill tens of thousands in Bangladesh every decade. In 1991, a cyclone there killed nearly 140,000. The same thing killed half a million there in 1970.
  • Proximity matters. I'm more interested when a friend or family member is in danger than someone I've never met before. Nearly everyone in America is in some way connected with someone who lives in New York City. The vast majority of people in America, when the 9/11 attacks took place, thought "I know somebody there!" In contrast, there were maybe a few dozen Americans involved in this recent disaster. You don't even know anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who was there. Does it make us cold and callous that we care more, then, about New York City than Sri Lanka? Of course not, it's just common sense.
  • Closely related to the previous reason is familiarity. Most of you had personally seen the Twin Towers, and many of you had perhaps actually been in those buildings at one time or another. They (and the Pentagon) were extremely familiar landmarks in the American consciousness. They were a part of daily American life. The World Trade center defined the skyline of the biggest city in our home nation. On the other hand, most of us wouldn't know Thailand if you dropped us in the middle of it.
  • 9/11 was a man-made event and was preventable. The tsunamis were a natural disaster and were unpreventable. Evil intent always sparks more interest than the forces of nature. In 9/11, there were causes to evaluate and criminals to bring to justice. There was no wrongdoing or evil intent with the tsunamis, just raw force.
  • There is a general recognition that the reported death tolls are not even close to being accurate. When there is a large gathering on the National Mall in Washington D.C., they aren't even able to estimate the crowd to the nearest hundred thousand--and that's using modern technology such as aerial photos of the event itself. Crowd estimation is so notoriously difficult that the U.S. Park service won't even do it anymore. So how are we going to get an accurate estimate of the dead with nearly zero technology in a Third World disaster area? The answer is: we aren't. These figures have a margin of error of probably +/- 80%. It could be many, many more, and it also could be far, far fewer. Remember, we didn't even get a final death toll for 9/11 until something like a year after the event. And the total was much lower than all the initial predictions and estimate. The numbers being thrown around for the Asian disaster are being manufactured purely out of thin air. Nobody has even the slightest idea of the real toll.
The bottom line is, I will pray for the victims, and I will write a check to the Salvation Army or Samaritan's Purse. But I won't let goofball liberals make me feel guilty for not feeling more guilty. Write a check from your own money for once in your lives, you liberal crybabies.

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