Over the past century, good people repeatedly have ignored mass murder and genocide. Every episode of mass murder is unique and raises unique obstacles to intervention. But the repetitiveness of such atrocities, ignored by powerful people and nations, and by the general public, suggests a fundamental deficiency in our humanity — a deficiency that, once identified, might possibly be overcome. One fundamental mechanism that may play a role in many, if not all, episodes of mass-murder neglect involves the capacity to experience affect, the positive and negative feelings that combine with reasoned analysis to guide our judgments, decisions, and actions. The statistics of mass murder, no matter how large the numbers, fail to convey the true meaning of such atrocities. The reported numbers of deaths represent dry statistics 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 prevent genocide, but it has not been effective. In our research, we examine this failure in light of the psychological deficiencies described here and suggest designs for legal and institutional mechanisms that will enforce proper responses to genocide and other forms of mass murder.
In April, Decision Research sponsored a two-day workshop on genocide prevention, featuring a keynote speech by Ambassador Princeton Lyman and and an open panel discussion titled “Preventing Mass Atrocities and Genocide: Strategies for the Future.”
In October 2016, members of Decision Research launched a website, arithmeticofcompassion.org, to communicate about common psychological biases that inhibit compassion and contribute to apathy about mass atrocities.
More publications and presentations, regarding our work on mass suffering, psychic numbing, and Darfur are available here.
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