A couple of weeks ago we saw news about George Bush stating that the most nervous moment of his career was when throwing the ceremonial first pitch at
the 2001 World Series.
Washington Post article: George W. Bush says ‘most nervous moment’ of presidency is when he threw a ball
How can throwing a ball be more stressing than signing the document that leads your country into war? Maybe because standing in the stadium, the event
is more vivid and personally close. His success or failure will be known in one throw and he has to receive the reactions of the audience there and
then. But in reality the ramifications of going into war is mind-blowingly more serious than throwing a ball. By the stroke of a pen, he decides that
thousands of civilians will die, many of his best men, and those of the enemy. The cultural, political and economical effects are still developing. My
guess is that the physical distance of the victims matter, as well as the distance in time.
After the Vietnam War, helicopter gunners have reported that they showed little stress over shooting at villagers from the air. “It was like firing
at ants on the ground” Today we see in leaked videos that soldiers cheer when bombarding individuals that are not even properly identified as the
enemy. We see snipers that compete for kill-shots.
The trauma after killing in war increases as the distance between killer and victim decreases. (On Killing, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman). The
psychological buffer decreases as mid-range killers inspect their victims at close. Helicopter pilots will not do that however, thus less stress and
trauma is induced. Then as the distance increase, the threshold for taking further lives diminishes.
There is a story about two generals discussing how to strengthen the security when it comes to launching nuclear missiles. One of them presents an
idea that they could surgically operate the launch code inside a man. The general wanting to launch the missile then would have to take a knife and
kill the man to get the codes. The other general then cringes, explaining that he finds it too grotesque to have to kill a man just to get the codes.
This story, true or not, serves as a metaphor to one of the most dangerous logical fallacies in the human mind.
This is why most of us are not that bothered by starving children in Africa as we should be. We feel sad, we want to help, and somewhere inside there
is a feeling that we should do more. However they are too far away, so most of us, including me, sends a little money and quickly forgets the event.
I would also like to mention cultural differences as a form distance between people. It is the classical we vs. them. We are biologically refined
through evolution to live in groups. However, many of the group mechanisms that helped groups survive millennia ago, create dangerous situations
today. Include politics, economics, religion and diminishing resources and the chaos is complete.
We should try to decrease some of the distances between each other. We were once all the same. No different colors, cultures or nations. We have
however, wandered all across the globe, slowly adapting to the environment around us. We changed; Earth gave us challenges that shaped us. Thus we
became different, not recognizing ourselves when we finally circled the globe, ending up where we once started.
As Carl Sagan said:
Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our
immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle
of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural
backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be
broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth