If the capacity to be touched by those at an enormous distance is distinctive of our species, then our inability to be touched by all equally is our fallen state. Caring beyond reason about those we don't know is destined to remain an exceptional condition.
That "exceptional condition" is David Weinberger's take on mediated ethics. Ethan Zuckerman expanded on that idea last week with a very thoughtful post on media attention, national "brands" and the need for Nigeria to find its Ninjas, suggesting that Weinberger's "fallen state" has a lot to do with a collective unwillingness to challenge a comfortable story. We have a built-in context that constantly competes with new information. Ethan:
...[W]e’re more inclined to pay attention to Japan because we’ve got some context - a weird, non-representative context, for sure - while we have almost no context for stories about Nigeria. The context we do have for Nigeria - 419 scams - tends to be pretty corrosive, and may make us likelier to pick up only the stories that portray Nigeria as wildly corrupt and criminal.
Tell me about it, Ethan. As someone who has over the years grown to love my adopted home of Kentucky, I'm often disappointed to read or watch stories that deploy Kentucky shorthand. The kind, for instance, where national politicians parachute into a certain knobby region of the country to demonstrate compassion. Message: They CARE.
I guess some Martin County front porches get all the action.
Despite producing world class actors, actresses and perhaps the most widely recognized athlete in history, mention Kentucky and for most people the context of backwardness springs to mind. Sure, there are problems. But problems are not all that Kentucky has. And changing that perception - changing the context - making a new story - is one reason why the IdeaFestival is important to me.
The other: keying the words Kentucky, Nigeria and Ninja into the same sentence. You can't find that word combination just anywhere.