How a Crisis Catches the World’s Attention

On thing the Dowbrigade has been pondering
for a while now, and which we have concluded is one of the key pressure
points for fixing what ails us, is the
often obscure
process by which the world decides what is worth its attention.

The sad fact is that world public opinion, like most of
the individuals who make it up, has an extrememly short attention span.
For the most part, what occupies that narrow and short-lived band of
attention is determined by the international media conglomerates, with
important contributions from governments, NGO’s and aid agencies and,
hopefully to an increasing degree, by the independent media and the blogosphere.

This importance of this process in determining what we
care about and where we are going to do something about it cannot be overestimated.
The emerging electronic central nervous system of the modern wired world
has for the
first time in the history of the planet created a super-surrogate for
the collective consciousness of the human race. When something important,
pleasureable or dangerous, occurs anywhere on the planet, the messages
will travel over this electronic nervous system to arrive within hours
at the planetary brain, the cerebral consciousness, the awareness of
with power
or the illusion of power, who have at least the capability to take action
and affect the situation.

It is obvious that the system which determines which of
the billions of actions and events taking place around the world every
day filters through this system and arrives on the TV screens and newspaper
front pages is key to the very nature and values of the evolving world
consciousness.  It determines what we know about, what we care about,
what we do something about, and ultimately, our usefulness to the universe
as a species and perhaps our proper place if not our continued presence
in it.

An interesting article in todays Los
Angeles Times
the process by which the spotlight of world attention which is constantly
sweeping across the globe stops momentarily to illuminate one or another
of the crises crying for attention. It concerns Jan Egeland, UN Undersecretary
for Humanitarian Affairs.

After more than a quarter of a century in human rights
and relief work – he became head of Amnesty International in Norway at
23 – the U.N. undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, now 47, has the
trajectory of a disaster down to a science. He can read the warning signs
of a crisis the way a mariner knows that a ring around the moon presages
a storm. And he’s learning to predict which situation will spark an international

Only three causes a year rise to the forefront of international consciousness,
he figures, and then only after nine dire warnings have been largely ignored.
The 10th one, it seems, is the charm.

But even then, to the frustration of aid officials, the severity of a crisis
– the number of dead or injured or starving – is no guarantee that it will win
the attention lottery. According to a wide range of humanitarian officials, a
complex set of circumstances will determine whether the world will care – and
act – to stave off disaster.

The first critical factor is the geopolitical importance of the individuals or
place involved. Kosovo, because it was in Europe, received quick attention. So
did Afghanistan – after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. But
if disaster happens someplace where no countries have a strategic stake, Egeland’s
experience has shown that few will care.

The second variable is the ability of U.N. workers and other advocates to lobby
and act on behalf of the forgotten.

"Most people can’t find Central African Republic or Guinea on a map," Egeland
said. "That leaves us."

Finally, a select group of Western political and media leaders plays a key role.
Once the crisis gets on American television news and the politicians start to
visit, money and aid start rolling in.

from the Los Angeles Times

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