Reading the news, even glancing over the headlines is a daily routine. It is the routine that induces me to the then current situation of the world. After that I reduce everything to “all is going well”, “okay” or the thought “hopefully it is still safe to go home.” Beyond the war, death, decay and misery there is one kind of headline in particular that annoys me the most. Headlines that emphasise the money measure or costs regarding their topic reduce everything to a number.
I am not skipping the headlines with statistics and parameters. Where a statistic says something about a sample and a parameter says something about a population a definition alone does not suffice. Statistical studies are nothing but datasets without context. Thing is often media articles do not properly introduce and explain statistical studies and that topic is another can of worms. Misrepresented qualitative and quantitative studies are a black hole that deserve a separate post.
Back to reducing topics to a money measure or cost. The number is always the result of something that either involves x + y = z or an estimation of some kind. At worst the estimation makes less sense than “because it is like that” and at best there is an accurate formula which is connected to a system that checks the (information) inputs.
Regardless of whether you can put a number with a coin symbol in front of something that happened there is an implicit assumption you must make when you do this. This assumption is that you can give something a value which indicates how you value and refer to it in the future. Assumptions are helpful when regularly checked but dangerous when made once and never questioned. Implicit assumptions add their hidden characteristics and it becomes very easy to set dangerous precedents.
Then ask yourself “what is the value of a human life?” and “what is the value of a healthy and productive human being?” and prepare for dilemmas. In times of peace and prosperity these questions are often not asked because life is good so why should you ask. In times of war and crises though this becomes more relevant as strong and productive people are needed to take care of what has to be done.
Putting a price tag or cost estimate on damages due to natural disasters, man-made disasters, crises and wars demands you to balance the scales of “what can be done” versus “what cannot be done.” While reducing what is left to a value for capitalist systems that require safeguards for reinvestment and recovery. This reduces the stricken people to digits of economic potential.
Something that continues to disgust me is that when damages are to be repaired and a recovery is to follow big headlines appear with numbers which have many zeroes. My initial response is always “so what?” because people can randomly generate a number with many zeroes and it can mean nothing. Without explanation of why and how the number came to be, you know nothing.
In life and learning to manage money you always know that you either have something or you do not have it. What you do not have you have to buy, trade or work for. Before you have something you have acquire it and when you have something you use it properly. This also applies to these big numbers I sometimes glance over. “A value is set and then what? How do you make that money or that estimated budget work?”
In life you also learn that perception can determine how people behave. When in a situation with damages and victims, organised aid prioritises the people’s needs so the people in need can recover their local economy and their communities can benefit. When the people in need are skipped to restore the economy first, the region will still lag behind because many people have not recovered yet.
Back to 2015 and the disasters, wars and crises of recent years. I read the newspapers, watched the news and documentaries and tried to make sense of it all. Often I could not make sense of it all. Many zeroes of damage, very interesting but what is actually being done is usually not mentioned. Even worse you often have to follow the activities of the NGOs involved and dig for reports and articles. Meanwhile the mainstream media often keep pushing headlines with many zeroes.
In the end I avoid the publishers and platforms that keep adding zeroes instead of addressing what the affected people actually need. By emphasising the money measures and cost estimates over human needs in headlines the media reduce victims to potentially redundant assets. Bringing in the accounting equation does not help when people need help.
When the media reduce human lives to assets humanity loses. The consequences are horrible…