When you hear a call for “human rights,” who do you recognize under this umbrella term? Do you think of the poor, child soldiers, domestic abuse victims, refugees or sweatshop employees? These thoughts drum up images and reports from foreign correspondents, celebrity activists, and specialized non-profit organizations that invite us to export our compassion and support.
With our altruistic sights set on foreign countries, it is easy to overlook issues at home. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, in particular, are still largely at odds against governmental policies and mainstream social acceptance. As recorded by advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign, LGBT equality is fragmented both across and within state borders.
So where does this disconnect between LGBT equality issues and “human rights” issues that Americans are so fond of purporting stem from?
This is something I have been stuck on lately. To date, my blog posts have been concerned with people and events outside of the U.S. However, before I recast my net from American shores, I’d like to catch a few of the stories I feel nibbling at my toes. (That’s right, I just drew an analogy between LGBT rights issues and minnows.)
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Posted in Human Interest Beat, tagged data, data visualization, gapminder world, graphics, human development index, human rights, humanitarian, Invisible Children, LRA Crisis tracker, stats, Vendantam on February 21, 2012|
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Five children around the world die every minute because of chronic malnutrition.
Source: Associated Press article
How long did you contemplate this fact? Can you translate numbers into faces? Did you question its accuracy? What does it mean to you and the life you lead?
Nonprofits, humanitarian organizations and development agencies are infamous for splashing statistics across their websites and outreach materials. These attempts to quantify global human rights issues are necessary for strategic planning, funding and program evaluation. However, they do little in the way of provoking a level of empathy that translates into individual action. Numbers are impersonal.
Shankar Vedantam best explains our penchant for helping a single stranger over a large group of strangers in his article, The Little Lost Dog at Sea. Using the example of an internationally backed rescue mission to save a dog abandoned at sea, Vedantam posits that the same outpouring of support would not have happened if there had been, say, 100 dogs onboard. We are more likely to help when the issue is presented on a scale we can cope with, one that promises a moral sense of return. Getting at the ineffectiveness of large-scale humanitarian statistics, Vendantam explains:
Our empathic telescopes are activated when we hear a single cry for help….When we think of human suffering on a mass scale, our telescope does not work, because it has not been designed to work in such situations. Humans are the only species that is even aware of large-scale suffering taking place in distant lands; the moral telescope in our brain has not had a chance to evolve and catch up with our technological advances.
Consider all the statistic-laden reports that humanitarian groups pump out annually on maternal health, water borne illnesses, genital mutilation, etc. A majority of this data remains buried in Excel tables.
[Enter data visualization tools] (more…)
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Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times, is well known for his commentary on human rights issues across the globe. He keeps a blog titled On the Ground, and is currently working on a PBS special that is based upon his book, Half the Sky. Kristof is a journalist and he is an advocate. But is he an activist?
In the media world, there seems to be newfound contention over the concepts of advocacy journalism and activist journalism, the latter being the imposter. While all journalism is advocating on the behalf of something/someone, objectivity is still identified as the essential characteristic that separates professional journalists from those who report with an agenda. (more…)
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