Elliot Engstrom makes a good case for the increase in humanitarianism. To Engstrom, the mass media has returned our civilization to the tribal days–meaning everyone can see when you are or are not driven by your own self interests.
If we do something in violation of the desires of another human being, a million people can instantly know it, and fear that we will do the same thing to them. We thus cannot go about doing whatever we want to anyone we want, even if we have the power to do it in the moment; because it will immediately bring up the greater force of humanity against us, albeit in reference again to our own self-interest.
What exactly does Engstrom mean by the mass media has returned our civilization to the tribal day?
Civilization took away the natural mechanism of keeping human beings in check; the ability to witness the actions of the other members of the group. In the tribal community, if one robbed from another, it was rather hard to cover one’s tracks, and one almost definitely ended up paying the consequences. In modern society, if one steals from another, cuts in front of another in traffic, or commits violence against another, the only way, until recently, that one could be found and punished one’s actions was if the offender was someone both known and then found by the offended.
Mass media and mass communication are pushing modern society back towards the tribal dynamics of accountability. Thus, it is not human nature that is changing to a more positive form, but rather society than is changing to better keep human nature in check.
The mass media also has the ability not only to inform a lot of people, but make a lot of people feel sympathy as well. Engstrom writes;
There also is here an element of what can be called empathy or sympathy. Humans relate to what they know, and mass communication increases the sources of knowledge for a single human being. If I see a young boy starving to death in the Sudan on a live TV feed, suddenly I am sad. However, before I saw the TV feed he was still starving, and yet I did not care about him.
While I may not have ever starved before, I do know what hunger is like, and I know that starving would be a horrible experience. The starving boy is now a part of my life. I think about him, whether I want to or not. Granted, different humans think about the starving boy to different extents — why this is we cannot say; perhaps it is predisposition, perhaps some people are really just nicer than others. However, mass communication helps us to feel as though these people in other countries are part of “our tribe,” rather than simply hostile, unknown members of a foreign tribe.
It would seem that one of the best methods we have available to us of limiting wars and violence is in fact keeping as open as possible the methods of modern communication. In this way, the tribal mechanism of accountability can once again take its place, and help to push human beings towards less exertions of force over others, and more compromises that benefit both parties involved as much as possible.
We saw the effect the mass media had during the Vietnam war, the more and more people saw caskets the less popular the war became. We are seeing the same effect with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well. The mass media has also proven it ability to influence a person’s empathy during the health care reform debate when Obama invited a young kid who had lost his mother to cancer because she could not afford health care. After he spoke for Obama, the positive approval numbers surrounding the health care debate rose. All in all, Elliot Engstrom connects the dots perfectly; the more people see, the more they feel, the more they want to help.