Skip to main content

Parochialism is not inherently bad

There has been a certain amount of moaning amongst the chatterati of late that we (I'm not sure if that 'we' is the British press, or the British people in general) are terrible in our parochialism, as there has been no where near as much fuss about the 148 people killed in the Garissa attack compared with the overwhelming response to the much smaller Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.

It's certainly not true that the media have been ignoring Garissa - the last time I watched the TV news on Sunday it was the lead story, for instance, and it led on the BBC News website on at least two days. However it is the case that the level of response has been different. What surprises me here is this negative reaction, which seems to come mostly from a left wing political standpoint (e.g. seen more in the Guardian than elsewhere).

One reason is that I find it rather disturbing that these people can try to play point scoring between atrocities. They are both atrocities, committed by Muslim extremists. Playing a numbers game, pointing out how many more people were killed at Garissa seems a really callous, unpleasant attitude.

But the main thing is that I don't understand why these people consider that parochialism is inherently bad, because it is a sensible human behaviour. If you genuinely don't consider your own family of more significance to you than random strangers, you are, I would suggest, a flawed human being. Similarly we are psychologically incapable of feeling the same degree of empathy and interesting in people we don't know than our friends - again it would be bizarre if we didn't. And this also extends in a weaker form to nearby countries and or/countries with a similar culture to our own. It's perfectly natural and there's nothing wrong with such parochialism.

The only time parochialism becomes a problem is if we use it as a reason to ignore the plights of people outside our 'friends and neighbours' zone - for instance when UKIP suggest removing the International Aid Budget. That is bad parochialism. But to expect us to truly feel the same about everyone in the world is unrealistic and unnatural. Of course we empathise with those involved in Garissa. And it is important news. But we can't be expected to respond the same way as we do to something in Paris or London - any more that the reverse would be true for someone in Tanzania, if you exchanged the Paris and Garissa information.

Parochialism (or localism as it is called when people don't want to be negative) is important, because in our 'parish' we can know more and do more. It doesn't prevent us reacting to and sending aid to those beyond our particular bounds, but to argue that parochialism is a bad thing is a silly response from individuals who really don't understand human beings.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Mirror, mirror

A little while ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Royal Institution in London - arguably the greatest location for science communication in the UK. At one point in the talk, I put this photograph on the screen, which for some reason caused some amusement in the audience. But the photo was illustrating a serious point: the odd nature of mirror reflections. I remember back at school being puzzled by a challenge from one of our teachers - why does a mirror swap left and right, but not top and bottom? Clearly there's nothing special about the mirror itself in that direction - if there were, rotating the mirror would change the image. The most immediately obvious 'special' thing about the horizontal direction is that the observer has two eyes oriented in that direction - but it's not as if things change if you close one eye. In reality, the distinction is much more interesting - we fool ourselves into thinking that the image behind the mirror is what's on ou