Friday, 10 April 2015

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.

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